National

Japanese concierge goes the extra mile at iconic London hotel

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

No request is ever too much for Toru Machida, who prides himself on fulfilling the needs of guests at one of the world’s most famous five-star hotels.

Machida, originally from Tokyo, is the head concierge at The Savoy, the grand London inn that has played host to countless celebrities, royals and politicians, including Claude Monet, Maria Callas and Winston Churchill.

Each day Machida and his team assist guests with requests like restaurant and theater bookings, sightseeing inquiries and giving general travel advice.

But given the hotel’s reputation, the concierges also try to fulfill every request, however strange or demanding, as long as it is “legally and morally sound,” Machida says.

“You never say ‘no’ whatever the request. You have to make it happen,” he explained in an interview.

Since he became head concierge at The Savoy, Machida has certainly been put to the test.

He recalls having to bring in fresh goat milk from Wales after a celebrity made a request to bathe in it. The veteran concierge also remembers dispatching a junior staff member to line up for 48 hours to pick up a new PlayStation for a famous soccer player.

And when one restaurant outside The Savoy said it could not accommodate one of his guests, Machida sent an extra table and chairs to the establishment so his client could dine there.

Machida, 42, says he first became interested in the hotel industry after watching “Fawlty Towers” — a popular TV comedy series about a badly run hotel — as a home-stay student in Britain when he was just 19.

He studied hotel management at a university in Britain and then worked his way up at various London hotels, first as a porter, then doorman and up to assistant concierge.

Machida said the key to providing a five-star experience is to exceed guests’ expectations. One way of doing this is to fully understand who the guests are and what they want.

And he uses his intuition to anticipate his clients’ needs before they do. The hotel also takes notes about guests’ preferences so they can offer an even better service when they return the next time.

Machida is currently vice president of the Society of the Golden Keys (Les Clefs d’Or), an international organization of more than 4,000 concierges from over 80 countries.

The body holds an annual meeting featuring advice on best practices. Each member is expected to help their overseas colleagues if they are in need.

Machida also gives presentations to hotel industry students around the world, including in Japan.

He says that while Europe has a long tradition of concierges, they are a relatively recent phenomenon in Japan.

“When I first became a concierge and told my friends in Japan, most of them didn’t know what one was,” he said. “They don’t have the same history as in Britain. But now Japanese hotels do have concierges and the service they provide is as good as anywhere in the world.

“In 1997, some Japanese concierges joined Les Clefs d’Or for the first time and since then there have been documentaries on the profession and even a (Japanese) drama called ‘Hotel Concierge,’ so that has helped to build up public awareness.”

He notes there are at least two other Japanese concierges in London.

Asked how much of his Japanese heritage he draws on for his job, Machida said, “I think I have drawn on my cultural background in terms of showing respect for others.”

The hours are often long for Machida. But even when he is off work he is always checking out the latest restaurants and attractions for guests and building up his knowledge.

And even though customers now have access to a lot more information through the internet, he believes concierges are still as valuable as ever because they act as a “filter.”

Despite all the stress, Machida still loves meeting his guests’ demands — whether, as he recalls, it involves tracking down old friends, choosing a suitable gift for their in-laws or sourcing large quantities of a certain brand of potato chips for a member of a royal family.

No day is the same.

“It’s a wonderful job. The hotel is a lovely environment and you get to meet different people from all over the world. I feel empty when I’m not at work. I feel very fulfilled when guests value and appreciate me.”