070 – Scott Nichols, Concierge

 

The Big Love Bake Sale is a community-based effort and the first fundraiser here at Edacious to benefit today’s podcast guest, Scott Nichols. Happening Saturday 4/15, 9am-noon at Charlottesville City Market! 

Concierge Work. Community Fundraising Work. With Cookies. Maybe the most important episode I’ve ever done. I truly believe every choice you make in your life sets you on a path. You might not understand the choice at the time or even the path you find yourself on, but eventually, it all comes together. In this episode meet Scott Nichols, a concierge with more than 20 years experience. A concierge who because of recent life developments has had to put his career on hold. A concierge who just also happens to be my best friend.

Now concierge might not be the first occupation you envision when you think of Food Work, but hotels and restaurants have a symbiotic relationship, one that operates behind the scenes, with hotel staff and restaurant employees often working for each other’s benefit, coming together to make sure both establishments remain successful. It’s a relationship often misunderstood, and one most travelers never take advantage of. Hopefully, this episode changes that.

First, some background. We reminisce on our shared food adventures, as well as what it means to manage a Mrs. Field’s Cookies. Yes, we met in a food court which acts as its own type of community, a place where employees help each other despite long hours and little pay. It’s hard work and there’s a great deal of hustle. At the time we were young and didn’t appreciate where things came from and how our actions might affect others. Working for such low wages forced us to get creative to survive. Not making excuses. That’s just the way it was. Working in a retail food court provides more life experience than sitting in a college classroom. It teaches you responsibility. Teamwork. On your feet problem-solving. All of which are good training for the hospitality industry or for owning your own business. Or for real life.  Thousands of people toil in fast food all over the world. It felt good to give them a voice. To throw some honor their way instead of shame in the form of degrading stereotypes you see in movies and on TV.

We compare our cookie tray burns still visible after 30 years. Battle scars. We reveal Debbie’s secret recipe. We reminisce about the hilarious methods we used to keep up morale. We talk about how Mrs. Fields actually provided great training for the career Scott embarked on and one he excels at…concierge.

After moving to DC, Scott started in hotel reservations, slowly working his way up to the front desk. Learning as much as he could, networking, soaking up every piece of knowledge like a sponge. It was the 80’s, people were traveling, so tips were good. The relationship between a concierge team and their hotel employers is often volatile. So when the entire team walked off the job one day, Scott stepped in and a career was born. A career where he thrived because of his ability to connect, converse, and anticipate the needs of his customers. Knowing what they wanted before they did. Anticipating what they needed just by looking at their suit, the make of their watch, their demeanor as they stepped up to the desk. A job so demanding he often had to sleep on a cot in a closet behind his desk.

“I started knowing nothing and I’m a quick learner…whatever I lacked…I understood the value of presentation, preparedness, and potential…show up, bring your best, do your best.”

What did he enjoy most about the work and still does to this day? Making people happy. Making sure every guest feels welcomed and their visit is a trip to remember.

“You learned early on that if you give people what they want and don’t let them see you sweat and don’t let them know how much trouble it was…then they are more comfortable asking you for whatever they want. People know when they’re asking for something exotic…That’s where I learned my philosophy of I work hard and I expect to be compensated fairly…(You must) understand that level of access and professionalism brings with it a certain cost and value.”

Learning, realizing what you’re worth. Your own value in your chosen career. An important lesson in any profession. An important lesson for your LIFE for that matter. This isn’t as Scott says, “McDonald’s Concierging”. This is building relationships. Spending 10 minutes having a conversation and getting to know your guest. Using your observational skills. Reading the customer. What time of day is it? How are they dressed? What does the woman’s makeup look like? What shirt is the man wearing? These things can tell you whether or not the guest is hungry, has had a drink (or three), or even their mood.

“If you make friends with a concierge you will take your time in any city to the next level and have the most amazing experience of your life.”

Whether you’re a business traveler or a tourist, utilizing your concierge makes for a better travel experience. You don’t have to be a millionaire. Be honest, form a relationship, and your concierge will work to tailor an unforgettable occasion within your budget. For example, if you’re proposing to a future spouse, a concierge can help you make that an experience of a lifetime. Nowadays people use Internet “Best Of” lists to tick off every box. By keeping an open mind and trusting a concierge you will still have the most amazing experience, just maybe not the one you planned. Way better than consulting a Top 10 list on Yelp. Need a table at Rose’s Luxury but don’t like standing in line? A good concierge can hire you a line sitter.

Which brings us to restaurants. Any concierge worth his salt has professional symbiotic relationships with restaurants, often with the hostess, a server, or even the chef. Often restaurants hold open houses for hotel staff, enticing them to recommend their establishment to travelers. This “Favor System” isn’t without its flaws, but remains an important aspect of driving business. Best case scenario? The entire team of restaurant and hotel come together to make things happen so everyone involved goes away happy.

How does this relate to Charlottesville and its burgeoning wedding and hotel industries? Scott has definite thoughts on maximizing growth. Pro tip: hotels have morning meetings where they go over customer reviews. If a guest says they loved a certain restaurant, staff will remember and send them there next time. So it’s a good idea for restaurants to get to know the folks in that brand new hotel that just opened down the street.

Most important thing to remember? Don’t be intimidated. No question is too silly or strange. Even if you’re on a budget and want a good seat at The Cheesecake Factory, a concierge can make that happen. The stereotype of the snobby desk clerk you see in the movies just isn’t true. A great concierge gets their own fanbase. Customers will even follow them if they change hotels.

We also talk about the reality of working at a hotel with a conservative owner who deals with the far right and the prejudices that come with that on a daily basis. How do you serve a customer who clearly hates your lifestyle? What about ageism? Workers over 50 are more reliable, professional, have life experience, have usually been successful in a previous career, often want part-time hours, and are a plentiful, viable section of the workforce. Don’t overlook them.

Last summer, Scott was diagnosed with Stage 3B colorectal cancer and had to leave his chosen profession for treatment. Medical bills began to pile up. So I stepped in to help, as friends do, by creating a GoFund Me campaign. The love and support for this campaign from friends, family, and even total strangers have been overwhelming. He is so very grateful.

“The GoFund Me has been such a blessing from God…I’m still having trouble wrapping my brain around it…I’ve been on the hustle so long…I just don’t understand strangers giving me money…But I’m thankful for it…the prayers mean a lot…I wouldn’t be alive today without the love that I’m getting from the world…that keeps me going on bad days…because now I have little investors in my outcome…so I kind of have to deliver…none of those people want to get a note from you that says thank you for your contribution but he didn’t make it…I need to go on after this and do great things…I’m really excited about, “Oh my God there might be a next chapter!”…after coming this far through the treatment process, I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend one day doing something that doesn’t make my heart happy on some level…people not only invested in me but sort of my reawakening of this second chapter of my life…This is an opportunity and we’re going to go forward and it’s going to be amazing.”
– 1:27:00

I agree. It will be amazing. His first round of treatment has gone well. But unlike the movies, there is no instant dramatic outcome good or bad, but rather a long series of, “Now we wait and see.” Meanwhile the bills continue to roll in. But Scott, his husband Brian, me, and all his family and friends remain optimistic. In fact, it is his unwavering optimism that I adore most. He will get better. We will get this campaign funded. The Big Love Bake Sale, created after a phrase he uses often, will help with that. I just know it.

When I started this podcast two years ago, I had no idea I’d end up interviewing my best friend. But I’m so glad I did. Not only is this the BEST episode I’ve ever done, it’s the one fully inhabiting the mission I set for myself. Community and Connection. It lives the intention I set each and every morning when I sit down and put on my headphones. It will be the one I present when folks ask, “Which episode should I listen to first?” Of course, I’m biased. Beyond that, this episode not only presents deep story, it fulfills my podcast’s purpose, and in such a beautiful way. I saw a different side to my friend, one I hadn’t witnessed. It made me prouder of him than I’ve ever been. And it made me damn glad to know him.

All those years I spent baking cookies. All those years I spent planning events for others. All those years I spent in fundraising and development. Work I knew was valuable but wasn’t really my favorite thing. All that training has brought me to this moment in time. I truly believe that. Give a listen then head out to Charlottesville City Market for the bake sale. Big Love everyone. Big Love.

Thank you to all of the community sponsors helping Scott fully fund his GoFund Me campaign as part of the Big Love Bake Sale, which happens Saturday 4/15 from 9am-noon at Charlottesville City Market:

The Pie Chest – Thank you, Rachel Pennington!
Splendora’s Gelato – Thank you, PK Ross!
Justin Vesser – Thank you, buddy!
Gearhart’s Fine Chocolates – Thank you, Tim Gearhart!
Chutney Ferret Industries – Thank you, David Hopper!
Virginia Festival of the Book – Thank you, Sarah Lawson and Sheri Castle!
WTJU – Thank you, Nathan Moore!

SHOW NOTES – Links to resources talked about during the podcast:

  • Big Love Bake Sale! – Come out, buy some cookies, and help out one of our own. This Saturday 4/15 at Cville City Market!
  • Help Scotty Recover – my best friend has Stage 3B Colorectal cancer. Bills are piling up. He can’t work. Can you help? Share! Donate! No amount is too small.
  • George Hamilton – Back in the day this movie star sold suncare products. And we bought the tee shirt.
  • Subscribe to This Podcast. Stay Edacious! – Come on, after this episode? You know you want to 😉
  • Subscribe to Edacious News – Never miss a food event in our area! Learn about regional and national food stories so you can stay edacious!

This episode is sponsored by Teej.fm and listeners like you who donated their support at Patreon, who wants every creator in the world to achieve a sustainable income. Thank you.

 

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