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PERSON OF INFLUENCE

Such Discreet Charm

June 01, 2008|Laurie Winer | Laurie Winer is a contributing editor at the magazine. Contact her at laurie.winer@latimes.co

Smack in the "gimme" center of a "gimme" culture, Charles Hawkins is all about discretion, service and civility. A concierge at the Four Seasons Los Angeles since 1994, he moves to the Beverly Wilshire (also a Four Seasons hotel) on June 2, where he will be assistant chef concierge. He has been researcher, comforter, expediter and confidant to American royalty (movie stars), real royalty and journalists on plum assignments--in short, some of the world's most demanding guests.

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Q How did you know you were cut out for this kind of work?

A When I was a kid, my mom worked at the Ojai Valley Inn. I would hang out in the GM's office so much that I remember him saying, "Get this kid out of my office." But it was always a hub of excitement there. There were always different kinds of people around. People with accents.

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Q Do your guests have a sense of entitlement?

A It is what it is. My job is to get people what they want and do it in a charming and graceful manner.

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Q Do you get a lot of unusual requests?

A Unusual and yet also mundane. Where is the closest Catholic church? Where can I get an art brush of pure horsehair--made in Switzerland? We have a regular guest, very wealthy, who never wants anything. Suddenly, the other day, he wanted something. He was almost embarrassed; he took me around a corner to ask me where he could get a Maserati of a certain horsepower, a certain color and a certain year. I love those challenges.

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Q What makes guests go bonkers?

A The car and driver are not here (and they're catching a plane). They can't get into a restaurant. The baby sitter is late. The FedEx package didn't arrive (and they're sure it was our fault). They need to vent. I let them vent. If a person is very upset, I get out from behind the concierge desk. I look at them face to face.

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Q Do you ever lose your calm?

A It takes a lot to ruffle my feathers. As long as I know there is chocolate somewhere in the hotel --and there always is--I can get through anything.

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Q When you go out, are you hypercritical of the service you receive?

A I'm extremely happy to see good service. You never know where you will find it. I was at a Chili's restaurant with a friend, and we both noticed that our server was extraordinary. She knew exactly when to be there and when not to be there. On the other hand, I had a horrible experience in a pricey Beverly Hills restaurant. Our server counted his gratuities in front of us. Just awful.

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Q What advice do you have for someone who doesn't know how to use a concierge?

A Don't be afraid of the concierge. I've had female guests ask where they can get a bikini wax. I say, "Do you want a Brazilian?"

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Q What about tips?

A Tips are not always monetary. Sometimes people give books, sometimes flowers. You could make 20 dinner reservations for a person and just get a smile in return. Someone else, who just wants a shoeshine, will give you a lot of money. If you expect a gratuity, it won't come.

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Q You must have a lot of stories to tell.

A A screenwriter gave me a leather-bound book and an expensive pen. He told me to write it all down. I won't, not even for my family and friends. It will go to the grave with me.

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