Arlene McDermed, Chef Concierge at the Chicago Marriott Downtown, has been a concierge for so long she can hardly remember when she started and has picked up so many accolades and awards over the years that she can’t even keep track of them anymore. That’s what happens when you’ve given yourself over to your city as Arlene has for the past 34 years.
A Chicago native, Arlene grew up in the Hyde Park area and went to school near Englewood, riding the streetcar to get there every morning. Even as a young girl, she found herself viewing Chicago through the eyes of a concierge: memorizing street signs that she saw out the window, developing a great appreciation for public transportation, and feeling awe over how accessible the city made itself.
And this is how Arlene continues to see the city. She says she doesn’t walk down the street without making mental notes of what she’s seeing to file away for future use because everything is important and relevant to the Chicago visitor.
Arlene started out working at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. After construction on the East Tower was completed, the hotel opened its first concierge desk and Arlene joined as an assistant, a decision she’s never once regretted. At this time, “there were only a handful of concierges in Chicago. We got together, drew up a constitution and by-laws, and in 1981, the first Chicago Concierge Association, was formed.” Arlene has been a member ever since, as well as a member of Les Clefs d’Or since 1985.
When it comes to the important qualities Arlene believes every concierge should possess, she lists off passion, humility, and an eagerness to please. If you bring those three things to the table, guests will feel comfortable asking you anything. At the end of the day, “the guest will forget the color of the carpet and bedspread, but they will always remember how the concierge made them feel.”
Arlene sees herself as an organizer; she loves planning out entire itineraries for individuals or groups visiting the city. How has she become so knowledgeable on all things Chicago? By constantly reading. Her advice to other concierges: read everything you can get your hands on! That way, if you aren’t able to visit a place yourself, at least you’ll have the information through which to accurately describe it.
Arlene loves her work as a concierge and what makes it most rewarding for her are the day-to-day challenges and learning opportunities, the feeling of being instrumental in creating a guest’s positive experience, and the pride that comes with sharing HER city to others.