Keepers of the Keys
by Laura Kusnyer and Jonathan Zeller, 02/23/2009
Name: Joseph Ngai
Title: Assistant General Manager, Hotel Le Bleu
Concierge service: Continental Guest Services
Background: Born in Hong Kong; raised in downtown Manhattan
Current home: Lower East Side/Chinatown
On hospitality: "Ask, and consider it done."
When you meet visitors who typically stay in Manhattan, what do you tell them about Brooklyn?
Brooklyn has a lot more to offer than what people realize. People tend to think of New York as just consisting of Manhattan, but there are so many vibrant neighborhoods in Brooklyn like Park Slope, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill. There's so much culture in Brooklyn, and the people are so real. Our guests go to Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, walk around the tree-lined streets and then come back to me and say, "This can't be New York City, because New York City is tall buildings, concrete and people rushing by." But in this neighborhood, you look at someone and say, "Good morning," and they say "good morning" back to you. We have a small-town feeling here while still being in the big city. Our guests are not staying here strictly because they're looking for lower rates than in Manhattan. Brooklyn appeals to them.
Being a boutique hotel, how does your service differ from that of bigger hotels?
The human equation. The staff is almost all from Brooklyn, and our service is comparable to none. Everyone here—from the front-desk personnel to the housekeeping staff—will go out of their way to help guests when they ask for something. Being a smaller hotel, you get to know your frequent visitors. Here you get that special attention of being in a smaller-scale setting. I'd vouch for my hotel against any in Manhattan.
Where do you like to send your guests?
Places I've been to and enjoy—restaurants like Blue Ribbon, Al di Là and La Villa on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn. They walk into these establishments, come back and tell me, "That was amazing." And we use our online service—Continental Guest Services—to get special museum packages, like tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, MoMA and the American Museum of Natural History. When guests request that, we go online, book it for them and it's waiting for them when they check in.
What are some of the most interesting requests you've gotten?
In October, there were about 30 people in from France, and they wanted a Hummer stretch limo to take them to the Peter Luger Steak House. Their plane happened to be delayed, and they were leaving at 4am the next morning. We made sure their luggage was ready and their breakfast served for them when they got back to the hotel. On an individual basis, we scheduled an in-room massage for a couple at 2am on Valentine's Day. They said, "Wow, no other hotel would do this for us."
When it comes to hotel service, what's your philosophy?
My personal motto is "Put yourself in the guest's shoes." What would you want? If I'm coming to New York—whether I'm staying at the Holiday Inn, Mandarin Oriental or Hotel Le Bleu—I want my expectations to be exceeded. I want guests to walk into a room and think, Wow, I'm getting a good value for this, and I'm willing to pay more to stay here.