Four Seasons Tenure
- Since 2017
- First Four Seasons Assignment: Current
- InterContinental Toronto Yorkville; InterContinental Toronto Centre; Renaissance Toronto Hotel at Skydome
- Santiago, Chile
- Hospitality Management, Ryerson University, Toronto; Diploma, Niagara College Theatre Centre, Welland, Ontario
- English, Spanish
What’s a seasoned professional stage manager to do when a theatrical production ends? Find a new one. That’s what Carolina Avaria intended before taking her myriad talents to the luxury hotel industry. “I was supposed to join the team for The Lion King in Toronto, but in the final stages of assembling the team, I was not selected.” This was the critical career moment that set her on path to her eventual appointment as Chef Concierge of Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. “I was 35 and I’d worked on more than 100 productions in 18 years, many with national and international touring groups. I was clearly aware that fewer shows were being produced in Toronto, and figured it was time to consider a new career. So I decided to look into hospitality.”
That decision took Avaria back to school at Ryerson University in Toronto to study hospitality management in 2000. It was there that she struck up a conversation with a classmate who told her that she was a concierge. “The passion in the way she described what she did was so magical. I was immediately intrigued.”
By chance, the class professor was married to the Human Resources Director of Four Seasons Hotel Toronto. He aided Avaria in lining up an interview, and she was offered a part-time position in housekeeping. “I wasn’t ready for that,” she remembers. So Avaria looked elsewhere and landed at the concierge desk of another area hotel. Over the intervening decade-plus she excelled – and then some – in the Toronto market, honing her talents and rising to management as concierge at a handful of local properties.
Along the way, Avaria was invited into Les Clefs d’Or Canada, the national section of the professional organisation for the world’s best hotel concierges. After 10 years as an active board member, she became president of the Canadian section in 2015 – one of only five women in that position in Les Clefs d’Or across 45 countries around the world. Recently she was also appointed as the organisation’s global Director of Communications, leading a committee to develop further recognition for the brand worldwide.
“Knowledge and connections are essential for success as a concierge. But to me, the idea of ‘knowledge’ lies in the incredible network I’ve created through Les Clefs d’Or,” she explains of the essential benefit her involvement brings. “One of our principles is that members have to support each other. If I have a guest here in Toronto who needs an impossible reservation at a fine-dining restaurant in Rome, I can say, ‘I might not be able to set you up, but I can reach out to another member who can.’ And they will.”
It’s a perfect example of another skill every concierge must have, she says: “We never say no. Instead, we try to find another option.”
Avaria arrived at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto from another property “just down the street,” so she knows the area and its vendors well. Why did she jump to Four Seasons? “I was part of a very strong concierge program at the other hotel, and I really loved the hotel group behind it. But Four Seasons is recognised as the top of the top, and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to join this team.”
On-the-job experience aside, Avaria believes that her earlier turn as a stage manager did much to set her up for excellence in her current role. There are plenty of theatrical aspects to the nearly nonstop interactions she has over a day at the Hotel, of course, but being a “very, very, very careful listener” was a distinguishing element of her previous career.
“In rehearsal, I was often engaged in three conversations at once with the director, the actors, and the technicians to be sure everything was as it should be. That same level of communication and listening is integral to what a good concierge does. You have to listen to your guests, your team, and vendors and carefully manage how the Hotel will ensure a ‘wow’ experience for the guest.”
The role of the concierge has evolved since Avaria first entered the profession. Hands-on access to technology via smartphone, for instance, has given guests tools they can use to satisfy many requests on their own. “So we’ve become the Google for Google, breaking down the five or so options they’re considering and letting them know which would best suit their particular tastes and desires.” The key, she says, is that “concierges just love to be helpful. It may be more satisfying to line up a guest with the perfect restaurant on our own, but we’re happy to help out anyway we can.”
Meanwhile, the new generation of concierge tends to be as passionate about their work as their predecessors, and just as likely to stay in their positions long-term. Indeed, a study conducted by Les Clefs d’Or found a high degree of job satisfaction – or, as Avaria summarises: “Everyone who has ever been a concierge says they loved the job. The personal satisfaction comes from making emotional connections with our guests, and then thrilling them by truly catering to their preferences when they return.”
If Avaria is busy at Four Seasons Hotel Toronto, she’s equally so at home. “I don’t really have downtime,” she says with a laugh. Not that she really minds. Instead, she happily spends weekends and days off checking out neighbourhoods with her young daughter and her husband, a Tokyo-trained chef. “Toronto is so vibrant, there’s always something new. As a concierge, I always have to keep my eyes open to remain connected to our ever-changing city.”