Dressed in elegant kilts, doormen Ian Walker and Wayne Hutchison make a memorable first impression when they meet and greet guests at the Sheraton Grand Hotel & Spa, Edinburgh.
This likable pair has worked in the hotel business for a whopping 42 years — Ian for six years and Wayne for 36 years, in their current positions at the Sheraton Grand. Both were drawn to concierge work because of their love of people — and the pleasure they take from going beyond their guest’s expectations.
Ian and Wayne are natural storytellers with encyclopedic knowledge of the Scottish capital that goes beyond the average guidebook, and they also have some impressive individual talents: Ian is a trombone player, and Wayne is an enthusiastic photographer.
The busy duo took a break from helping guests to sit down with Marriott TRAVELER and share some stories about their work and the city they are so passionate about.
How do you continue to go beyond expectations and create unforgettable experiences for your guests in Edinburgh?
Ian: “The thing I love at the Sheraton is being able to be there at the front door, and meet and greet people. I’m the first person that they meet. If I give a good impression, they’ll enjoy their stay.”
“I just love meeting people … The job’s responsibilities go beyond just saying ‘Good morning!’ and ‘Is everything OK?’ I find out what their interests are and give them a bit of insight into what it’s like to live in Edinburgh. If they want to know about the history of Edinburgh or the history of Scotland, I can give them a wee story on that. If it’s music — I’m a musician — I can tell them about that.”
Wayne: “My favorite [guest experience] was at a wedding when the general manager came to me and said, ‘Wayne, we need you to take a photograph of the bride and her father [as a surprise].’ I made out that I was doing a course on photography and that the topic was weddings.”
“The father and the bride came out, and I took the photograph. I got them printed and put in silver frames; then I put them into the bride’s room and into the father’s room. They came back, and they were over the moon.”
Combined, you’ve worked more than 40 years at the Sheraton Grand. What do you love about your jobs at the hotel?
Wayne: “The longer I’ve been in the job, the more I’ve been able to tell my stories and tell stories about the city, and I just thrive on it; it’s great to be the reason people come back.”
“I do, more or less, the same thing every day: The job always involves [answering] questions, but it’s always different questions and different scenarios that we get to come up with.”
Ian: “You never know what’s going to happen; you never know who´s going to come through the door. You have to be able to meet and greet them, whoever they are. There are some surprising things go on.”
“For instance, [recently] I came in and we had the vice premier of China here, so there were about three police vehicles, two special branch vehicles, and about 17 [vehicles] from the Chinese embassy. As a result of that, because I got on so well with the police and the special branch people, they asked me if I could I take part in a re-enactment where they would bring somebody in the hotel.”
The offerings at the Sheraton Grand are such that it can be a destination in itself. What do you recommend that guests do and see in the hotel?
Ian: “I’ll always say the hotel´s restaurant, One Square: It’s Scottish cuisine with a modern twist. We also have a gin tasting experience at the restaurant, which doesn’t take place anywhere else in Edinburgh. We call it a ‘Ginnasium.’ People love that.”
Wayne: “We’ve got the biggest collection of gins in Edinburgh. If you said to me 10 to 15 years ago that gin would catch up on whisky, I would have thought you were off your head, but gin is everywhere! And One Spa: We’ve got a fantastic facility over there, probably the best in Europe.”
What advice do you have for first-time visitors to Edinburgh so they’re sure to see the city highlights — even if they’re short on time?
Ian: “Go and see Edinburgh Castle. It goes back hundreds of years. It’s got a checkered history, sometimes good and sometimes violent. The Palace of Holyroodhouse is another good one; it´s where the Queen stays when she’s in Edinburgh. If there’s a royal flag flying, that means she’s in residence. It’s full of history, as well. Somebody was murdered in it, one of Mary Queen of Scots’ lovers.”
Wayne: “If you haven’t been to Edinburgh and you only had one day, you’ve got to see the castle because you can’t go back home and say to your friends and family, ‘I was up in Edinburgh, but we just went shopping!'”
Ian: “Go and look at the architecture of Edinburgh. It’s steeped in history. Walk around Edinburgh — don’t get taxis; walk along Princes Street looking up at the castle, go into the New Town and look at the Georgian buildings [and] then go into the Old Town and have a look at the twisting streets.”
Wayne: “You get a lot of people coming to Edinburgh for history, so I ask, ‘Do you ever go around graveyards?’ Some of our graveyards have got the most fantastic graves. I also tell people to go out in the early morning — sunrise is great for taking photographs. Evening time is even more stunning. I think Edinburgh comes alive at nighttime and is glorious for photography.”
You’re both established Edinburgh insiders. Tell us your favorite secret or lesser-known spots in the city.
Ian: “I would suggest heading up to Calton Hill. There’s an old observatory up there, and you can look all over Edinburgh. You look over the Forth, over the city, over the hills and over Arthur’s seat, and you’re looking down on the Palace of Holyroodhouse, as well.”
Wayne: “J.K. Rowling obviously stayed in Edinburgh; you’ve got The Elephant House where she wrote part of ‘Harry Potter,’ and if you go along to the Balmoral Hotel, there’s a chair in there which she sat on and wrote her name on. And I always say to the Americans, ‘Do you know we’ve got a statue of Abraham Lincoln?’ And a lot of them don’t. That’s at the far end of Princes Street.”
And finally, when they’re not dining at One Square, where would you recommend guests experience Edinburgh´s food and drink scene?
Ian: “Down in Leith, we’ve got Martin Wishart; we’ve got The Kitchin. There’s a nice little restaurant in the Royal Mile called Wedgwood, which is intimate and very nice. If your interest is in seafood and fish — Fishers in the City or Fishers Leith, The Ship on the Shore, any of these.”
Wayne: “There are lots of traditional pubs down the Royal Mile — Milnes Bar, the Royal Oak. They are pubs that have been there since my father was a little boy, and they’re still going strong; the decor will change, but it’s always the same atmosphere!”
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