By Betsy Rothstein - 02/04/08 04:43 PM EST
Guillaume Torniaire is not the kind of guy who winces at holidays that encourage him to shop for flowers or jewels.
He relishes such occasions. But more than that, he is as comfortable planning a date with Old World charm as he is detailing a wild night out (within the confines of the law), if that’s desired. He’ll even save a struggling romance if you ask.
As the designated “Romance Concierge” at The Willard Intercontinental Hotel in downtown Washington, he specializes in romance. Think of him as a non-balding, formalized French version of Dr. Phil. As Valentine’s Day approaches, he’s here to help, be it a night or weekend stay at the gorgeous hotel, which is blooming to perfection this afternoon with large, fragrant bouquets of orange roses.
Is it flowers you want?
Tourniaire, 33, with dark brown hair, dimples and deep blue eyes, won’t suggest just any petals on a vine, but knows where to locate the prettiest lilies and orchids in town.
Is it a romantic dinner you seek?
He knows not just the loveliest French or Italian cuisine that he would enjoy, he’ll talk with you until he can intuitively suggest the perfect venue for you and your date.
“I have that sense of 19th-century French romanticism,” he says, explaining that his parents are French and “over the top” romantics. “I always thought, ‘Wow, my father is quite the gentleman.’ ”
Oh, and so is he.
Perpetually ready for any occasion, Tourniaire keeps a split of champagne on hand for any event that may arise, be it a birthday, half-birthday, a new job, an anniversary or, as he puts it, a “month-aversary.” The champagne isn’t just any chilled, bubbly brut. The kind he keeps is Perrier Jouet, the French brand his parents sipped at their nuptials.
It’s romantic, he says. Note the gorgeous, hand-painted flowers on the bottle.
Details matter to Tourniaire. Thought matters. He knows.
Years ago, he purchased an engagement ring for his then-fiancée. The ring was emblematic of his thoughtfulness. She was active. The ring was smooth, set so it wouldn’t catch on anything during her hectic days.
The relationship didn’t last. But he never regrets the thought that went into his ring choice.
Now in a new relationship, he still doesn’t skimp on thoughtfulness.
“For me, romance is passion and a sense of occasion,” he says. “If you’re going to do something, don’t do it halfway. Pick well. Dress well.”
Tourniaire admits it makes him sad when a man tries to plan a special occasion such as a 25th wedding anniversary at the last moment. This is when he loves to step in with a detail like a pastry chef using silver icing on the dessert, or champagne and strawberries sent up to the room. “Bubbles say occasion,” he stresses. “Occasion is saying attention and affection. When you bite into a strawberry, it’s hard not to smile. It’s like biting into flesh — in a good way.”
Strawberries aside, this hotel employee has been known as the “Romance Concierge” well before the title was officially bestowed upon him last February. It’s well deserved. Last year, Torniaire received a call from a frantic hotel guest asking him to order two, three, no, four dozen roses. “ ‘I’m so sorry about last night. Please give me another chance,’ ” the man ordered for the card.
The Romance Concierge to the rescue: Torniaire calmed the man down and talked him into three mixed arrangements, a teddy bear and a sandwich containing the woman’s favorite foods. “She was over the moon,” he says, recalling the red-rimmed-eyed woman clutching the bear in her arm.
Racy requests come with the territory. “I may not do anything immoral, illegal or unethical,” he says. “I refer people to the Yellow Pages for things I don’t want to get involved in.”
There is a formal veneer, an “at your service” tone to Torniaire that is initially hard to take seriously. But the more he speaks, the more apparent it is that he is an authentic romance connoisseur.
As the sun splashes into the expansive lobby with marble pillars, he stands behind the concierge desk, on a call, conversing in French.
When he’s finished, we sit down in an enclave of sky-blue and yellow sofas and armchairs. “At some point I will dash off to get my boutonnière,” he says earnestly. “Would you like a drink, something to refresh yourselves?”
Born in Thailand, Torniaire says he was “born on the run” — his father was in the hotel business and kept the family moving. He grew up in such places as New Orleans, the Philippines, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Bahrain.
“I certainly didn’t sound like most 12-year-olds,” he says of his sophisticated upbringing.
The concierge gig came by surprise. At 21, he was working the front desk at the Le Meridian Hotel (now The Langham) in Boston. In a span of two weeks, the hotel lost three concierges, one of whom was fired for being “naughty,” Torniaire explains. “They said, ‘Guillaume, you like to talking to people, you speak different languages, how about you?’ ”
“It was like finding the right suit,” he says, once again sounding quite the atypical guy. “[Like it was] made for you before you put it on.”
Soon enough, Torniaire has “dashed off” to retrieve his fresh red-rose boutonnière. The photographs are taken, our conversation complete. And the romance concierge is ready for Valentine’s Day. He’ll have dozens of extra roses on hand, he says, for last minute Romeos.
“You pull a dozen red roses out of thin air, and you’re a hero,” he says, smiling.