An increasing rarity in this age of self-check-in hotels, a doorman at a hotel lobby seems strangely old-fashioned and formal.
For these beaming greeters, there is much more to their jobs than just tipping hats and opening doors.
Their jobs are a mix of concierge and butler. They can call you a cab just as easily as they can give opinions on the best resturants. Sometimes, they manage crises resulting from drunken guests. Missing your shoes? Some of them will lend you a pair.
Of course, lots of hotel guests choose to be self-sufficient, calling their own rides on car-hailing apps or Googling for good food in the area.
But the doorman is a profession that epitomises the personal touch.
In fact, some of the more long-serving doormen are becoming icons of hotels in their own right.
Take, for example, Mr Narajan Singh, 62, senior doorman at Raffles Hotel Singapore, who was one of three finalists nominated globally for the Best Iconic Employee at the Worldwide Hospitality Awards 2017. Though he did not win, he has received numerous hospitality awards on behalf of the hotel on other occasions.
It is also an ageing profession. Some doormen have stayed at their jobs for more than two or three decades.
Singapore’s longest-serving doorman, with more than 40 years of experience, is Mr Syed Kadir Syed Hameed, 63, who works at the Royal Plaza on Scotts.
Asked about the struggle to find the next generation of doormen, Mr Singh says: “Today, the first question people ask is how much they will get paid or what the benefits are.
“But in a job like this, you need to truly love what you do. Only then can you do it for years and with pride.”
Mr Narajan Singh with a digital image of himself which is used on the hotel’s marketing materials. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
You do not work 31 years as a doorman and have no funny stories to tell.
Mr Ismail Buang, 71, who has been holding the fort at the lobby of the Fairmont Singapore, is full of anecdotes.
Take, for example, the time when some airline crew had a little too much to drink and carted back a life-sized standee of Colonel Sanders from a nearby KFC outlet.
“I had to distract them and get them back to their rooms so I could put the cutout in storage for someone from KFC to pick up the next day.”
Another time, he played tour guide to an elderly Australian couple and helped to push the wife, who uses a wheelchair, to places of interest in the vicinity.
The couple were keen for him to go back to Australia with them because they were enamoured of how caring and patient he was.
“Of course, I had to say no as my family is here,” he says.
He is married with three children.
He adds: “Still, I was touched by them and the fact that they have made the effort to stay in touch and mail me letters over the years.”
Full of jovial greetings and animated thumbs-ups, Mr Ismail has survived several management changes to the hotel over the years.
He joined the year the hotel was formed, in 1986, when it was run by The Westin Stamford and Westin Plaza under Westin Hotels & Resorts.
Since then, the property has changed hands various times and it is now managed by AccorHotels.
Although he is now a fixture at the hotel, he actually considered quitting within the first two weeks on the job.
Back then, he was 40 years old and newly retrenched from his previous job as a delivery man at food and beverage company F&N.
“I was introverted and shy back then and the thought of speaking to strangers made me very nervous.”
Thankfully, a fellow doorman at the hotel took him under his wing and told him to follow his lead – teaching him how to approach and greet guests and pointing out important things that he should remember, such as directions.
Today, he says he cannot imagine stopping what he is doing or retiring – even though he has to stand for more than nine hours a day.
“As long as I am in good health, I’m happy to do my job.
“To be in this line, you cannot be biased and treat some guests better than others because they are nicer. You must treat everyone equally.
“I take a lot of pride in my job – it is a privilege to be able to make someone’s day simply by greeting and wishing him well.”