By Caitlin Raux
On any given morning, you can find Christina Delli Santi (Hospitality Management, ‘15) quietly tending to the flower cart in the entrance of the Ace Hotel. For Christina, it’s a brief moment of peace and reflection, and an opportunity to check in with herself before she spends the rest of the day checking in with others. Soon enough, she’ll be assisting hotel guests, plowing through meeting after meeting and making sure everything in the hotel’s front office is copacetic — all part of her duties as Director of Front Office. A former hair stylist who left salons to pursue a career in hospitality, client satisfaction is a natural priority for Christina. “I love people — hearing their story and trying to help them — that’s hospitality to me,” says Christina.
Early on a Tuesday morning, Christina and I met in the buzzing Ace Hotel lobby, where laptop-wielding creative types were already competing for prime real estate at the cozy lobby tables. We chatted about her switch from hairstyling to hospitality, and how in just two years, she moved up the ranks to director-level at Ace.
How long have you been working at Ace Hotel?
I’ve been in the building for two years now. I originally started over at The Breslin [the Ace Hotel’s acclaimed gastropub, led by Chef April Bloomfield], through my externship.
So you studied hospitality management but started with a culinary position?
When I was looking for an externship, there was an alum who was working here at the time. ICE Career Services advisor Tessa [Thompson] reached out to him and told him that I was really interested in working at Ace or The Breslin. Originally, when I enrolled in the hospitality program, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work in hotels. I enrolled in the program more for the event organizing aspect. I wanted to do weddings and parties. I figured I would work for a restaurant group or something like that. I never thought about working in a hotel. The idea of a bigger hotel wasn’t for me.
I ended up getting an externship at The Breslin. At first I was in the events department, doing a little bit of everything — working with the kitchen, ordering food and organizing private bookings for parties. It was really cool because it was exactly where I wanted to be, in terms of learning.
How did you transition to director of front office? And so fast!
A few months after I started, Ace was about to open another location in Pittsburgh and the front office manager left to work there. The front office manager had been there for a while — one thing about Ace Hotel, a lot of people who come here wind up staying. It becomes like a home that people enjoy coming to and working. The front office manager who left, Sean Walsh, actually works at ICE now as a teacher in the hospitality program. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take his position, because it meant running a whole department — the bellmen, the front office, the rooms — but I knew that I loved it there and I could do it. So I just did it. I applied for and got the position as front office manager and stayed there for about a year. Now I’m director of the front office.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I love getting in super early, when the lobby is still quiet. It can get a little crazy-busy, so I love arriving around 7:00am. The first thing I do is review the VIP arrivals. I do a walk-through of the lobby, because this is the “shared space” and we have to communicate with all the other departments, from housekeeping to engineering to the Breslin staff, about it. Then I check the flower cart, which is my moment of peace for the day. I grew up around flowers because my parents own a flower shop, so that’s the moment I take to meditate on what the day will bring. After that, the day really revs up: I see who’s coming in, read the guest preferences, make sure everything is ready. We have guests that have been coming here since we opened [in 2009]. I think our number one guest has been here 200 times. We get a mixed crowd of really cool business travelers, like startups and bloggers, who really enjoy the lobby vibe. My team reviews the names of all guests who are coming, so they see if we have VIPs, or if someone works for a certain company or industry, we’ll write them a special note or do something that pertains specifically to them. I meet with all of the department heads at 9:30am and everyone goes through their whole day. We group in the morning, then we break and talk to each other a million times per day. The morning is about getting people out the door and the afternoon is about getting them in. I usually come to the desk around check-out time to see how guests enjoyed their stay. Then I come back at check-in time to make sure everything is flowing properly. It stays pretty busy. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve been here for 12-14 hours.
You said you were a hairdresser before switching to hospitality. What inspired that career change?
I became a hairdresser right out of high school. I’m from north [New] Jersey and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do out of high school. I didn’t think college was for me, so I went to cosmetology school when I was 18. I was a hairdresser for about 10 years. I had so much fun with it, working in tiny salons throughout Jersey before joining a bigger company called Toni & Guy, to advance my career. I loved it because you’re always giving something to people — helping them if they have a bad day or giving them a new hairstyle. I love people — hearing their story and trying to help them — that’s hospitality to me. Eventually I started managing salons, and was offered the opportunity to become a partial owner of a salon. I was 28 at the time — I’m 30 now, so this was pretty recent. But I wanted to try something new. As I got older, school seemed more interesting to me. I actually wanted to go to class and learn. I knew I wanted to go back to school and get into hospitality and events. I had some experience with organizing events while working in the salons. I found ICE and thought [the hospitality management program] was perfect because I didn’t want to go to school for three years. I’m the kind of person who’s very hands-on — I learn things on the job.
It’s interesting that you began the hospitality program with event-planning goals. A lot of people aim to work in more traditional hotels and tourism positions.
I definitely came with an event-planning motivation. I wanted to learn how to break down budgets and plan events, and expand my food and beverage background a bit.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from the ICE hospitality program?
I do. It’s hard because everyone is so busy all the time. But I always float around opportunities that come up at the hotel. I’ve interviewed three people I graduated with for various positions here. I think I talk to Tom [Voss] the most. He called me last week to ask if he could bring hospitality students in for a tour.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I really love the people I work with. I think it’s so important to work in an environment with passionate people. At the end of the day, we do the same thing. The people who have worked here for years and have been in the industry for so long, they do the same thing most days. You check people out, check people in and create an experience for them. But every day, it’s so fun to work with the people here because everyone has so much passion. I think we’re the type of company that we don’t just have the same thing going on. There’s always new artwork in the galleries and fun events going on. It’s not your traditional hotel. We get to have a lot of fun. Our guests become our friends. If they’re having a bad day, they can come talk to us. But my General Manager always says, “Take care of the internal (employees) first, and then the external (guests) will follow.” Because if you take care of your team, they, in turn, will be able to take care of your guests.
Ready for an exciting career in hospitality with opportunities around the globe? Click here to learn about ICE’s award-winning career programs.