There are taxi drivers, ride-sharing drivers – and then there are chauffeurs. So what’s the difference? Drivers are often casually dressed and remain in the vehicle while the paying passenger opens his or her door and manages their own luggage. Chauffeurs on the other hand are smartly dressed and well-groomed, open and close doors for their clients, carry their bags and are far more attentive and professional without being intrusive. They drive luxury vehicles that are immaculately presented and maintained.
The term ‘chauffeur’ sounds French and it is. It comes from the French word for ‘stoker’, when the early steam-powered vehicles required the driver to stoke the firebox with coal. A female chauffeur is known as a ‘chauffeuse’ but the term has largely faded from use.
During the first half of the 20th century a chauffeur would most likely be employed by a wealthy family to drive and maintain the owner’s car. We’ve all seen the cliché images portrayed in old movies — an older gentleman with a white moustache polishing the Rolls Royce in a sweeping driveway and waiting patiently for his employer to emerge from the mansion. Some wealthy individuals and celebrities still employ their own chauffeur. But these days a chauffeur is more likely to be an owner-driver with just one or two cars, or to be employed full- or part-time by a large company with a fleet of vehicles.
So what does it take to be a successful chauffeur? Well, they must enjoy driving – after all, they will spend most of their day behind the wheel. They must also know how to interact with individual clients and be prepared to respond to any request. A great chauffeur will be able to read their clients’ body language and mood and anticipate when to speak or stay silent. A chauffeur who is constantly on the speaker-phone, or who asks prying questions of the client, won’t last long in the business. VIP clients pay for and expect a premium service and for their privacy to be respected.
Some clients may be regulars and the chauffeur will have already established a rapport with them. The chauffeur will know their habits and preferences and respond accordingly. A great chauffeur must deliver a standard of service that will turn a first time client into repeat business.
A chauffeur’s working day may start at 3 am if there is a client departing or arriving on an early flight at Sydney Airport. Arrivals can be tricky. The chauffeur will either track the flight he’s meeting on a phone app to ensure it’s not delayed, or have it monitored by someone at his base. A very late arrival can throw the rest of his or her day’s schedule into chaos.
“What a buzz it was when I joined the queue of black hire cars in my pearl-white Tesla at the Sydney International Airport for the first time. There I was in my white suit amongst all those males dressed in black. I could see heads turning. A few walked over to greet me with a friendly smile and to admire the car. Others were more aloof and I could sense that there was a touch of envy that such a beautiful and exciting car was being driven by a woman. I guess I’ve always felt special being a woman in a male dominated domain but that day I felt like a rock star“. ………….. Mel
There should be time for a quick breakfast before more airport transfers and point-to-point bookings. Early afternoons can be less busy and the chauffeur can usually take an extended break and check that the vehicle is still spotless. Evening shifts are usually busy, especially Friday and Saturday nights or when there are major sporting events and concerts in town. An experienced chauffeur will know how to avoid the worst of the traffic and use bus lanes to get clients to their destination on time. Often functions do not end until well after midnight and a chauffeur on the night shift may not finish until after 3 am.
Not all jobs are as routine as airport and point-to-point transfers. Being a chauffeur for a wedding party requires additional skills. It’s often the case that the chauffeur will provide and serve champagne and finger food during the couple’s photo session. He or she may also need to roll out the red carpet at the wedding venue and reception, attend to any requests by the wedding party, and to have available a sewing kit, hair spray and other items in case of last minute mishaps.
“I hold down a full-time job but have had a long association with hire cars, particularly wedding cars. Imagine how delighted I was when I was offered the opportunity to drive one of Revel’s high-tech, zero-emission Teslas occasionally on weekends or during holidays. It’s a great feeling being back behind the wheel, especially for special occasions like weddings”. …………. Dave
Sightseeing trips with clients can present other challenges for a chauffeur. Not only will the chauffeur’s driving and navigation skills be on display but they must have a thorough knowledge of the history and significance of the places they visit. Tours may sometimes run for as long as eight hours so a chauffeur must have the right personality to keep the clients happy and engaged. Not all chauffeurs have the aptitude or temperament to be a successful tour guide as well.
Safety, comfort and punctuality are the hallmarks of what a good chauffeur offers their clients. But there’s a twist in the tail to being a chauffeur; they will spend a large part of their day in the company of the rich and famous but will most likely never be wealthy themselves.