“The concierge is here to make the impossible things possible and in a fashionable and inconspicuous way,” says Luis Colmenares, chief concierge at the Hotel Monaco in Washington, D.C. “My role is to put forward services that go beyond the demands of the customers and to offer them an unforgettable stay.”
At SmarterTravel, we always emphasize value over rock-bottom pricing. Sure, you might be able to get a hotel room for $50 or less per night, but it’s not going to be much of an experience (in the positive sense, that is). With so many hotel deals available in 2010, we’re even seeing great prices at higher-end properties worldwide. If you find yourself at a hotel with a concierge, know that requesting more information about their services can go a long way toward making a trip especially memorable.
Webster’s defines a concierge as “a usually multilingual hotel staff member who handles luggage and mail, makes reservations, and arranges tours.” But they can do much more than the basics of making travelers feel comfortable and welcome during a trip.
Here are some typical services you can request from a concierge:
- Restaurant recommendations and reservations
- Theater tickets
- Spa treatment reservations
- Attractions/tours recommendations and reservations
- Dry cleaning, babysitting, or pet services
- Transportation assistance (especially specialized options such as sailing excursions, limo rides, and the like, as well as more standard options such as taxis and airport shuttles)
“No request is too small,” says Jonathan Vendrick, VIP manager, Loews Philadelphia Hotel. “I had one guest who was in love with Miley Cyrus. It was her birthday, and I went on eBay and found an autographed picture and got it in a frame and had it waiting for her in the room when she arrived. We also had a [Miley Cyrus] video and CD playing in the room when she walked in.”
“A qualified concierge would be remiss if he didn’t attempt to cultivate a bit of a relationship with a guest,” says Richard Lara, chief concierge, InterContinental Buckhead Atlanta. “Learning what tastes and preferences a client has is critical to recommending the most appropriate services and options. From the amenities provided in the room at check-in to the transportation, restaurants, and nightlife suggested, we serve as [a] liaison and are tasked with properly customizing each guest’s experience to meet their specific—and anticipated—requirements.”
Sometimes those requirements can be out-of-the-ordinary. I asked each concierge about their wildest request and how they made it happen.
“[We had] an entertainer who needed a snake for her performance on TV, and we were able to find a snake for her,” says Vendrick. “It took a good hour. I found a pet store that was willing to do it. There was once a celebrity who wanted [her room’s] windows blacked out because she couldn’t sleep even with the curtains closed. [I’ve gotten] a request for fried chicken at two o’clock in the morning.”
“One Sunday afternoon, a guest decided he wanted to test drive a Hummer,” says Colmenares. “So I had to scramble to find an open dealership that could deliver a Hummer to the hotel for his test drive. I was able to find a dealership, and the guest ended up buying it!”
And in some cases, the sky isn’t even the limit. “A couple of guests, old high school sweethearts, [wanted to] exchange nuptials upon sky-diving from a chartered Cessna and land on the football field of their alma mater,” says Lara. “After arranging every detail, including a videographer, I learned that our wedding couple landed safely and sealed the deal mere moments before authorities arrived for ‘urban skydiving without a permit’ questioning. Of course, as it turned out, the couple’s adventure is permanently stamped in their lives and they certainly wouldn’t have changed a single aspect of their memorable weekend experience—including the plea bargain!”
Of course, while wild requests can present a good challenge for concierges, the most common inquiries tend to focus around restaurant and attraction recommendations, tickets to local events, arranging for transportation, and the like. Even standard requests, though, can be opportunities for creativity.
For travelers wanting to see the city’s main attractions, “I can set up a scavenger hunt,” says Vendrick. “It can be anything from historic to entertainment [focused], family fun, you name it. If the concierge knows the city well, it can take only 20 minutes to create. Sometimes we’ll also have a Polaroid camera waiting at the front desk for the travelers so they can snap photos along the way.”
“I’ve created packets that include information and directions—items like maps, tour guides, magazines, and brochures,” says Colmenares. “I can customize these based on a guest’s preferences or interests. Often, I’ll also send up a personalized welcome note with a cupcake or souvenir to welcome them to the city.”
If you’re pleased with your concierge’s services, show your appreciation with a thoughtful tip in an amount that seems appropriate to you. Each concierge I spoke with emphasized there is no industry standard or expectation for the amount of gratuity.
“Much of it depends on the types of services provided, and the amount of energy exerted,” says Colmenares.
“Tipping is a personal thing and can certainly vary from individual to individual,” says Lara. “There are those seasoned travelers that place a substantial monetary value on ‘insider information’ and are grateful for our insight and selective tastes.”
Finally, a more personal acknowledgment is always welcome. “Even more than tipping, I like thank-you cards,” says Vendrick. “My entire office is covered in thank-you cards [and] pictures little kids drew for me, and sometimes that’s even a little more important.”
In sum, if the concierge provided a job well done, tip accordingly, and always share your feedback.
Have you taken advantage of a concierge’s services in the past? Did you ever request something out of the ordinary, and the concierge made it happen? Share your stories by submitting a comment below!