Monday, February 15, 2010

Don't be afraid to ask a Concierge for just about anything

While on a 2007 business trip to Nashville, Tenn., Caryn Connor was returning from a late dinner with clients. As the assistant to the VP of her company, she accompanied her boss in the elevator to the fourth floor of the Doubletree Hotel. On the elevator was another couple, both had clearly been drinking but seemed friendly enough. That is, up until the woman was sick all over Connor's boss. It was meant to be an overnight trip and he had packed light--so light that he had only the suit on his back. With only a few hours until the team was set to fly out at 7 a.m., the soiled suit quickly became Connor's problem.

Until the professional behind the concierge desk stepped in. "My boss left the suit outside his door, it was picked up and back in his hands by 6 a.m.," she says. "Where he found a dry cleaner open at 3 a.m. in Nashville is beyond me, but I was too grateful to ask questions."

Situations like that are of a sort that concierges from Nashville to New York or Nice see so often they've become commonplace: A guest is in a panic and can't fathom a solution to their problem, whether it's a soiled suit, a canceled reservation or a missing piece of luggage. But to the chief concierge it's all in a day's work.

Eight Ways To Make The Most Of Your Concierge

A concierge is a hotel staff member who is paid to problem solve, or, as Josephine Danielson, chef concierge at the Four Seasons New York puts it, to "anticipate problems or needs of our guests that they themselves haven't even thought of yet." For business travelers whose schedules and needs can be erratic on a good trip and cataclysmic on a bad one, taking advantage of the help might just be life-changing.

"On average, 80% of our guests are business travelers," says Leslie Lefkowitz, director of public relations for Four Seasons New York, "and we have 11 concierges on staff," making nearly any problem no problem at all. Staying in New York and need a flight to Las Vegas for a spontaneous evening of poker? Not a problem. Danielson will call you a jet. Need a yarmulke for a wedding in 10 minutes? She can do that too, with her magic box of "I Need it Now" inventory that includes everything from collar stays to pantyhose in a variety of colors. Moral of the story here: Don't be afraid to ask.

"I've never had a personal assistant, so I'm not used to people doing things for me," says account executive Laura Hawke of Houston, Texas. "I never ask for things from the concierge." Hawke isn't alone. For many business travelers, particularly women of the can-do variety, seeking help from the concierge seems counterintuitive.

"If I'm competent enough to juggle my accounts and my family, then I can definitely make my own dinner reservations--or pick up a new toothbrush if I happen to forget it," says Hawke. Of course she can, but the time spent finding a drugstore in a new city and getting back to the hotel could be 30 minutes better spent preparing for a meeting or catching up on e-mails while a staff member delivers said toothbrush to your doorstep.

Still, Hawke says asking service staff for assistance makes her feel uncomfortable, a sentiment Jeanne Mills, chief concierge at the MGM Grand Casino & Resort in Las Vegas, seeks to alleviate. Mills makes what she calls "a conscious and constant effort" to educate prospective guests of the services her concierge team can provide in hopes of making their stay more fulfilling.

Mills oversees the largest--at 61--staff of concierge professionals in any one property in the world, juggling between 1,600 to 2,000 phone requests daily, which she points out is in addition to any action in the lobby, to serve the hotel's 5,044 guest rooms. Her goal is for every guest to make the most of their trip by taking advantage of the unique role of a hotel concierge.

"So many people think concierge is just about tours and tickets and reservations," she says. While the MGM Grand concierge desk, in the heart of Las Vegas, does do more than its fair share of snagging hard-to-get tickets, "A concierge is more than that," she says. "It's an ambassador, an assistant, a confidant and a friend."

Mills also currently serves as vice president of Les Clefs d'Or USA, an elite fraternity of service professionals. (To give a picture of just how elite: There are roughly 20,000 concierges currently working in the U.S. and 560 are members of the order.) She has first-hand experience in being that perfect mix of pragmatic assistant and friend: She has served in both the most celebratory of events, acting as a witness in countless Las Vegas weddings and has stepped in when illness or tragedy strikes and a guest just isn't prepared to make arrangements.

For concierges, being prepared can mean having an extensive network of service providers and ticket scalpers at their fingertips. "We've done a lot of tracking down of particular luxury items for guests, whether it's a specific car part or a delicacy like an ostrich egg." If you're looking for it, and willing to ask, it can be found.

Sometimes, and especially for business travelers, the biggest challenge can simply be getting to the meeting on time. For that, Mills is at the ready. She's been known to sew buttons, remove stains and even catch you on the way out the door to stop a stocking's run in its tracks with a dab of clear nail polish. Her team members will--and have been known to--give the tie from around their necks to send you on your way looking your best.

Back on the East Coast, the Four Season's Josephine Danielson who also bears the crossed-keys insignia of a Les Clefs d'Or member, shares a feat her team accomplished in the summer of 2008. A guest who was to be married at the hotel in just under a month called in ahead, hoping Danielson could help him find a tuxedo. Not a problem, as the hotel is located next to men's tailor Brioni. However, the tuxedo he desired was created especially for actor Daniel Craig for Casino Royale, and not for sale in the U.S. or Europe.

Where some might resign themselves, Danielson's team forged ahead, calling in favor after favor to have a suit custom built in Italy and tailored to the guest's measurements--all in under three weeks' time. The guest was happily married in a Bond tuxedo, proving that like the superspy himself, Danielson and her team never joke about their work.

Credit Meghan Casserly from for this article.

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