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In The Weeds: Hotel Concierge…Like a Server, Only Awesomer

September 14, 2010
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For the second time in three weeks, I’ve been summoned to the school for a parent/teacher conference regarding my oldest son.  The good son.  The easy son.  The son who thanks me for putting on his seat belt.  The son who sits quietly at a restaurant table for hours.   The son who only just started kindergarten but who has been in the “Safe Seat” about five times.  Yes, the politically correct mumbo jumbo that protects today’s youth from losing any valuable self esteem calls the “You F*^!ed Up Now, Boy!” chair the “Safe Seat.”   I let him know when I picked him up that his “seat” would not be “safe” at home until he straightens his act up.   Today, his teacher reported that he spit on another child at recess.  Spit on someone?  Who is this person who looks like my son but suddenly acts like a character in an Eminem video?   I’ve added to my list of “Ways Having Kids Ruins Everything” that they totally embarrass you for no good reason.

At any rate, I was trying to find some humor in life so that I could bring you today’s column, but I kept getting bogged down in how hard it is to raise kids.  It’s like way harder that splitting a check for eight old ladies who had two appetizers, five entrees and six glasses of white zin.  I tried thinking back to a simpler time in my life, to the year 3 B.C. (before children).

In 3 B.C., I had a dream job at a dream company in a dream city.  I don’t want to be too specific, because I’m not sure what I’ll divulge.  And I would love to work there again if the opportunity ever existed after my kids are up and out (crazy hours make it decidedly non-mom suitable).  But I’m sure I’ll be too old, wrinkly and tired by then, so let’s just add another one to my list of “Ways Having Kids Ruins Everything.”   Okay, sorry.  Focus.  Breathe.

Concierge

Similar to a server, only slightly more respected and with a better outfit.

I worked as the head concierge at a AAA Five Diamond resort in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area.  While the work was intense and attending to the every whim of high-maintenance guests in 650 rooms with only five phone lines caused the occasional nervous breakdown, I loved it.  It was sort of like being a server, only guests didn’t leave after an hour or two.  They stayed for days or weeks, which gave them the time to really ramp up the demands.  Guest requests cross over from mundane and annoying to entertaining at this level.   They didn’t just ask for sides of ketchup, they asked for separate limousines for their dogs.  They didn’t just find a side dish unpleasant, they found entire mattresses, views and weather patterns unacceptable.  They didn’t just want a 7:00 reservation, they wanted the chef’s table in the hottest new restaurant on New Year’s Eve with no notice.

Unlike being a server in a restaurant where you are often restricted in what you can do for a guest, the resort had just the opposite policy.  If it wasn’t immoral, illegal or unethical, we were to say yes.  Every time.  The feeling of accomplishment after locating the exact replica of Robert Palmer’s suit and both dress styles in the “Simply Irresistible” video in less than four hours for a guest (who never did divulge why he needed them) was as satisfying as completing the NYT Sunday crossword.  Okay, so I’ve never actually done that, but I bet it would feel pretty good.

If I had kept notes, I would certainly have some best-selling book material.  But I was too busy extracting scorpions from guests’ slippers by day and eating at the best restaurants before having a personal driver take my friends and me to the VIP rooms of the hottest clubs by night.  The perks of that job were buh-na-nuhs.  Here’s just a few of the whacky things that I can remember:

  • The Cat Fanciers Association rented out every room in the hotel for their annual show.  Most of the cat ladies double booked, which equals about 1300 women and their cats.  Competition was fierce with the diva cats demanding ahi tuna and hourly maid service for litter box cleaning.
  • A man arrived by private jet at the executive airport nearby.  He sat in my office with a woman about 30 years his junior who wore a very short dress and spoke very little English.  He booked dinners at all the best places for the next four nights.  He booked a hot air balloon ride, horseback riding, private desert Hummer tour, spa treatments, the works.  As he was leaving, he turned to me and said, “Under no circumstances are you to pay for any reservations with my credit card.  I will pay in cash for everything.  Because this (grabbing her ass) is NOT my wife.”  Noooooo…..really?
  • A New York woman booked a room for the entire week of Christmas to New Year’s.  She was bummed about being in Arizona and said it just wouldn’t feel like Christmas without a real tree and snow.  She provided a photo of her ideal Christmas tree and asked that something identical be set up in her room complete with lights and gifts (empty wrapped boxes) beneath.  The snow was handled by having the landscaping department pile fake snow on her patio and as far out into the grounds as her view allowed.  To give you an idea of how seriously each request was handled (not just mocked and dismissed), there were actual meetings with our maintenance people, insurance people and the fire department to assess the fire risk posed by a real tree in a hotel room.
  • I welcomed a young family of mom, dad and 6-year-old daughter to the resort just after they checked in.  I asked the girl where she was from and she said California.  She enthusiastically told me they were on their way home from Disney World in Florida.  I asked her if she had fun at Disney and she said, “Yes, it was fun, but we had to leave early because mom and dad were fighting and mom threw an ashtray at dad’s head.”  I nervously laughed and looked at the frozen and mortified parents.  Dad had visible stitches above his eye brow. Kids.  They’re the best.
  • Five Diamond hotels require a live person to make the wake-up calls…no automation.  If the person does not answer the wake up call, the operator must call back in five minutes and again at ten minutes.  If that does not work, a bellman is required to go to the room and knock.  If a successful waking is still not achieved, the bellman must go into the room and physically wake the guest.  It’s awful and awkward.  Everyone hopes it does not get to this point.   But it sometimes does.  The guest service staff (bellmen, valets, doormen, etc) have a hazing ritual for new guys that never failed to get the entire lobby staff in hysterics.  First, about 12 guys go hide in an empty guest room…in the closets, bathroom and behind curtains.  One gets in the bed and covers up.  Next, a guest service manager tells the new guy that they have a non-successful wake up call, gives him a room key and tells him to first knock three times and then go in and wake the guest.  Walking into a dark room to wake a sleeping guest makes experienced veterans nervous, so when this greenhorn finally tip toes up to the bed and starts to gently tap the sleeping body and 12 people jump out of every nook and cranny….well, he usually shits himself.

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7 Responses to “ In The Weeds: Hotel Concierge…Like a Server, Only Awesomer ”

  1. nativenapkin on September 14, 2010 at 6:32 am

    I think I know the hotel of which you speak, and I can certainly relate. Auberge du Soleil, although only 50 rooms, had a similar guest profile. We built a sauna in a room for Dustin Hoffman’s wife, which was torn out and thrown away after check-out. We had another couple who visited yearly and needed two rooms (at over $650 per night in 90′s dollars): one for them, and one for HER wardrobe.

    There’s no tellin’ where the money went, indeed…

  2. Jane Almirall on September 14, 2010 at 7:20 am

    After I had my daughter, an enthusiastic fellow parent asked me if I could even remember what life was like before I had kids. (Note: she was misty-eyed and beaming as she cradled 3 or 4 of her own bebes.) My answer was thus, “Yes. I can remember. I remember it was awesome.” Not the answer she expected or was angling for, but it was honest.

    (I have a box of the finest Malbec Bota Box can offer and a decent prosecco over here with your name on it – let’s have a mama play date soon!)

  3. badbadwebbis on September 14, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    I know exactly what you mean about your child – my eldest, a delightful urchin at home, turned into a cherubic monster when she went to kindergarten. She had her color changed on a daily basis (white, yellow, green, red, purple – got to red once!) and, among other things, cut a chunk out of her best friend’s hair just to see what it felt like, kicked a boy during music class because ‘he looked like he was going to kick me first,’ talked incessantly and ‘forgot’ to follow the rules, and wandered into the boys’ bathroom so that she could see what it was like in there. She got away with a lot of bad behavior because she looked like a little Dutch doll. What a brat.

    She’s really sweet NOW, though….

  4. jjskck on September 15, 2010 at 3:34 pm

    Something I’ve always been curious about – what are the guidelines for tipping a concierge?

    I’ve never consulted one for more than show tickets or a dinner reservation, but what is an acceptable amount for a straightforward request like that? What if I needed you to find me a Thriller jacket or a skywriter?

  5. Maya on September 16, 2010 at 1:35 am

    I enjoyed your stories; there really are five-diamond hotels huh? I’ve never been close to one! I’m interested to read your story about how kids ruin everything too, because I’m nearing my mid-twenties and might have kids relatively soon…

  6. FrothyGirlzCJ on September 16, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    jjskck:

    Good questions! :) I can say that as a concierge, I never expected a tip for straight forward requests. How to find the elevator, directions to the airport, enhancing your self esteem with customary ass kissing, etc. Unlike a server, a concierge actually gets paid an hourly wage that is well above minimum and not some $2.13 per hour BS. When someone did throw me a bone for those simple things, it was a welcome surprise…like finding a five dollar bill in your jeans pocket.

    It can be a little confusing, but most concierge services should be viewed on a sliding scale. The more outrageous or difficult, the more cash you should expect to shell out. Guests seem to fall into 3 categories when tipping:
    1) Tip Up Front – The guest tips as soon as he arrives and says something like, “I know you are going to take great care of me this week. I will have several requests.” This is most certainly never good. He will produce $20, $50 or even $100, but the reach of the requests always far outpaces the pay. But he will take every advantage because he feels you owe him something and because, well..basically, people who like to tip up front are just kinda douchey.
    2) Tip As He Goes – The guest who tips as he goes is perfectly acceptable and appreciated. However, you can tell that he is a little torn each time about what to produce. I think it’s too stressful for the guest to always have cash and to try to calculate on the spot how much each request is worth.
    3) Tips At Checkout – Luuuuuuv it! The best guests usually write a small thank you note and include some lump sum for the total services provided. If the concierge made several dinner resos, booked some spa appts, gave advice and direction on the best things to see and do, etc….a perfectly acceptable amount would range from $25 to $75. If the concierge found a Thriller jacket along with a choreographer to teach you every step of the video, the expectation would be much higher.

    Dang, I think you just got me to write an entirely new blog post.

  7. FrothyGirlzCJ on September 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm

    Maya….dear dear Maya.

    I, like you, thought that having a kid would be kinda fun. Like getting a cat. I urge to decide if you’ve done all you really wanted to do in life before you make a life changing decision like having a baby. Have you traveled? Have you partied? Have you grown bored of sleeping? Have you found going to the bathroom alone is simply no longer acceptable? Think hard, my dear. And good luck.

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