No figure in the hospitality industry mystifies me more than the hotel concierge. They have to know everything and anything, do anything and everything, and keep perfectly pleasant and positive even when requests are totally absurd.
I connected with Wonder Woman concierge Isabelle Hogan, head concierge at The Mark Hotel, a five-star dig on Manhattan's Upper East Side, to learn a little bit more about what she and other concierges do exactly and how they do it.
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Her background: She's been making helicopters and perfect amenities appear for guests since she started as a concierge in 1998, first working at New York City's The Plaza, The Carlyle, and the former Mandarin Oriental (now The Mark Hotel). I'll let her tell it how it is, though unfortunately, what doesn't come across below is that she has the best French accent ever.
In a nutshell?
To me the concierge is the ambassador of the hotel. If the guest doesn't have a good experience with the concierge the whole trip will be a mess.
It's a balancing act: reservations, tickets, keeping baths warm and bubbly.
A typical day is non-stop. You have to be ready for any question at any moment, because any guest can ask you anything. And I love that they ask you all different questions. You come to work and you never know what's going to happen that day. It's just one thing after another: restaurant reservations, theater tickets, travel arrangements, sending someone to pick up shopping at Bergdorf or getting them a car.
Someone might call and say, 'I'm coming tomorrow and want the whole room set up with champagne and rose petals and make me a bath and it has to be warm when we arrive,' and you don't even know when they're going to come. So you have to keep running from the desk to the room and make sure the bath is still warm and has bubbles, so you're adding warm water and bubbles… You're just always in action.
There's really no limit to their scope of work, which can include 8-hour shopping sprees with Saudi princesses.
One of my guests was 16 years old and her dad had given her $100,000 cash to go shopping. Because I had lived in Saudi Arabia myself and I was a woman the father asked me if I could go shopping with her for the day. So, we were in a stretch limo with her assistant who had the $100,000 cash in a briefcase. I remember, I was six months pregnant and we went from one store to the other and she was buying the same thing in different colors. We spent eight hours shopping.
They're inhumanly optimistic and relentless.
Even if we know we can't do it we never tell a customer no or that we can't do it. It's, 'Mr. Smith, let me check on it to see if we can make it happen.' And if not we will find an alternative. That's my philosophy of being a concierge.
I tell my concierges we have to make it happen, whatever way things go. Rule #1 is to never give up until you get a yes. Today if I call a restaurant and say I wanted a reservation for five at 7 p.m. one will say no, so I call back 10 minutes later and that other person who isn't in a bad mood will say yes. And if not you go to the general manager I will just talk to that person, tell them where I'm calling from and that if they want my business… and they say 'OK, fine, great.'
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Their network is enviable.
Stores and restaurants always want us to send them their business, so they come to us and talk to us about their businesses and invite us there. That's how we make all our connections.
You want an unlocked iPhone 6 in a few hours? Isabelle did just that for a guest the other week.
I have connections at the Apple store and an electronics store, and fortunately I was able to get one.
The job does have some jealousy-inducing perks.
All of the big-name restaurants invite us first and want us to go try. It's a great perk to go — I don't understand how I'm not 300 pounds by now. I go to try the restaurants and base my recommendations off myself and my experience. A lot of designers, Broadway shows and spas will invite us out, too, and we decide which ones we think are worth recommending.
But they take their recommendations seriously.
A complimentary invite doesn't equal an automatic recommendation.
Sometimes I don't like to go [to a restaurant where] they know I'm a concierge because the service will be perfect and it drives me crazy. I often would rather pay and get the real service, not always the concierge VIP service, because of course everything will be perfect. I'll just sit down at the bar for lunch and see.
They trump TripAdvisor and Yelp.
Because when they give recommendations, they're also reading and considering the guests.
A lot of guests go on Yelp or TripAdvisor and tell me, 'I've heard of this restaurant and know it's a great restaurant.' Sometimes I would say, 'Don't go because I've heard bad things and I was there myself.' It's a matter of being there, and some can have a great time and others not.
They do talk about guests and store information on them.
They're going to commit things to memory but they're also going to back it up with some software.
We always know our guests and we learn from them. We have staff meetings to talk with each other and mention this guest or that guest to remember what he or she likes, or that he didn't like this car service, or the SUV or Mercedes.
And we have a system where we put everything in a profile so we know exactly what the guest likes, whether it's white wine or red wine. If we are going to send an amenity we aren't going to send champagne if we know that person prefers white wine or if he or she doesn't drink we will send a fruit bowl. It's very important to know your guests.
They can get royally screwed.
Concierges need to protect themselves (and their businesses) from the flights and fancies of guests with some sort of collateral. They'll get those front-row Lion King on Broadway tickets but there's going to be a credit card put down or form signed.
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We often have the guest give us their credit card and we swipe it in front of them so they know it's been charged already. But I remember one of my concierges once had to pay $800 because a guest had asked for Broadway tickets and then said, 'I don't want them anymore.' The concierge had already bought them from a broker and hadn't made the guest sign, so he had to pay from his own pocket.
They have their little helpers.
We do have runners who just go here and there to get things, we concierges do go (physically) out of our way sometimes, like if a guest is sick and I don't have a runner I'll go to the pharmacy.
A few years ago one of the guests was pregnant and she was really cold but didn't want to buy a coat because she was leaving soon. So, I went home on my lunch break and just lent her my coat.
Most guests do actually thank them.
It's not all outlandish guests asking for the moon to be handed to them five minutes without any niceties or thanks.
Some people do know how much we work and a lot of them appreciate us. We get presents and gifts like gratuities, which is nice. Most who stay with us often will send us something at the end of the year, an envelope or presents, and also do that at the end of their stay. And we try to make it so they're happy all the time so we're happy, too.
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