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The Concierge--Veritable Miracle Worker

May 17, 1987|PETER S. GREENBERG | Greenberg is a Los Angeles free-lance writer .

Ever wonder what a hotel concierge really does?

The answer is, just about everything. If you want dinner reservations, transportation, sightseeing, advice, a concierge (pronounced kahn-see-airjzh ) should be able to do it.

But that's just the beginning.

A concierge, once a fixture exclusive to Old World European hotels, is now very much a part of many U.S. hotels. The genuine concierge is a veritable miracle worker, a man or woman with all the best connections. More often than not, a good concierge has a Rolodex that should be insured.

As a result, few requests are too outrageous for good hotel concierges. Consider:

A guest at the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia wanted a better look at some property he was considering buying. The concierge had him picked up by helicopter within an hour.

One morning a wealthy guest at the Inn on the Park in Houston wanted to have a big party that evening. He wanted a mansion with a swimming pool and tennis courts. The concierge had it set up in less than four hours.

The concierge at the Beverly Hills Hotel arranged an audience with the Pope for a guest traveling to Rome.

A growing number of hotels have hired concierges. Other hotels promote special "concierge floors" supposedly dedicated to European-style VIP service.

The Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Honolulu just hired the first concierge in its 60-year history. The newly opened Grand Bay Hotel at Equitable Center in New York advertises concierges on every floor.

But just because a hotel advertises it has a concierge doesn't mean that you'll receive true concierge service.

In some cases the concierge at your hotel may not truly be a concierge but a nattily attired bell captain wearing a set of gold-plated keys.

Last May the Doubletree Inn in Dallas promoted something called "let us astound you" and announced that as part of its new campaign to please guests, it had begun concierge service.

The hotel pronounced its new concierge capable of great wizardry and proudly placed the concierge desk in the center of the lobby.

Astounding, All Right

The concierge wasted no time astounding guests. The concierge desk, it turned out, was nothing more than an information desk staffed by an inexperienced employee.

In September the concierge job was eliminated and the lobby desk removed. It was replaced by a large plant.

"We've seen it happen all too often," says Rudolf Greiner, general manager of the Regent Hotel in Hong Kong. "Hotels try to change the name of the information desk to the concierge desk. Or they promote something called a 'concierge floor.'

"But that's the last place to look for a real concierge. There's a big difference between the two, and regular guests know it right away. And when a first-time guest finds out that the concierge can't help him, he doesn't come back a second time."

Concierge service is also being heavily promoted by Westin hotels. At the Hotel Camino Real in Mexico City (a Westin) a new concierge--the hotel's first--was hired a few weeks ago.

But how good is the service? When a guest asked Gabriel Garcia, the new concierge, for help in reconfirming airline tickets, Garcia told him to "go see a travel agent." Terrific advice.

"These things happen," said Jacques Hamburger, general manager of the Drake Hotel in New York, "because of the linking of service to the monetary reward in the attitude of some concierges. In a reconfirmation of an airplane reservation, there's nothing but aggravation for the concierge and there's no money in doing that. But reconfirming airline tickets is something we do here with great regularity. In fact, we make it part of the concierge job definition."

And, because a good hotel concierge places virtually no limits on the job definition, don't be afraid to ask one for help no matter what you need, even if it seems impossible.

It's probably more important to cultivate a relationship with the concierge than with any other hotel employee.

"Many hotels see new general managers every few years," says Holly Stiel, chief concierge for the last 10 years at the Hyatt on Union Square in San Francisco, "but good concierges stay. Often a guest will return to the hotel simply because he knows he can count on the concierge."

At the Regent in Hong Kong, concierge Herbert Croft helps a lot of repeat guests. One of the most knowledgeable concierges in the world, he's also a local. Croft, 48, was born and raised in Hong Kong.

Staff of 52

His staff numbers an impressive 52 people. And there isn't an airline representative, shoe repairman, luggage expert, tour operator or Chinese junk captain who doesn't owe him at least one large favor.

Need an express visa to get into China? Ask Herbert. Did you buy too much to fit into your suitcase for the return trip home? Croft will pack it for you. (The concierge staff constructs an average of 35 heavily reinforced packages a day for guests.)

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