'Concierge Confidential': Confessions of a Luxury Concierge
St. Martin's Press
Do guests ever pretend to be fancy by pronouncing "concierge" as if they have a fake French accent?
No, but most of the concierges themselves say cohn-cierge. Part of the fun of this profession is that little bit of mystique... I think sometimes concierges might be perceived as unapproachable, like there's a velvet rope. It's like, "Do I have the nerve to go up to that person?" And the answer to that is, "Absolutely! You should, and don't be shy." People who know how to use the concierge don't mince words. They go right for the jugular and say what they want. They're explicitly clear. That is what makes me excited.
You like a clear customer.
Absolutely, because when somebody has a definite idea of what they want, it's very easy to please them. You're setting up an expectation.
So what's the wrong way to approach the concierge?
It's the people with that "stump the band" attitude that are like, "I bet you can't do this." Because it so deflates all of the magic. That's one thing. The other thing is announcing how generous you're going to be if we light ourselves on fire and jump through a hoop.
That brings up the big question. How generous should you be? I think there are some people who just assume it's a service of the hotel.
It is, really, in all fairness. It's also a profession, and you don't tip your therapist. So it's part of what we do, but traditionally, it's taken on some extra financial reward in the form of gratuities. No, you don't really have to, but it's really, really, really nice and we love you when you do. And we probably write little notes in your folio so that next time you come back, we're like, "Oh, we love that Jason. He left us $100." But if you're asking for something basic like a dinner reservation, and you're not being really specific like, "I want to go to Alain Ducasse," then five bucks is nice. It's a gesture. But if you're very specific and you want to go to one of the hot spots that are going to be a challenge, then I would suggest $20.
That's not crazy.
Then there's the final over-the-moon tipping for stuff that's also price-appropriate. If you want to go to the Metropolitan Opera's opening night gala, and the concierge is procuring for you something that only the A-list of New York get invited to, and they're able to find a ticket for you and you're paying $1,000 for it, you kind of have to tip accordingly. If you're a person of means and if 2 1/2 or 3 hours of entertainment was worth $1,000, then the effort it took to go the extra mile to get that should be worth more than the usual also.
What do people waste the most money on? What don't we need a concierge's help for?
That's very interesting. I'll tell you: Anything that's "big box" oriented. People who want to go see Spider-Man because they want to go back home and have bragging rights. My question sometimes is: Could you have gone to 25 other Broadway shows and had an amazing experience for $50?
Can I use the concierge even if I'm not staying at the hotel?
Here's a confession. When I was at the InterContinental, we used to get calls all the time from American Express for our services. At first, we were happy to oblige, but eventually we realized that we were providing our knowledge to a major corporate conglomerate for free. So we stopped being so generous with information. What I prefer is when people call and say, "I know this is weird. I'm not even staying at your hotel, but I'm wondering if there's any chance -- and I will take care of you -- if you could do blah blah blah for me."
When you go to another city, do you use the concierge?
You know, it's funny, I do a little bit. But it's my profession, and I feel like I want to discover that city on my own. But I always introduce myself.
One thing I liked in your book was if a guest is wearing expensive jewelry, you can use that to size them up.
First of all, we never overcharge. But when you see someone and you're able to size them up -- "All right, I get it, he's carrying an Hermès briefcase" -- you know that you can also tell that person, "I can get you that table, and this is probably what we're going to have to do." It's very clean, very up front, and you're not going to offend them. But if it's a family of siblings from North Dakota who are more interested in going to the wax museum and then they ask if they can get backstage to the Sting concert, you don't judge. But I don't want to get their world all twisted up by giving them some idea that we can't fulfill.
When you travel abroad, there's often a pressure for the tour guide to take you somewhere there's a kickback.
A good concierge is so completely opposed to that whole way of operating. If you really take it seriously, and I've always taken it really seriously, I'm probably going to see you again. I would send people to places I have a relationship with, but that's because I want them to know that Jason Cochran came from me, and when you get there, you're going to be embraced like a rock star.
How will I know if my concierge isn't like that?
Oh, okay, I'm turning the bad guys in! If it's really worth it to you, hang out at the desk within earshot for 15 minutes and see if they consistently send guests to the same restaurant.
In movies, people are always asking hotel staff to procure a lady of the evening or recreational medication. Can you do that?
Look upon us as your doctor. You don't beat around the bush with your doctor. You're safe with them. There's a lot of sexy stuff that happens in hotels. I think it's the nature of hotels: You can be anyone you want. Some of the concierge community pretends that it doesn't happen, but maybe they don't work the 4-to-midnight shift like I used to. But for legal reasons, we never get involved in the transaction. It's very passively informative. "I know what you want to do, but I'm happy to lead you in that direction." We share our knowledge of, "If it were me, this is probably how I would go about that," but we can't make it happen for them.
Do I need to tip you just for telling me that?
Yes. [Laughs.] Send me a check.
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