Whether it’s chartering a private helicopter to Niagara Falls, renting out a city’s hottest nightclub, or shipping puppies to Abu Dhabi, hotel concierges are tasked with fulfilling some pretty crazy demands.
“When guests come with outlandish requests, we need to remain unflappable,” says Jay Baldridge, chef concierge at the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. “We have to understand what the purpose of the request is and figure out a way we can translate it into something that can be pulled together.”
Baldridge once worked with the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art to hang a painting done by a guest’s son on the wall next to priceless pieces of modern art. When the burgeoning artist turned the corner during a museum tour, he was blown away. “I always encourage guests to throw things out there,” Baldridge says. “There’s nothing we haven’t heard. We’re non-judgmental. You can’t offend us.”
Not all requests require such pomp. In fact, the majority of concierges spend their time booking restaurant reservations or tickets for local activities. They answer questions and accommodate transportation needs. But other times, concierges become essential in turning special events into truly memorable experiences.
Frank Marandino, concierge at the Rittenhouse Hotel in Philadelphia, says that helping “blushing young men” pull off perfect proposals is a major highlight of his job. “I’m a romantic at heart,” he says. “In situations like that, I love to be involved.”
Marandino, who was named the 2013 Concierge of the Year by Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report, says the most essential skills are the most basic. “In my line of work, you pay attention, you listen, you research,” he says. “It’s OK to say, ‘I don’t know the answer, but I’ll do my best to find out.’”
To make a lasting impression on guests, Balridge says, a personalized approach is key. With online tools such as Yelp, TripAdvisor, and Facebook at their disposal, guests have an easier time researching local attractions and planning their own trips. But the job of a top-notch concierge is to bring guests a level of personal service they can’t get from a smartphone or app. “Our job is to think of the unexpected,” Baldridge says. “Guests come to us to see if there are any doors that we can help them open. When companies add that special touch, it really makes a difference.”