Concierge services. I just don’t get the appeal. Maybe it’s because I’m someone who enjoys obsessively planning my trips and doesn’t need someone to tell me where to go or what to see. I also think it’s because there’ve been times I’ve asked them for help and the advice I received was mediocre at best. I’m not saying they’re not useful, just that the service is so inconsistent that having a “concierge desk” at your hotel really doesn’t mean anything anymore.
Oftentimes what’s called a concierge is just a customer service agent standing at a different desk. I stayed at a hotel in London where the concierge just sold overpriced theater tickets to the tour groups who were staying there (Note from Sharon: Joe won’t give the hotel’s name but I have no shame. It’s the Holiday Inn Kensington Forum. DO NOT STAY THERE. It’s awful. How it gets 3.5 and 4 stars is BEYOND ME unless they’re paying people to give them good reviews. The Wi-Fi was slow as molasses, the rooms were last updated in 1972, the TV was about 12″ big, and the staff was no help for anything. It is an AWFUL hotel!). And don’t get me started about Las Vegas, where the “concierge” desk was the place you signed up for a tour of a timeshare to get free show tickets, and that was not the service I was looking for.
However, over the years, I’ve found that if a hotel has a concierge, and I mean a true concierge, that can add value to a stay more than any suite upgrade or free breakfast ever will.
Let me set guidelines. I don’t expect an actual concierge at anything less than an upper-level hotel, like a Waldorf=Astoria or Ritz Carlton. If I’m at a Hilton Garden Inn or Courtyard by Marriott and they have a “concierge desk,” I won’t even bother and will just go and Google any questions I have.
So what do I consider things that an actual concierge should do?
- Give recommendations for meals, shows, and local activities. They should tailor these suggestions to the guest. This means having a back and forth and getting an idea of what the person wants. The concierge should also have contacts to get people into these places that aren’t available by just looking on OpenTable or Ticketmaster. I can do that myself; I don’t need a concierge to do it.
- Insider knowledge. What’s the best time to go see a location? Is this restaurant as good as the hype? What bar serves the best Old Fashioned? These should be easy answers for a good concierge.
- Be proactive. The concierge’s job is to help guests and they do it all day, every day. Once they talk with a guest for a bit, they’re going to know what that guest might like even if the guest doesn’t know it yet. They’re like an old-school version of a predictive computer website that tells you what you’ll like based on other things you like.
- They should follow through. If a concierge makes a suggestion, they should offer to book or purchase the tickets or make a reservation. The whole point of using a concierge is to take advantage of their knowledge and contacts.
- They should resolve any problems that arise. If there’s a problem, a concierge should take a role in trying to resolve that problem. They will most likely have to deal with this location again so it’s in both parties’ best interest to make sure your situation is handled.
I have two instances where I found the hotel concierge to be outstanding and these interactions have set the bar for all other hotels to meet (and ruined it for everyone else).
Before the stay, I received an email from the hotel concierge. I wrote back asking about directions from the local metro station, as well as inquiring about a reservation at the hotel restaurant, The Blue Duck Tavern, for Friday evening.
I received a reply in less than an hour with directions to the hotel, as well as asking the size of our dining party and preferred time for dinner.
After checking in to the hotel, the front desk staff called the concierge to the desk and he introduced himself and wanted to ensure the directions to the hotel were good and to confirm we were all set for our dinner. He walked us to the concierge desk and asked if there was anything else we’d require for our stay. We informed him that we would just be doing some sightseeing around the Washington Mall and maybe taking a tour bus. He immediately had a listing of the tour buses, the times they operated and offered to sell us tickets and charge them to the room at a price that was the same as the discounted web pricing. He then said that the nearest pickup was quite far from the hotel so if we wanted, he could arrange for the hotel car to drop us off the next morning. We took advantage of this and it was the only time I’ve been driven in a Mercedes sedan to the Hop On – Hop Off tour bus stop. 😉
Our dinner at the Blue Duck was spectacular. After having a wonderful meal, the manager came to the table and thanked us for visiting. I thanked them for getting a table for us (the place was packed) and he said that it was no problem and they always take care of hotel guests. Because we were staying there, he offered us one of their signature apple pie desserts on the house.
We had another hotel stay that brought their best foot forward at the concierge desk:
With just 70 guest rooms, the Goldener Hirsch does not have a dedicated concierge desk but all the people working the front desk act as concierges. Like at the Park Hyatt, I had a question to ask before we arrived at the hotel.
It was a long trip and we needed to do laundry. There was a link to email the hotel on my reservation, so I did just that. Here’s the response I received.
There is a laundry about 10 minutes walking from the hotel (or 5 min by taxi) that offers that service. You can either wash and dry yourself (€ 10,- per full washing machine) or leave it there to be washed, dried and folded (€ 14,50 per full washing machine). Details of the laundry as follows:
Mo – Fr. 7.30 – 18.00 hrs
Sat 8.00 – 12.00 hrs
When we checked in, I asked again about the laundry and they pulled out a city map and drew out a path for us to get there. They also pointed out places of interest in the area that we could visit while waiting for the laundry to be done, if we chose to leave it there, which we did as the € 4,50 per load would be worth the extra sightseeing time in Salzburg.
The Goldener Hirsch still does many things old school – it’s been there since 1407. Until their renovation a couple of years ago, the room keys were still held behind the front desk and you had to return them when you are leaving the hotel (these are mainly for show nowadays, as all the rooms now have key card locks.)
The incredible thing to us was, after checking in, they never once asked our names or room number. I swear, one time the concierge grabbed our key from behind him (without looking) while talking to another guest on the phone and thanked us (in English) while going right back to his phone conversation (in German). It was amazing.
So many things stood out but another time they went above and beyond was when we wanted to go to Schloss Hellbrunn and Schloss Frohnburg, sites from The Sound of Music movie. We were going to get the Hop-on Hop-off bus but the concierge asked if we were going to the other sites. We said probably not so he suggested that we take the local city bus. It left a few blocks from the hotel and stopped at the same location. Even better, the price was about 1/4 of what the tour bus would have charged us. Taking the local bus was a blast and we’re glad we did it, but not just for the price savings. We noticed that we didn’t have to pay any fare when taking the bus back into town. We also noticed that everyone on the bus was dressed in their best traditional dirndl or lederhosen. Living in Orlando, people dressed up in costumes while on public transportation or even on city streets or in the supermarket really doesn’t shock us anymore, but we were curious about what that was all about.
As it turned out, I unknowingly planned our visit to Salzburg during the St. Rupert’s Day Fair (or Rupertikirtag in German). This is an authentic folk tradition and celebration in the city of Salzburg celebrating the feast day of St. Rupert. The whole old town area was full of beer tents, rides, music and it was awesome. I still love how this Austrian woman at the beer tent totally did a Sharon and photobombed our picture.
Now, I told that story to tell this one. When we returned from the beer tent, full of sausage and beer, the concierge asked us if we had a good time at the festival. We said that it was wonderful. He said he was glad we liked it but we shouldn’t head to our room just yet, as the fireworks would be starting any minute. If we wanted, we should head out, go through this alley and down to the second square. Walk halfway and we should have a great view.
He was right.
When we got back to the hotel, he asked how we liked the fireworks. We couldn’t thank him enough. We were sad to leave, to the point where we asked if he was working the next morning so we could bid him farewell.
That’s what a good concierge does. They make your stay memorable and improve it past the level that you could do on your own. This is a value-added to a hotel that makes it a better place to stay than other locations in the area. If you’re not providing that, then all you have is a person standing behind a nameplate at a desk.
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