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11 Things Your Hotel Concierge Won’t Tell You

Category General

|by Jessica Branch |

Read this before your next hotel stay -- you’ll be glad you did

There’s nothing a good hotel concierge can’t do. Seemingly without effort, they produce hot theater tickets, fabulous restaurant reservations, cabs in the rain — you name it, and poof! It’s there. But what’s the inside story behind their prodigious powers? To find out what it really takes to be a New York hotel concierge, we spoke to several pros in the field, including concierges who have worked at both budget and upscale properties (and who preferred to remain anonymous) and Chris Russell, a former concierge who now works as a doorman at a large Midtown Manhattan hotel. Russell is also a writer and filmmaker, and you can follow his bitingly funny hotel blog along with his equally hilarious Tweets.  Here’s what we gleaned.

11 Things Your Hotel Concierge Won’t Tell You (Illustration: Mary-Louise Price Foss)

11 Things Your Hotel Concierge Won’t Tell You (Illustration: Mary-Louise Price Foss)

There’s a good chance your concierge is getting a kickback for recommending that restaurant. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing
“This job is being connected; that’s what the hotels want,” one source tell us. And that’s why at mid-level hotels, the concierge often has informal arrangements with restaurants, bars and stores so that they give him a little something extra when he refers hotel guests. The prices vary: The concierge may get $5 a head for sending a party to a restaurant, or he might get a nice discount at a store he recommends to shopping tourists. Whatever the arrangement, he wants to get credit, which, says Russell, is why he’ll likely offer to call ahead for you and “make sure there’s a table.” (Of course, that’s also for your convenience!) Kickbacks are less common at the very top-echelon hotels, however, where concierges are more likely to belong to professional organizations which forbid the practice. Nonetheless, even at those places, one source tells us, concierges may get the occasional free meal or drink from the establishments they recommend, even if there’s no formal arrangement.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t trust your concierge’s recommendations — au contraire! One of our sources says that he and other concierges he knows will never let a kickback convince them to send guests to places they think are subpar. His rep is on the line with each recommendation — and so is his job. Customers who don’t like a place he suggests can (and do) complain to his boss. So he makes a point of recommending only restaurants, bars and stores that he’s been to, that he likes — and that he thinks the guests will like, too. Another reason to keep asking the concierge? It’s his job to know everything that’s out there — and direct you accordingly. “A good concierge is like a puppy,” says one of our sources.  “When he starts at a new hotel, he goes out before work and after work and explores the neighborhood, expanding his territory each time, to find out all the options.”

But it’s you — yes, you — who has the power to make sure your concierge is giving you the most targeted advice
Tipping, of course, never hurts. But a hotel guest’s best bet for getting a great recommendation is to be specific about what they’re requesting, one source tells us. Ask “where’s a great hamburger place with a kids’ menu in Hell’s Kitchen?” for instance, rather than, “can you recommend a restaurant?” The concierge isn’t a mind reader. If you’re not specific, he may not really be sure of what you want and will therefore send you somewhere generic. If it’s relevant, it can also help to tell him why you want the restaurant: “It’s my anniversary and I’m taking my wife to Mamma Mia and I really want to treat her to a special meal nearby first,” will get you a very different recommendation than “My sorority sisters and I want a fun restaurant near some hot clubs for our big reunion.”

Whatever you ask for, the concierge has heard crazier
Over the years, you’ve probably seen reports of concierges getting Barneys to stay open late for celebrity shoppers, hiding a bag of weed for guests while the police searched their rooms, filling a bathtub with chocolate syrup, chartering a helicopter to Atlantic City and more. We polled our sources, and one said that he’d been asked to supply a hotel guest with a masseur who’d give him a happy ending. And, another source told us the story of a guest who’d asked his concierge to request that his hotel (in Greece) tear down a wall between two adjoining suites — for a four-day stay. But while for the most part none of our sources had anything toowild that they were willing to confess, they did agree that very few requests surprise them now — and they do their best to accommodate all the legal ones. What do they get asked for that’s really crazy impossible? Cheap same-day tickets to Book of Mormon, says one.

But there’s some stuff your concierge just won’t do
Contrary to popular belief, our sources all agreed that your concierge will not get you hookers or drugs. One source shared this strategy: If a hotel guest asks where he can find “some company,” the concierge tells him he doesn’t know and gives him a card for a strip club, letting the guest know that it’s possible he might have better luck asking the doorman there. (The concierge gets a kickback for every guy he sends to the strip club, by the way). One more thing your concierge won’t want to do: Jeopardize his relationship with his contacts. For example, if a guest asks a concierge to make reservations for two different high-end restaurants at the same time, he’ll probably refuse. The guest wants to be able to choose where to eat on the fly, but arranging a party that doesn’t show up can put the concierge in the bad books of the restaurant that gets stood up.

It’s actually faster and cheaper not to use a concierge for some things
Our sources agree that the smartphone is changing the role of the concierge. They cited Uber, for instance, as a way that hotel patrons can get to and from the airport without involving (or tipping) the concierge. Tourists can use sites like Yelp to decide where to eat and OpenTable lets them make their own reservations. HopStop helps them find their way around the city. And theater tickets, something hotel patrons frequently ask about, are getting much easier to book online. But, our sources were quick to add, that while the business will undoubtedly change, there will always be people who don’t have the time, the know-how or the inclination to make all these arrangements for themselves. “You can walk out of your hotel and buy a hamburger for $10,” one points out. “But people will still pay $20 for room service.”

But there are things you simply can’t get without your concierge
In some cases, the concierge does have special powers that you don’t. He can probably get you last-minute tickets to sold-out shows. That’s because he deals with ticket brokers, while you, a mere mortal, only have access to the box office or maybe illegal (and untrustworthy) scalpers. Be warned: Those tickets will be pricey, but this is the only way you’ll get into Jersey Boys, say, tonight. Your concierge may also be able to get you into a specific fancy restaurant when you can’t get a reservation. Even if he doesn’t get a kickback, he and/or the hotel may have a relationship with that restaurant and rate preferential treatment. “The days of Sex and the City are past,” one source tells us. “There are no three-week waits. You can usually get in any place in a day or two.” But he adds that even the most powerful concierge has limited influence at the top-tier eateries: “Balthazar isn’t worried about getting customers,” he points out. Sometimes, there just isn’t space, especially on short notice. When that happens — or sometimes even if it doesn’t — he recommends an alternate choice of restaurant. Often, he says, this may turn out to be a better option, since people ask for the big names they’ve heard of, like Per Se, but don’t know the up-and-coming places they might like better. A good concierge, he claims, has vast experience assessing what people want and what he thinks will make them happy — and knows how to steer them in the right direction. “You can’t send an Alexander McQueen customer to a flea market in Bushwick,” he points out.

Tipping should not be something you save up for the end of your stay as a final reward for good service
Your concierge may well want you to know this, but probably won’t feel it’s his place to say so. But our sources tell us that many concierges (and other staff) probably won’t take it on faith that a hotel guest who doesn’t tip during his stay will suddenly pony up right before he checks out. And even if he does, that’s not the best use of his money if he wants the best service. Russell says that the way to get the biggest bang for your tip bucks is to give people — the bellboy who gets your bags, the doorman who snags you a cab, the concierge who recommends a great club — small tips ($2-5) upfront, when they help you. Once you do that, the staff is primed to look out for you. You’ve shown them that you understand that they’d like a little extra for their services — and they’ll behave accordingly. 

The big tippers are not who you think
According to our sources, the staff does have an idea of who the best tippers are, and they’re definitely not the hotshot high-fliers or international travelers. One says that he’s even seen bellboys trying to dodge those guests, because they’re less likely to tip. So you don’t need to pretend to be a big-deal businessperson or a jet-setting European. The best tippers, according to our sources? Plain old Midwesterners. “They’re sweet people who tip nicely,” says one.

Just know that when your concierge pulls strings for you, it’ll cost you
These favors don’t come free. If your concierge gets you super-great last-minute tickets to The Lion King, you will pay more than the face value of the tickets, our sources warn. Some of that will go to the ticket broker he uses, and some to the concierge. But even so, you should tip the concierge as well. The same goes for restaurants. Whether he’s just recommending a place or getting you into the in-demand restaurant that you asked for, give him a few bucks when he gets you the reservation and a few more afterward, if you have a good time. You’re tipping him not just for his service, but for the connections he’s established over the years and is using to get you what you want. Because, hey, you don’t have those connections — and neither do most New Yorkers.

And you don’t want to be on his bad side
The concierge isn’t going to spit in your soup, nor is he likely to incite the other hotel staffers to. But if you’re rude or ungrateful, you’re gambling on not needing his services — ever. “Things may just dry up,” says one source. “Sorry, no tables at that restaurant. No Phantomtickets available that night.” So think about that before it’s raining and the price on Uber just surged 50 percent and you have a flight to catch…

But there is an easy way to get on his good side
Well, tipping goes a long way. But ultimately, just being nice is the most important thing, our sources say. Don’t be rude or overly demanding or condescending. Whatever superpowers your concierge may seem to have, understand that he’s just a human being doing his job. Be honest and polite, and the concierge (and the staff) will do their best to make your stay in New York a great one.

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