USA Today ran a piece on hotel concierges, the upshot is that they’re extremely useful but that some travelers don’t take full advantage of their services because they’re intimidated or unfamiliar with them.
On the whole that hasn’t been quite my experience, I’m neither unfamiliar nor intimidated and yet I find most concierges to be of limited usefulness.
There are truly connected concierges, on rare occasion I had heard of the lead concierge at the Hotel Arts Barcelona getting guests into El Bulli when there was a same-day cancellation. But on the whole, I’ve rarely found concierges who could get me in somewhere that I couldn’t get into on my own.
I do use concierges for simple restaurant reservations outside of the United States, I find that their English is better than I’ll find at most restaurants and so it may make sense to communicate with them instead of with the restaurant directly, so I’ll have them make the call and confirm (and re-confirm when necessary) my booking.
Most times though a concierge just adds a middle step, potentially creating a game of telephone with two cups and a string where something is lost in translation.
When I was staying at the Prince de Galles in Paris I communicated with the hotel in advance by emailing to make several restaurant bookings, which they confirmed for me. One afternoon I showed up at the appointed time only to find the restaurant wasn’t even open! Now, I had a terrible time discerning what actually happened, and even if the restaurant took the booking without realizing they’d be closed I still fault the hotel — which purports to be a luxury property even if it pales next to the George V next door — for not calling to re-confirm the booking before we departed the hotel to head to the restaurant.
The toughest booking I made on that Paris trip, Joel Robuchon, I made myself.
The concierge in my building will make restaurant reservations (and water your plants or feed your cat, though I do not have a cat) but I can’t imagine ever using them to make such a booking, if I can’t do it myself online at Opentable I’ll pick up the phone, it’s usually just as simple to call the restaurant as it is to call the concierge. It’s nice to have someone receiving packages for me, though.
I have several different concierge services through various credit cards, from Diners Club to Visa Signature (VIPdesk), to Amex Platinum (Circles). Occasionally I’ve tested them for various things like tickets to sold out events, and they come back with an offer, but it’s usually for more money than if I’d just go to a broker online directly – and that would be handled much more quickly, rather than hoping they remember to call me back.
Of course there are higher end services. The only one I’ve dealt with, and they’re hardly the top end, is Quintessentially, whose services are made available to British Airways first class customers, but my impression is that they can barely book a cabana in the Concorde Room at Heathrow let alone be counted on for more extensive arrangements.
There are of course the pricey $20,000+ services that promise to get you into the best events and be at your beck and call, I haven’t worked with any of those and no doubt if you can afford their services and the pricetag for the events they promise to arrange for you like attendance at the Oscars or TV premiers then you might also consider the services of a true personal assistant (or a personal assistant and a concierge service to work together!).
Neither of those are me, and I’m limited to the credit card services which I rarely use, and the hotel concierges which I rarely use.
I do much like my Hyatt private line concierge, however, but I’ve never asked her to do anything besides dealing with hotel and Gold passport issues for me. Starwood’s Platinum representatives have long been referred to as concierges, though my sense is it was more urban legend than fact that they could meaningfully do much more for you than a hotel booking or simple tasks like those a credit card paid-for concierge might.
That said, I wouldn’t hesitate to walk into a hotel, especially one I frequent or at least affiliated with a chain that I frequent, and ask for assistance from the concierge even if not a guest in the hotel. I imagine that I’d be most inclined to feel like I needed that assistance in a foreign country, as that’s the only time I tend to use a concierge. But then I also feel no compunction about walking into a hotel I frequent and borrowing their lobby to meet with folks even when not a registered guest (and at some hotel properties that’ll mean complimentary internet and complimentary soft drinks, I have long wished more chains would copy the now-defunct Radisson benefit ‘Our World, Your Lounge’ where all elites were officially welcome to this).
How do you make use of concierges? I figure I genuinely must be missing something.