Concierge service has become much more commonplace in U.S. hotels these days, from the major chains to individual properties. Yet American travelers still seem uncertain about just what services a concierge can provide for guests, and whether to offer a gratuity for those services.
Long a fixture at most of the better European hotels, concierges continue to be mostly associated with upscale establishments.
Not every hotel that employs a concierge offers the same services. Conversely, absence of a concierge doesn’t mean that someone else at the hotel can’t provide concierge-like services.
Generally, a full-fledged concierge is someone whose presence is quite visible in a hotel lobby.
A concierge’s responsibilities vary, depending upon the size and structure of the establishment. But at a traditional luxury hotel, the head concierge likely supervises all uniformed personnel in the front of the hotel, including doormen, bellmen, elevator operators, valet garage parkers, etc. Some hotels may offer separate concierge service for special sections or levels of the hotel, usually those areas with more expensive rooms.
Providing information on community services and events is a major responsibility for all concierges. A concierge should be able to provide walking and driving directions; suggest restaurants, stores and sightseeing attractions; make reservations for restaurants, theaters, health clubs and sports facilities, and arrange for baby-sitters, interpretation/translation services, telexes, faxes, telegrams and messengers. They may also provide up-to-date information on currency exchange rates, even stock market quotations.
Local magazines detailing area attractions, as well as discount coupons and maps, can often be found on the concierge’s desk.
“The role of concierges has grown over the past five years, and our duties now cover more than just reservations and general information,” said Ed Kaylin, head concierge at the Beverly Hilton. “We sell tours, take care of luggage repair and get airline tickets revalidated. We’re constantly handling faxes for guests. And then there are the unusual requests, such as a group of four asking me at midnight to set up a fishing trip for them that same night.” He did it.
Concierge service varies between U.S. and European hotels.
Overseas, concierges tend to be more multilingual than their American counterparts. And in many cases, they are also authorized to exchange foreign for local currency.
“Typically, European concierges come up through the ranks, beginning as page boys, and they tend to stay at the same hotel,” said Pam Strauss, head concierge at the Sheraton Grande Hotel in Los Angeles. “In the United States, a concierge may simply start at that level.”
One measure of professionalism for a concierge is his or her membership in Les Clefs d’Or (Golden Keys Society), a Paris-based international society of concierges that has an American affiliate. Members can be recognized when wearing the society’s crossed-keys emblem.
To become a member of Les Clefs d’Or, one has to be in the hotel business for five years and a concierge for three years, and also pass a written test. Worldwide, there are about 5,000 members, 170 in the United States.
Concierges are used to getting their share of unusual requests.
“One guest asked me to get him a visa for Brazil, which meant sending a courier to pick up the papers from the Brazilian Consulate,” said Strauss, who supervises a staff of three assistants. “At a hotel I worked at in Palm Springs, I made reservations for a couple to get married in a hot-air balloon. We get all sorts of requests and manage to get most of them done.”
At some properties, the concierge may be in charge of handling guest amenities at check-in.
“We handle the return-guest program and check to see if a person has stayed at the hotel before,” Strauss said. “We also keep a guest profile to see what their preferences are. Some people prefer a fruit basket, others beer with nuts or milk with cookies. One man likes a particular brand of cigars.”
Consumers may call concierges prior to arrival at the property to arrange restaurant reservations, or delivery of flowers, champagne and other items.
“One guest asked me at about noon to see if I could come up with 150 thermometers for a 3 p.m. meeting that same day,” Strauss recalled. “I called a pharmacist I knew and got the thermometers there in time.”
Concierges can also come up with ideas for gifts, parties and meetings.
A concierge’s services are generally provided free of charge, although the fact that a property offers concierge service is doubtless reflected in its rate structure.
Gratuities are accepted by concierges. But guests shouldn’t tip them unless they perform some extra service beyond what their ordinary responsibilities cover, or unless the guest just wants to express special thanks.
A tip is appropriate when a concierge makes reservations for off-property events or helps with travel arrangements such as arranging air tickets and/or car rentals. Any time a concierge goes out of his or her way to get information, make reservations or offer ideas would be reason for a gratuity.
“If people have traveled to Europe, and stayed at a reasonably good hotel, they’re generally familiar with the range of concierge services and they have a good idea of what goes beyond regular service,” Kaylin said.
If you do tip, leave something commensurate with the services extended. Figure about $1 to $3 as a minimum for dinner reservations, and $5 or more for such services as hard-to-get theater tickets.
As a general guideline, just getting directions or receiving literature doesn’t call for a gratuity.
Making reservations for in-hotel restaurants and facilities also doesn’t warrant a tip, unless the guest feels specially inclined (which can be the case if reservations are difficult to obtain).