Les Clefs d’Or Shares Stories of Hotel Concierges Making the Impossible, Possible


Remember the 1960's TV show, I Dream of Jeannie? The one with Barbara Eden as a 2,000-year-old genie in love with her astronaut master? She vowed to make all his wishes come true and if you've ever watched an episode, you may have found yourself wishing you too had your own personal genie. Imagine the impossible things you could ask for that would magically appear...life would be a lot more interesting.
In the real world, actual genies are hard to come by (they exist, right?), and so, in their absence, luxury concierges around the world have had to step-in to fulfill those extreme requests. Travelers to four- and five-star resorts are learning that as part of their experience, professionals are able to make the impossible, possible. Over-the-top requests and unbelievable tasks have become the norm. Just read some of the examples Les Clefs d'Or, the country's original hotel lobby concierge association, have heard of real life wishes being granted. Photo Courtesy of The Peninsula New York

The Peninsula New York is no stranger to assisting guests. And Chef Concierge Frederick Bigler has seen it all, even turning popular idioms into actualities. "In my 25 years of service, I have gladly removed my collar stays, my shoes, given up my cufflinks, the shirts off my back and have even ripped off my belt in order to cater to my guests' last-minute fashion emergencies and needs," said Bigler. "[...] You do what it takes to save the day."
"I had one guest who was moving to China. He discovered too late that he could not take his beloved cat without the proper paperwork and tearfully left her in my hands to resolve the matter. I had to orchestrate the transporting of the cat to the vet, the shots and paperwork, re-reserve the flights and get the fuzzy feline safely to the airport for the next-day flight. It was a bit of a race against time but I was able to reunite the 'family,'" said Bigler.Photo Courtesy of The Willard InterContinental Hotel

It's hard to imagine a time without the internet; but The Willard InterContinental Hotel's Concierge Michael McCleary remembers all too well how things were done in the old days, before Google was a verb.
"During the pre-internet days, a VIP group from Germany requested 30 copies of a Frankfurt newspaper. At the time international newsstands carried only two or three copies and would come the next day. A special order would take several days and I only had one day's notice," said McCleary. "I called Lufthansa and arranged 30 copies of that newspaper to be carried on that flight and sent a courier out to the airport to pick them up. Not only did they get their papers, it was the same day edition!"Photo Courtesy of The St. Regis New York

They say a dog is a man's best friend, but we'll go ahead and say that Maria Wittorp de Jonge, Chef Concierge at St. Regis Hotel New York, might just take that title for how she assisted this next guest.
"A gentleman decided that he wanted a male Chihuahua puppy, no more than 12 weeks old, at 6 p.m. on a Friday evening. A concierge found a breeder who had a litter of Chihuahua puppies that had just been weaned and were ready for new masters," said Wittorp de Jonge. "The breeder promised to stay late so the guest could come pick out a dog. Not only was the guest impressed, he was surprised. "Oh, I know this breeder! My brother got his dog from them!"
Any well-traveled guest knows that a top-notch concierge is a hotel's most hidden resource; they are seamstresses, fashion consultants, romance-creators and above all else — miracle workers. Instead of rubbing some magic lamp, turns out all you need to do is ask, and your wish is their command.
As we've seen before, there's no telling what kind of requests will be on the menu for the day. If you're curious, we have a few more you may just want to check out, including a guest who required all meals to be the color green (and not just leafy greens) at Travaasa Austin.


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Guests’ Wishes Are the Concierges’ Command : They Are People Hired by a Hotel to Bring Service to Its Highest Form

Concierges--they would have us believe that they are both omniscient and omnipotent.

They would have us believe that in a world of turmoil, they have the power to provide soothing civility. If we only would allow them, they insist, they would free us from worry, stress and inconvenience--no matter the cause.

They claim they exist only to please us, the traveling public, and that their pleasure is in making possible the seemingly impossible.

Not merely finding tickets to a sold-out concert or getting 8 p.m. Saturday reservations at the most popular restaurants in town. Those accomplishments are so common as to be mundane. Rather, the requests that concierges truly live for are the stuff of legends:

Like arranging a wedding 1 1/2 days in advance (including getting the license, minister, rings, a location, flowers and music, plus acting as a witness) for a rather impulsive couple who were driving down from Washington. Christina Crawford, concierge supervisor for the Anaheim Marriott, pulled that off. Or tracking down two sets of Scrabble--in Russian--for two visitors from the Soviet Union. Robert Duncan, now chief concierge for the Beverly Hills Hotel (though at the time with the Biltmore), says he found the games at a small toy company outside of New York.

A traveler’s disaster--a flat tire or, worse, having a wreck in a borrowed Jaguar the night before the car is to be returned--or finding you have two left shoes to wear with your tuxedo and the party is in 30 minutes, or realizing you left your briefcase with the details of a $5-million deal back at the last hotel, two hours away by plane--these are problems that bring a glow to the concierge’s invariably eager face.

Yet the concierge’s heartbreak is not failure. (Failure is possible, of course, concierges concede. But few will admit having experienced it themselves.) No, the curse of their existence--at least at this point in time--is that most Americans just don’t understand what concierges are.

In Europe, where concierges have been around for centuries, it is understood: Concierges are people hired by a hotel to bring service to its highest form. As purveyors of service, they seem almost independent of their hotel. And yet it is often the concierge who will bring people back to a hotel.

Essentially, if there is a concierge in a hotel, then any guest need--from restaurant reservations to getting a suitcase repaired--should not be the guest’s concern. It is for the concierge to get the reservation, to track down a luggage repair person. Not that the guest is incapable of picking up a phone and doing these things themselves, but sometimes, that’s inconvenient. And, more importantly, the concierge--thanks to a long list of contacts developed over the years and the cache of his position--almost always gets better, faster results.

Until recently, most Americans had never even heard of a concierge unless they had been to Europe. The nearest thing to a European concierge in a U.S. hotel was the bellman or information desk. But while these people were capable and available for handling a great variety of problems, they had neither the status nor the power of the European concierge. They were merely a convenience.

What’s happened, however, is that Americans are traveling more. As the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Duncan noted: “They’re going to Europe, getting exposed to concierges and the notion that there’s more to a hotel than a room.” And as a result, in the last seven years or so, just about every U.S. hotel worth its red carpet and initialed awning has decided it wants a concierge too.

But there are concierges and concierges. If you want The Real Thing (and many hotels insist the difference is worth paying for), then look to members of Les Clefs d’Or, the professional fraternity of concierges. You can tell them by the golden keys they wear on their lapels.

Rapidly Growing Membership

A U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or was established 6 1/2 years ago. Its rapidly growing membership--requirements include three years as a concierge and nomination by two members--currently stands at 90. (Of these, 20 are in California, 5 in Los Angeles. At least 50% of the U.S. membership are women, compared to only a handful of women concierges in Europe.)

If concierges are invading the American hospitality scene, it’s not without controversy. In Europe--where Les Clefs d’Or cites 4,000 members in 23 countries--concierges universally operate from a desk in the lobby and usually oversee several assistant concierges and all the uniformed staff. Most American hotels with concierges operate in the same manner.

(The Beverly Wilshire claims such respect for the European tradition that because its lobby hasn’t sufficient space for a concierge desk, its management will say only that it offers “concierge services” through its veteran bellman Mac McKinney and Information Department headed by Arlene Meinert.)

Some American hotels, however, have hired concierges as a marketing ploy geared toward its business or more upscale travelers. They have instituted special concierge floors which, in addition to the services of a concierge, feature upgraded rooms with large bars of soap and a bathrobe and maybe an honor bar. Rooms on these concierge floors tend to be priced higher than their counterparts on floors without concierges.

Jack Nargil, president of the U.S. chapter of Les Clefs d’Or, grants that the floor concierges may be very competent. But they will never, he says, wear the Golden Keys.

“That (the concept of floor concierges) is ridiculous,” he snorted. “Concierges should not be used as a marketing device. They should be an integral part of the entire hotel system. The genuine hotels realize the importance of a concierge, and by that I mean a concierge department. I have 18 people who work under me, four assistants and the uniformed staff.”

(The concept is defended by J. Bruce Burkland, manager for media relations for the Marriott Corp. Forty-five of Marriott’s 148 hotels have concierge levels and most of their new hotels, he said, are planning to include them. “When you look at the European market, the concierge basically caters to small hotels. What we’re doing is creating specialty areas in large hotels. It’s our way to give personal service. We build an oasis for our customers who want that type of service. We give them a choice. And they can opt for concierge level with concierge on duty. We call it a smaller hotel within a larger hotel.”)

Internal problems in the concierge world aside, there’s a problem far more critical to the American traveler: It’s how to say thank you. And if American travelers are intimidated by their ignorance of this protocol, concierges do not help with their caginess on the subject. To a man--and a woman--they agree that a concierge does not belong in the profession if there is any expectation of tips. The reward must be in the opportunity to serve and the exhilaration of meeting a challenge. They all say that.

However . . . they do accept tips. Though even this varies. Talk to the concierge supervisors at the Marriott Hotels in Irvine, Torrance, Newport Beach and Anaheim and they’re almost embarrassed on the subject. Christina Crawford said she received a tip for that wedding she put together, but then she bought the couple a gift. The Irvine Marriott’s Kim Gottschling, 28, said flatly: “we don’t accept tips.” Then she amended: “It’s not like Europe where you get them for everything you do.” More common, Gottschling said, is a sort of reciprocation by the guests. Like flowers or candy or even nice little gifts, said Lisa Kulpaca, 22, displaying a compact engraved with her name, which she said had been sent to all the concierges (all young women) on Torrance Marriott’s concierge floor.

(Concierges are particularly powerful personages in Europe where men have traditionally held the job. Perhaps for that reason, many seasoned travelers say they find it hard to tip women concierges--and they usually refer to them as “girls.”)

Mitzi B. Del Villar, 27, concierge at the Sheraton Premiere in Universal City, believes Americans find it easy to tip the bellhop, the waitress or the valet. “Americans fail to see that the concierge does more dirty work than all of them together.” She sighed. “If we got flowers, that would even be nice. But more often, there’s nothing.”

He’s had a few clients, said the Washington Four Season’s Jack Nargil, who are very wealthy, call on him frequently during their many stays at the hotel and never tip. Most do, he said, but it varies. “It (tipping) is the norm,” he said, “but to do it every time a concierge does a job, it’s. . . .” Well, it’s awkward, his tone implied. And especially when somebody slaps down a dollar for just some directions.

If one wants to tip, Nargil said, the preferred way is to hold off until the end of the stay. If it’s just a matter of multiple dinner reservations, then $5 or $10 is sufficient, he said. But best to enclose it in an envelope with a nice little note, then slip it to the concierge discreetly--or leave it at the concierge desk if the person who helped you isn’t around.

Talking money is the one subject that will make the normally sanguine concierge squirm. Only reluctantly did the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Robert Duncan allow that $30,000 is the average annual salary for a concierge in an average fine hotel. The Marriott concierges indicated they were paid much closer to $20,000.

If one doesn’t stand to make a fortune as a concierge, the potential for fame is unlimited. Indeed some concierges have become legendary, their more impossible accomplishments repeated like some superhuman lore. There’s the man referred to as the Father of the Modern Concierge, Ferdinand Gillet, who was the concierge at the Hotel Scribe in Paris from 1925 to 1966 and his son Jean, head concierge at Paris’ Hotel Meurice until being bumped upstairs to the job of general manager. Young Gillet claims to have once bought a town house for a client who wanted her dog to have a nice place to play. There’s Gerard Thiault, chief concierge of Paris’ Plaza Athenee, who from Paris obtained 20 tickets to the sold-out New York opening of Regine’s for insistent clients who called him from New York. There’s the Paris Inter-Continental’s Jose Rabadan who rounded up 4,000 white roses to be shipped to a guest’s lady love in Cairo.

Those of course are the great moments. They are part of the fabric that concierges weave about themselves, establishing this mystique of confidence, power and influence. The Europeans have had longer at it, however, and even the American concierges see a difference in style.

“They’ve a very snobby attitude,” Robert Duncan says of his European counterparts. “They tend to look down at guests. I find it so funny. I see them looking at our women concierges and they can’t believe it. They’re so macho .”

“We’re warmer, more approachable,” said Haidee Barker, 35, concierge supervisor for the Newport Beach Marriott Hotel and Tennis Club. “Our whole image is one of hospitality. The Europeans are very stuffy, I think.”

Yet there are undeniable commonalities--trademarks, so to speak, of a concierge. Rarely, do they just walk into a concierge job. More often, they have either spent a long time in the hotel business or come to the job from another field. Nargil has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in public policy and was a staff person to U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) before coming to the Four Seasons. Mitzi Del Villar was born in the Philippines, speaks five languages and worked in sales before joining the Sheraton in 1982.

They tend to be sophisticated, people who’ve traveled, but also people who know their own town--and would even if they weren’t in the business. And they have a distinct attitude toward service, seeing even the most menial requests as noble rather than demeaning.

For all their mystique, after all, the concierge’s average workday seldom produces the requests from which legends are born.

Instead, just consider 30 minutes with Mitzi Del Villar: two requests for a limousine, one to be delivered immediately for a trip to the airport and the other for 6 that night several inquiries about the hotel’s baby-sitting and photocopying services requests for information about day tours to Tijuana and San Diego requests for directions, both around the hotel and how to get to the hotel from Ventura and then to Burbank Airport and a change of airplane reservations.

All are dispatched easily. Just as easily as the time Kim Gottschling, responding to a client’s last-minute dilemma, found 50 out-of-season gardenias in her brother-in-law’s backyard and set her staff to making corsages. And just as easily as the time the Beverly Wilshire’s Mackey and Meinert chartered a flight to Washington, D.C., where they picked up a briefcase for a man who needed it in Las Vegas.

It’s a life beset with tension. Yet perhaps one strength of concierges is that they allow themselves no distinction among client requests. If it’s the client’s pleasure--and if it’s legal and ethical--it will be done. Always with discretion and never with any indication that the request posed any difficulty.

The other strength of the profession is that concierges apparently are not a jealous lot. They swap sources as easily as they swap stories and meet together regularly. “It’s very important that we keep together,” said Robert Duncan, president of the Los Angeles Concierge Society.

“If I have a guest who is going to Paris, I can just call the concierge at his hotel and arrange for flowers or a car or whatever they need. If a guest is going to Rome and wants an audience with the Pope, I call Denzo at the Rome Hotel. You know there are 2,000 concierges in Italy alone. I can call any one of them and ask them for a favor and be assured of it being done. And they know they can do that with me.”

All it takes is for the guest to ask. And as one local concierge observed, “how can we hope to do our job unless we’ve got demanding guests?”


Watch the video: Ask A Concierge - Behind the Desk: Stories with Andrew Bottomley


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