The Ultimate Concierge Challenges

serviceJohn O'Ceallaigh, The Daily Telegraph, April 7, 2014

British travellers are traditionally hesitant when troubling a concierge with a complicated request – if he’s busy with something more important, wouldn’t it be rude to disturb him? But concierges are there to make a guest’s stay as comfortable as possible, and are willing and able to do far more than simply secure a table in a popular restaurant.

With the recent release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, featuring Ralph Fiennes as the concierge at its centre, this underappreciated vocation is finally getting widespread attention. The examples below illustrate just how far concierges will go to satisfy guests’ more unusual – and some would say unreasonable – requests.

Two dogs say “I do”
Abbas Golestani, the head concierge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, is used to dealing with all manner of enquiries, but a request from a Russian guest took him by surprise. "She bred dogs and decided that two of her collies should be married at the hotel," he explains.

Luckily, Golestani knew a judge who acted as a minister at wedding ceremonies and was willing to officiate. With that sorted, the hotel’s catering team prepared a dog-friendly cake and treats for the special day, and customised outfits were procured: the groom wore a tuxedo and bow tie; the bride dressed in traditional white and had two bitches as bridesmaids.

The event was organised in three days and cost about $15,000 (£9,000) – and it has earned Golestani a reputation as the go-to concierge for canine-related inquiries. "One guest asked me and my team to speak to his dog in its own language, so we all had to bark at it rather than use English," he recalls. "Another guest asked me about having plastic surgery performed on his dog, but I didn’t refer them to a surgeon on that occasion."

For Luis Vasquez, the concierge at Langham Place Fifth Avenue, one request in particular stands out. "A couple was due to visit us and the man wanted us to arrange some kind of red-carpet experience so his partner could see what it was like to be a celebrity."

The team took the commission seriously, and, in addition to placing a red carpet at the hotel entrance, hired 100 actors from an extras agency to play adoring fans and paparazzi. Security was put in place, cameras and placards emblazoned with pictures of the woman were provided as props, and when she arrived the assembly went wild. So wild that passers-by were convinced a real celebrity had arrived and the crowd swelled rapidly.

Although Vasquez is unsure of the total bill, hiring the extras alone would have cost about $80 (£48) per person. But it seems the woman relished the experience, mostly: "She was thrilled, and a bit scared."

A rose a day
A regular guest at the Bulgari Hotel in London, a New York businessman, told the concierge,  Ian Steiger, that he wanted to do something romantic for his Chelsea-based girlfriend. The decision: have a fresh rose delivered to her house every day for one year. The problem: he didn’t trust a florist to do it each day without fail. The solution: get the concierge to do it. And so it was that Steiger bought a fresh rose every morning and delivered it to her door; when he was away, his colleagues took responsibility.

On December 31, the final day, the woman’s father travelled to her door by vintage Rolls-Royce to deliver the final rose and drove her to Berkeley Square, where her partner proposed (and she said yes). The hotel invoiced the guest £5 per day for delivery of the rose. That’s unexpectedly good value considering the round-trip took 50 minutes out of Steiger’s day and a decaff espresso at the hotel bar will cost you the same amount – if you don’t pay the service charge.

Animal magic
The manager of Badrutt’s Palace in St Moritz, Angelo Martinelli, has dealt with some unusual requests during his 50 years at the hotel. "About 18 years ago, one guest wanted to give his wife a birthday present. We suggested she would be more impressed if he gave her something unpredictable," he says.

So they arranged for her to be sent an elephant. A circus was touring through Switzerland at the time, so the concierge team enlisted its trainer to bring the animal into the hotel. The "incredibly surprised" wife had an hour-long audience with the elephant before it rejoined the circus.

More recently, Martinelli responded to a request from an Arab guest who was inspired by White Turf, a horse racing event that takes place on the frozen lake of St Moritz each winter. After a call to the mayor and four days of planning by Martinelli, the guest and his party were able to witness an incongruous spectacle: a herd of camels racing on a frozen lake in the Swiss Alps.

Staying in touch
High-powered guests at Velaa Private Island appreciate its isolation. A 45-minute seaplane ride from the Maldivian capital Malé, this resort is an enveloping retreat for travellers keen to escape it all. But this distance from commercial centres can occasionally prove problematic. A holidaymaker found himself at a loss after dropping his iPhone in the pool – how would he manage his affairs while away? While the island has reliable Wi-Fi access and computers are available, he decided he would need a replacement phone immediately.

His butler and personal concierge was able to arrange the purchase of an iPhone through a contact in Malé and confirmed that it could be delivered on the first scheduled flight that evening, but it was decided that wasn’t quick enough. And so instead a seaplane was chartered to fly the iPhone to the island by itself straight away. (Chartering a seaplane from Malé to this area typically costs over $10,000/£6,000.) Just over two hours after destroying his old handset, the unfortunate holidaymaker was again able to make personal calls on his own iPhone.

Blood sports
At Cottar’s Safari Camp in Kenya, the camp’s guides serve as concierges and often need to appease guests more used to city breaks. One American couple visited during the wildebeest migration, but stipulated that they didn’t want to see blood spilt at any point. For the camp’s co-owner, Louise Cottar, this presented clear logistical difficulties. "We obviously don’t control what happens during feeding seasons,” she says. “What happens in nature is natural."

But the guides were able to deal with the request. "A spotter sat in an elevated position at the back of the car and surveyed the surroundings with binoculars. He was able to warn the driver in Swahili about any nearby kills, and they could then discreetly drive in another direction. The family ate meat at dinner, but managed to avoid seeing an animal being killed during the safari."

Another guest was much less squeamish, says Cottar. As part of a ceremony, the Maasai tap a cow’s jugular with an arrow and drink the blood as it spurts from the wound. "Some of our visitors get to watch this ritual. One American was so captivated by it that he asked to drink the fresh blood too. We were surprised, but were able to arrange it, and the tribespeople were happy for him to participate. They considered his positive approach an honour."