When Noah Lemaich took his post behind the concierge desk at 60 Thompson hotel in New York’s SoHo one morning, he anticipated just another average day fulfilling guests’ pleas for theater tickets or dinner reservations at the Waverly Inn. But then he received a phone call from a female guest with a particularly pressing problem. She wanted breast milk delivered to her room within the next two hours. She didn’t say why, she didn’t say how much, and she didn’t say from whom it should be procured.
“I’m assuming maybe there was a child involved somewhere,” says Lemaich, who has been the hotel’s concierge for five years. “It’s like, is there some kind of questionnaire I should be asking this person, or is just anybody’s breast milk fine?”
Through his connections at various baby-equipment rental agencies, Lemaich located a breast-milk supplier (he won’t divulge specifics) and within a few hours had several cooler bags of the milk delivered to the hotel. Lemaich was thanked for his services, he says, but in a way that was “like this is a normal, everyday type of thing, just like opening the door for them.”
Not too long ago, the most extravagant thing a guest would ask of a concierge was to sprinkle the bed with rose petals. Twenty years ago, “people didn’t even know what we did,” says Abigail Hart, who worked as a hotel concierge for more than two decades, most recently at the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago. “They were too embarrassed to use our services. They thought it was reserved for VIPs.” But these days, it’s not unheard of for a guest to call the concierge—sometimes multiple times a day—with requests to, say, locate a masseuse for a dog or to replace all of a room’s standard lightbulbs with pink ones.
“Ten years ago, people relied on the concierges for pretty basic information—nice places to go for dinner, good neighborhoods to shop in,” says Diane Clarkson, a travel analyst with Jupiter Research. But now that a quick Google search can often summon the information guests need, she says, “concierges are having to reinvent themselves.”
To some degree, it’s luxury hotels that have encouraged this new level of dependence. With average room rates so high, “it’s very competitive,” says Clarkson. “If loyalty is something that you’re really needing to drive with your guests, the concierge is in a pivotal position to do that.” For hotels charging upwards of $500 a night, promising—and actively promoting—a nearly absurd level of service has become almost mandatory. The One & Only Palmilla in Los Cabos, Mexico, for example, brags that its butlers will custom-program iPods for guests to enjoy while lounging poolside. The Sandy Lane in Barbados crows that its staff will even clean your sunglasses for you.