“Nothing is unusual anymore,” says Amy Bowman, chief concierge at the Peninsula New York, who once was asked at 6 p.m. on a Friday to locate a female bichon frise puppy—under six months old and housebroken—that could be delivered to a guest by Saturday afternoon. (She ended up finding one through a local pet shop.) Mariajosé Rodríguez, concierge manager at Las Ventanas al Paraíso in Los Cabos, once received a request for a $1,500 bottle of Cristal Rosé Champagne, which was not available in Mexico. She had to send a staffer across the border to buy it. Even the W hotel chain, where the clients are more often young professionals than Hermès-carrying heiresses, aggressively advertises its “whatever/whenever” capabilities. (Guests can use a text message program to convey their ever important needs directly to the concierge’s cell phone.) Marcelo Surerus, the area concierge director for the W Hotels of New York, says one of his colleagues loaned a guest the very shoes off his feet so the businessman could run to an important meeting.
Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder of indagare.com, a members-only luxury travel Web site, agrees that hotels have “trained the consumer to understand the idea of really customized service.” But she believes the rise in guest demands might also be a direct response to the soaring rates. “When people are traveling, particularly in grand hotels, they often get a sort of princess complex, and all of a sudden they’re doing things they wouldn’t pull at home,” she says. “If they’re paying X number of dollars a night, they think everybody around them should literally be serving them.”
Former Four Seasons concierge Hart, who has chronicled her 20-plus years behind the desk in a forthcoming book, Great Reservations (Three Rivers Press), felt such was the case when one of the hotel’s regulars booked a room for his ailing mother. Instead of hiring a professional nurse to attend to her, he asked Hart to look after her. “He was quite a tightwad,” recalls Hart. “I think he thought, Heck, I’m paying for this expensive room, I’ll have Abby do it.” Hart bathed the elderly woman and says she ended up bonding with her.
For some guests, Hart says, challenging the concierge to fulfill odd requests becomes almost a game. “They keep on adding a few things just to see if we can do it,” she says. “And, you know, we will.”
Then again, there are demands even the most dedicated concierges won’t satisfy for even their most VIP clients. In the business the basic tenet is “nothing illegal or immoral,” says James Little, a concierge at the Peninsula Beverly Hills. “I assure you I have been asked to do both.” Outside of those parameters, the other most frequent request that concierges refuse: double- or triple-booking restaurant reservations. “It would ruin our good rapport with restaurant owners, and in turn they wouldn’t work with us,” Hart explains.