Although once upon a time the word “concierge” meant simply “keeper of the candles,” the term is now much more difficult to define. Relied upon for far more than just lighting a torch for road-weary aristocrats, today’s concierges are the heartbeat of the hospitality industry. From promoting their cities with savoir-faire to satisfying even the most outrageous of requests, they are veritable treasure troves of information, know-how and discretion. Les Clefs d’Or, the professional association of hotel concierges, describes the role as “part Merlin, part Houdini.” Indeed, these wizards have a talent for elevating a hotel stay from five-star to impossibly stellar.
Case in point: Mr. Nigel Bowen. Formerly the head concierge at London’s Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, he has pulled more than a few rabbits out of his proverbial hat. And while Houdini may be credited with making an elephant vanish with the wave of his hand, Bowen succeeded in making one appear seemingly out of thin air. When Indian guests wanted an elephant made available for their daughter to pose with as part of her Bollywood-inspired wedding, Bowen waved his magic wand (or phone, as the case may be) and presto: a personable pachyderm ready for its close-up.
Another of Bowen’s more impressive feats: arranging a transatlantic breast milk delivery. The guest, a working mother from the United States, was delayed during a business trip. The hitch was that her infant was home (and hungry) in Boston. Super concierge to the rescue. A few phone calls, some liquid nitrogen and a hop across the pond later, the infant was well-sated, Mom very grateful and Bowen left to savor the satisfaction of a job well done.
Just how is this magic done? How does a concierge score tables at the hottest restaurants or tickets to sold-out performances? One word: connections. “Just like plumbers, there are good concierges and bad ones,” quips a seasoned pro at one of Chicago’s toniest hotels. “The good ones know who to call. And that concierge becomes invaluable to that business. The more business he drives to a restaurant, the more that restaurant values him — and thus will make a table available. It becomes a mutually beneficial relationship.”
While many concierges are natives of the city in which they work, professionals will often relocate for the perfect post. In that case, the first thing to do is lace up the walking shoes and start exploring. “I would walk up and down the streets to discover all the restaurants and businesses, and introduce myself to the owners and front-of-house staff,” says a concierge from the Northeast who found himself working in the South. And although they might not all recommend the same eatery, one thing all concierges can agree on is that their formidable Rolodex, often culled through years of work, is by far the most valuable tool in their bag of tricks.
“My favorite part of the role is promoting the region,” gushes Adriano Pecoraro, head concierge of the infinitely elegant Belmond Villa San Michele in Fiesole, Italy. “It allows me to make our culture an important part of our guests’ favorite memories.” One memory-making request Pecoraro isn’t soon to forget dates back to 2018, when a pair of adrenaline-fueled British twin brothers visited the villa. “They requested that I arrange two supercars and the possibility to race each other through the Chianti region to determine once and for all who was faster.” Remarkably, he managed to deliver the request without mishap — and without the local carabinieri spoiling the fun.
No job is all fun and games, but it certainly seems that being a concierge comes close. Everyone we spoke with was quick to reminisce about quirky requests or out-of-this-world achievements, yet one question seemed to stump these masters of making it happen: What’s your least favorite part of the job? In one case, the biggest bummer a concierge could come up with was the end of the tourist season: “When the hotel is closed, I miss my guests. That’s really the only part I don’t like.” For another, the answer was simply, “There is no least favorite part of the role for me; I truly love my job.”
It’s safe to say these conjurers put their heart and soul into the job. And in some cases, their work comes home with them — literally. Having handily fielded pet-related requests like securing bespoke canine cuisine and arranging doggie spa appointments, Darren Klingbeil and Debbie Wild of the luxe Fairmont Hotel Vancouver are now the adoptive parents of Ella and Elly, respectively. These personable pooches were originally slated to work with BC & Alberta Guide Dogs, but when the ebullient girls proved too social for that career, their penchant for fun made them the perfect candidates for Fairmont’s canine ambassadors program. It was a win-win-win situation: The nonprofit received some well-deserved attention, the pups found perfect homes and the hotel now boasts two utterly amicable envoys.
Roberto Senigaglia may not be a movie star, but there’s no doubt as to his celebrity. Nearly as iconic as the canals and gondolas of Venice themselves, the concierge at the Belmond Hotel Cipriani is a veritable fixture of the Venetian world of luxury. The charming concierge is the first to welcome guests to the property and the last to bid them buon viaggio. In recollecting some of his more memorable moments, he recalls playing Prince Charming during Amal and George Clooney’s fairy-tale wedding weekend: “The heel of Amal’s shoe was stuck in the metal grate of her boat. She stared at me, and I could read the embarrassment on her face. So I got down on my knee, released the stuck shoe and held it out for her to put on again, just like Cinderella.”
But it’s not just rubbing elbows with the rich and famous that makes the role meaningful for Senigaglia. The consummate professional has a heart as warm as his megawatt smile. Consider, for example, his role as ambassador for the Red Pencil, a nonprofit that brings the power of creative arts therapy to children and families around the world who have endured traumatic experiences. “I was very honored and humbled to be asked to be a Red Pencil ambassador,” he says. “If I can introduce the Red Pencil to the people I meet, it gives these kids and their families a chance to receive the kind of help that can make a real difference in their lives. And that means I go to sleep with a happy heart every night.”
Harkening back to the advent of their profession, today’s concierges are still ensuring every candle is lit, it seems. But the sparks these 21st century alchemists create provide more than just illumination; they’re the keepers of a white-hot flame designed to ignite the ultimate guest experience.