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Rethinking the Concierge via Specialization

Anyone who’s taken introductory economics knows the term ‘specialization of labor’ and its financially beneficial implications. As possibly the most celebrated example, Henry Ford put this principle to good use when assembling his automotive manufacturing line. Indeed, specialization and innovation go hand in hand, but you could write a whole book on that!

 
Recent Concierge Innovations
With this as a thematic drive, I want you to rethink the idea of the concierge and how we can further partition this title to enhance a guest’s experience. By giving your patrons an exact channel to address each specific need, you will not only better alleviate any worries, but heighten their perception of how excellent your hotel really is. Here are three contemporary examples for you to consider.
 
Sleep Concierge
Conceived by The Benjamin in New York City (www.thebenjamin.com), this person’s task is quite obvious from the name. Inventive and pragmatic, the property’s Sleep Concierge can arrange for a bedtime snack or an appropriately soothing spa treatment. They even have a pillow menu with a dozen choices!
 
I’d like to thank The Benjamin for pioneering this concept, but I don’t believe it’s too hard to implement elsewhere. Do you have a late night menu with two or three food items to help a guest doze off? How about sleep-inducing teas? Do you have anything to fit this purpose on your spa menu? Again, a Sleep Concierge doesn’t have to be a fulltime occupation for any one staff member, and maybe you could delegate this to the rotating front desk staff to handle.
 
Pet Concierge
Being pet friendly is big business nowadays. Catering to your four-legged guests will make for happier owners and a more positive atmosphere throughout the hotel. Dealing with every animal requires a specific set of skills and extensive retraining may be needed. (I use the word ‘animal’ here as, even though dogs are most common, you should nevertheless be ready for cats, birds and other friendly pets).
 
On a personal note, I’ve experienced the ‘Doggie Concierge’ set up at New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania (www.hotelpenn.com); a designation that services the property’s thousand or so canine guests during the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show held every February. These animals are the cream of the crop, each necessitating the VIP treatment. You’d be shocked by some of the more esoteric demands people make on behalf of their dogs and the times of night that the demands come in! 
 
You might only get one hundredth the number of dogs that the Hotel Pennsylvania entertains during that one crazy winter period, but they are still paying guests and deserve your attention. Simply advertising the Pet Concierge designation is a good way to soothe any anxious owners.
 
Art Concierge
A new idea to emerge out of The Hazelton Hotel (www.thehazeltonhotel.com) in my home town of Toronto, the Art Concierge is still a very novel concept. The five-star property boasts an extensive art collection and their guests are often curious. The Art Concierge is there to not only lead tours, but to recommend galleries and art museums throughout the city. 
 
The idea of a cultural associate doesn’t have to stop at in-house paintings and sculptures. Think of a ‘heritage concierge’ – a staff member who can introduce guests to the origins of the surrounding region, recommend insightful museums and give tours that showcase the history of the hotel (that’s if the hotel is historic!). If hiring someone for this job isn’t in the cards, then recruit one or two personable staff members to receive the necessary training.
 
Where Your Region Counts
My next three suggestions are all explorations of tasks that your regular concierge is already fulfilling on a daily basis. However, given your area, maybe a fraction of the concierge’s duties should be partitioned into its own post. The Doggie Concierge is essential to properly service the deluge of dogs arriving for the Westminster Dog Show. In order to have an Art Concierge, first you have to have the art!
 
Ask yourself: what is unique about your region? Is there any particular pastime that garners more questions or interest than the rest? Consider these three concierge mainstays and how you expound on their traditional duties.
 
Dining Concierge
I’d consider this one a possibility if a hotel was located in a cooking haven such as Paris, London or New York City. 
 
A dining concierge could highlight your own restaurant selection as well as offer nutritional tips or simply have a light conversation on recipes from one region to the next. After all, who doesn’t like talking about food? By getting more face time with the guest, you might even be able to glean some very critical missteps that your F&B department had made.
 
As for who should bear this responsibility, your chefs are tied up in the kitchen and your F&B Director is busy with service orders and menu changes. I’d put this on a junior manager who’s reasonably erudite in the culinary arts and aspires to be an F&B Director in the near future. A little youthful enthusiasm will certainly lead to some hearty, mood-lifting banter with guests.
 
Shopping Concierge
Shopping is a major pastime, whether a guest is on vacation or just killing time between meetings. But, what are your guests looking for? High-end brands? An outdoor promenade to shop in the sun? The chic street with vintage wares? A culturally-immersive bazaar with regional produce and trinkets?
 
Every person’s tastes are unique and vary by the day. Moreover, it’s hard for a concierge to keep up-to-date with all the latest store openings and fashion trends if they also have to stay current with dining, event and nightlife trends. This is especially true for any major metropolis. 
 
Although your guests can do most of their own research on the internet, they’ll still benefit from talking to a local, and a savvy one at that. A foreign city can be an intimidating place, and maybe your Shopping Concierge could squire guests about the city for a totally immersive retail experience. Or, perhaps you could enlist personnel under a broader definition such as ‘Discovery Concierge’ whose expertise would also include area attractions, festivals, museums and nightlife. 
 
Wellness Concierge
You likely already have or have heard of a Spa Concierge. Their job is to liaise matters at the spa front desk and ease guests into a relaxing, rejuvenating experience. They should be wholly familiar with the spa product line and be able to assist in sales or clarify what their services can do. A great Spa Concierge is another face to represent the genuine character of your hotel. 
 
Go beyond is with more encapsulating terminology. A Wellness Concierge meanders the line between fitness, nutrition and spa; someone who might map out a guest’s day-long experience with a full itinerary including pre-planned healthy meals, spa treatments and gym sessions with a personal instructor. Such a job would be a great addition to resorts looking to breach the ‘wellness retreat’ market.
 
The Bottom Line
The term ‘concierge’ is literally derived from the Old French verb of ‘to serve’. And isn’t this what their job description is in a nutshell? So, why not better serve your guests through specialization? It’ll make for a better experience, and what’s this industry’s all about!
 
(Published on HOTELSMag on August 20, 2012)
 

Larry MogelonskyRethinking the Concierge via Specialization