The first rule of being a janitor is simple: “Never say no.”
The second rule? “Always maintain your contacts.”
In the wake of the pandemic, concierges around the world are finding it increasingly difficult to stick to either of these restrictions, even if they are steadfast in their commitment. Competition for restaurant reservations has never been fiercer, but many custodians of these establishments have been laid off due to pandemic closures and replaced by online reservation systems such as Resy.
For Jeffrey Thoennes, a former concierge at New York’s legendary Carlyle Hotel, that means 70% of his contacts were wiped out in the spring when tourism returned to the city in earnest. “I’ve worked here and been building relationships for 24 years,” he says. “Now after covid, I feel like I’m starting over again.”
Around the world, members of this trade — which many thought was losing relevance before the pandemic — echo Thoennes’ sentiments. But as travelers return to international travel with a renewed zest for life, concierges are more eager than ever to deliver.
“It’s getting busier and busier here,” says Thoennes, especially after the omicron waves from the coronavirus disappeared. “It felt like the floodgates really opened in March. And usually in July or August we end up with some downtime. But from the inquiries we’re getting, it’s going to be a very, very summer. very busy like never before.”
THREE SAME RESTAURANTS
International customers of the Carlyle generally ask Thoennes to book the same three restaurants: Polo Bar, Carbone and Daniel. “It’s hard!” he laughs, wondering how many times he can call a restaurant in a single day with additional requests when their books are already stuffed. “We always say yes, we always call and try,” he explains.
It doesn’t help that customers expect New York to be dead – a mistake that can make it harder for them to agree to a plan B. Between repeated attempts to secure overbooked tables and the delicate exercise of he balance of offering alternatives, according to Thoennes, “it takes us about 30% more time to help each client”.
“Sometimes it’s time that we don’t have,” he admits. “But we always put them in a great place.”
Indeed, the pandemic has paved the way for concierges. The mediocre in three or four star hotels were in many cases eliminated from the payroll, never to be replaced. But those with Les Clefs d’Or pins – the benchmark for concierges and a point of pride for upscale five-star hotels – are now seen as invaluable resources for travelers and a must-have service for hotels.
On the other hand, janitors are less important to restaurants, which have had no trouble getting their stuff back. After all, concierges often work on commission schemes which often amount to a percentage of the total check – the amount can vary – while online reservation systems such as Resy only take a nominal fee per table.
Jason Laker-Jones, head concierge at Corinthia London, says guests are leaning on him more than ever, as pent-up demand translates into high expectations and a desire to “go all out”.
“We’re doing more than we ever have before for our customers,” he says, pointing out that more and more customers want to plan every meal and every moment of a trip. “But it helped everyone recognize the importance of the knowledge and context we have.”
In London, the main requests are less about specific restaurants and more about ways to spot the royal family or access private guiding options for the city’s major museums. With the exception of buying tickets for the Yayoi Kusuma show at the Tate – which sometimes requires concierges to send gofers in person – visitors to London have simple requests. When customers need specific tables, Laker-Jones says her old contacts are usually always helpful; only around 30% of his industry contacts have left their posts altogether.
However, his work has also changed. “We had to add a lot to our game,” he said. First was the legal bureaucracy of border navigation restrictions for customers coming from green, yellow or orange list countries. Even with that need resolved, he explains, more customers need simple logistical support. What documents do I need to present if I cross the border into France? Where can I take an antigen test on a Sunday before returning to the United States? Etc.
In Milan, Lorenzo Fradegradi, veteran concierge at Dorchester Collection’s Principe di Savoia hotel, jokingly begs for at least a 25th hour of his day as he walks to the tail end of the city’s famous Salone del Mobile furniture fair. town. “You have all these Americans coming in at the last minute, and booking them has kept us very busy – it’s very, very difficult.” And they don’t just ask for the best tables and museum tickets, he says; now hot demand organizes impromptu day trips by boat around Lake Como.
As for her colleagues around the world, the restaurants are the sticking point. He estimates that 45% of his benchmark recommendations are now obsolete; many of those operating have raised their prices so much that returning visitors might frown. He expects it will take until the end of the year to rebuild relationships and come up with a full list of new recommendations.
“Everything has changed,” Fradegradi says, “but we’re managing and trying to give people the best experience possible.”