Most Outrageous Hotel Concierge Requests
A doctor from Hawaii recently embarked on his dream trip, a world tour to see all 36 existing Vermeer paintings. Museum viewing was no problem, but two Vermeers are in private locations—one of those being Buckingham Palace. And the queen is not exactly amenable to having complete strangers drop by. What to do?
Enter Frank Laino, concierge at London’s Stafford Hotel. Strings were pulled, favors called in, and soon a taxi was whisking the art-loving guest to the queen’s abode, where a security officer waited at the gates. He was escorted to the Royal Collection gallery where, not a soul to disturb him, he had a private 15-minute audience with the Vermeer masterpiece The Music Lesson.
“This was hard to get access to,” admits Laino, who has been head concierge at the Stafford since 1998 and was named Best Concierge in the World by luxury travel agency network Virtuoso in 2007. “It took a few weeks to arrange. But any concierge worth his salt has the contacts to pull something like that off.”
“I’ve had it all,” Laino continues. “A man who wanted me to ensure the fish restaurant he was going to served him a female Dover sole. The banker who needed his bed propped up with the same philosophy books that propped up his four-poster at home. All of it was done.”
Concierge comes from the French comte des cierges (“keeper of the candles”), servants who tended to traveling aristocrats in the castles of medieval France. Fortunately, today one need not be nobility or a millionaire to get a concierge to arrange the most dramatic requests.
Far-flung beach and safari resorts also have their share of crazy questions. At the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Thailand, a guest requested a photograph of his children with a snake so they could remember their stay. The staff did better than that: they brought in a 12-foot-long python from a next-door village that was large enough for the kids to lie down on.
At the Ritz-Carlton Cancún, a guest wanted to watch a movie on the beach but did not want to get sand on his feet—so the staff covered the entire beach with carpets.
Not every outrageous demand can be met. Deborah Calmeyer of the New York–based Roar Africa travel company recalls an American client at Lions Sands safari lodge in South Africa. “He wanted the staff to place an engagement ring on a string around the neck of a male lion and parade the animal into the lodge towards his future wife. They had to explain to him that perhaps this wasn’t a very good idea.”
Yes, concierges do have their limits. But short of having to corral a man-eating beast, they will apparently do their utmost to accommodate the weirdest and wackiest.
A Private Tour of Buckingham Palace
The Concierge: Frank Laino, The Stafford, London
The Arrangement: Laino, head concierge at this hotel in London’s leafy St James’s area, spent several weeks setting up a rare private viewing for a Hawaiian guest of Vermeer’s masterpiece The Music Lesson, part of the queen’s private collection in Buckingham Palace. Numerous background security checks had to be made on the guest, and a security breach at the palace a few days before the planned visit put the entire trip in jeopardy, but with more than 20 years’ experience, Laino had the right palace contacts to smooth things over, and the viewing went ahead. The guest was on a world quest to see every Vermeer in existence.
Huge Snake as Photo Prop
The Concierge: Camp coordinator Taweesak Keereekaew, Four Seasons Tented Camp, Golden Triangle, Thailand
The Arrangement: When a wealthy guest from a Latin American country requested that staff at this upscale tented property set up a photo shoot of his children with a snake, he didn’t fully expect them to comply. But guest-camp coordinator Taweesak Keereekaew knew of a giant python (12 feet long and 265 pounds) owned by a nearby local. Over it came. The snake was so large the kids were photographed lying down with the creature coiled around them like a leathery cushion. “Future visitors should know the snake is used to humans, perfectly harmless, and is not a resident on the property,” says a Four Seasons spokesperson.
Major Upgrade on Airplane Food
The Concierge: Jérôme Jeannest, InterContinental Los Angeles Century City
The Arrangement: A celebrated American fashion designer didn’t like the look of the in-flight menu—or the cutlery—on the private jet he and his family were about to take to New York. So he called Jeannest, renowned chief concierge at this glamorous Avenue of the Stars hotel, where he had just checked out. Jeannest immediately ordered a selection of Top Chef specials, including the smoked salmon pizza, from Wolfgang Puck’s flagship Spago restaurant in Beverly Hills. He then arranged purchase of a set of stainless-steel Laguiole flatware from a nearby Williams-Sonoma. A chauffeur then delivered the food and silverware to the jet, making it just in time for takeoff. “I later heard he gave the silverware to the crew after landing,” says Jeannest.
Poisonous Fish Removal
The Concierge: Abdul Manaf, Four Seasons Resort Seychelles
The Arrangement: A Russian guest at this sparkling beach resort in the Seychelles recently demanded that the hotel remove a fish from the sea so he could be comfortable enough to swim. The offending creature, a lionfish, is indeed venomous, but it’s so common in these waters that divers specifically stay at the hotel for the chance to see one. This was explained, but “the guest was still not happy,” says Manaf, the hotel’s recreation manager. “In the end my staff had to spend a morning snorkeling the waters looking for the creature. We told him they had all swum away. Only then was he satisfied.”
The Ultimate Big Apple Proposal
The Concierge: Kenneth Abrisor, Mandarin Oriental, New York
The Arrangement: When a guest from Florida asked Abrisor, head concierge at the Mandarin Oriental, to arrange an almost impossibly dramatic backdrop for a marriage proposal, he went to the right man. Abrisor booked a helicopter sightseeing tour and hired two camera crews. One crew was in the chopper (the unsuspecting girlfriend was told this was standard procedure); the second was on Liberty Island, along with two staff from the hotel. After a dizzying flight over the city, the chopper flew low toward the Statue of Liberty, whereupon the staff unfurled a 100-foot-long, 6-foot-wide banner painted with the words MARRY ME. The girlfriend’s stunned reaction was filmed from both ground and air, with the footage presented to her on their return to the hotel. (She said yes.)
Overseas Tiger Transport
The Concierge: Maite Foriasky, the Setai, Miami
The Arrangement: A guest staying at this landmark South Beach hotel was due to relocate to London and asked his girlfriend to go with him. She agreed on one condition: that she could bring her pet tiger with her. Chief concierge Foriasky was enlisted to figure out the logistics. She called the Miami Zoo to find out the rules and restrictions involved in transporting a wild animal overseas and discovered that Orlando Airport was the only Florida airport allowed to transport such a cargo. Foriasky assisted the couple with paperwork, and the animal was successfully flown over within a week. “Last we heard, the couple and their pet were happily settled in their new home in London,” she says.
Movies on the Beach—with No Sand
The Concierge: A group of staff, the Ritz-Carlton, Cancún, Mexico
The Arrangement: In 2001, a wealthy older guest staying with his family and personal chef at this elegant oceanfront property wanted to watch a movie on the beach—without having to step on the sand. “We decided to order a whole lot of carpets,” says the hotel’s public relations manager, Paulina Feltrin. “They needed to be white to match the color of sand. It was summer and there’s not much need for carpets here, but we located a dozen and laid them out all along the beach, along with a large movie screen and cinema-style seating. The entire family watched the film under the stars, and no one got their feet wet or dirty.”
Translating from an Obscure Language
The Concierge: Tristan Huang, Four Seasons, Macao, Cotai Strip
The Arrangement: Macao’s ancient Portuguese-Cantonese creole language, Patuà, is rarely written or even spoken today, but that didn’t stop Huang, head concierge at the island’s opulent Four Seasons, from solving a request from a recent American guest. “She was fascinated by Macanese culture and came across the life story of a famous local poet, José dos Santos Ferreira, in a museum,” he says. The problem: the late poet had written only in Patuà, and there were no English translations of his work. Huang located hotel public relations director Prima Wang, who has a degree in translation, and she spent six hours transcribing two of the most famous works into English. Huang presented the poems to the amazed guest on embossed paper.
Buying—and Shipping—a Rickshaw
The Concierge: Tour guide Hem Singh for the Taj Mahal, New Delhi
The Arrangement: In February 2007, a guest of Micato Safaris, staying at the Taj Mahal, had a brainstorm on his final day. He wanted to present a rickshaw as a gift to his 12-year-old son back home. Singh, one of India’s leading guides, took charge of the concierge’s request. In Old Delhi, the guest identified the rickshaw he liked as its “driver” ran by, and Singh offered the owner $300 for it on the spot. Offer accepted; the rickshaw was disassembled, cleaned, and packed back at the hotel and then rushed to the airport four hours before the departing flight. As it was too large for the X-ray machine, authorities at first refused to allow it on board, says Singh, but after “much haggling and persuasion,” they relented. Somewhere in America one lucky kid is pulling around a two-wheeled cart.
A Wedding in the Sky
The Concierge: Richard Lara, Westin Buckhead, Atlanta
The Arrangement: Westin concierge Lara (now at the InterContinental Buckhead) followed through on an unusual strange request for two old high school sweethearts: they wanted to exchange vows in midair during a parachute jump over their alma mater, Pebblebrook High. “We chartered a Cessna from a local field and hired two videographers to film it,” says Lara. “All went well. Vows were swapped, they landed safely on the football field, all caught on camera. Problem was, moments after landing authorities arrived to arrest them for urban skydiving without a permit.” The couple was eventually released with a citation.
Dressing in James Bond’s Tuxedo
The Concierge: Jennifer Bennett, Four Seasons Hotel, New York
The Arrangement: Three weeks before her wedding, a regular guest from Lexington, KY, informed then-concierge Bennett that it was her fiancé’s dream to get married in the James Bond “secret agent” tuxedo made by Brioni of Rome. A typical Brioni tux takes four weeks to make, the Bond version worn by Daniel Craig in Casino Royale was a one-off, and the factory in Rome was closed for the summer. But the company was convinced to enlist a team of villagers outside Rome to each make a portion of the garment, and the pieces were collected and sewn together in a record 36 hours. The hotel then flew the tailor to New York for a personal fitting of the groom days before the wedding. He enjoyed showing off the secret pockets for concealing knives, guns, and other assorted weapons.