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A Concierge's Top Tips

Concierges can be the Great Finessers of your trip: finding hard-to-get reservations or tickets, helping with business matters, and generally making your stay easier. Here's the inside scoop from a former concierge.

Be specific. When soliciting help in choosing a restaurant, focus on what you like, not what you don't. Avoid unhelpful statements such as "Where should I eat? I don't like fish, I don't like steak, and I don't like Chinese." Instead, tell the concierge what you do like and reveal your tastes, as in, "I love candlelit French bistros, but tonight I feel like something livelier, more casual, maybe Italian." You'll always get better results.

Do your homework. Nothing drives a concierge crazier than a guest who arrives at the desk and says, "I'm in San Francisco for two weeks, and I've never been here before. What should I do?" (Fortunately you're already one step ahead by having consulted Fodor's first!)

Save big at biz hotels. If you're a weekend traveler on a midrange budget, you can sometimes get great deals at high-end hotels that cater primarily to business travelers. The opposite is true at tourist hotels, which spike their rates on weekends.

"Block" your room. If you want to book a particular room or room type, call the hotel on the morning of your arrival and reconfirm the arrangements with the front-office manager. Ask the manager to "block" (preassign) your room. This is especially important when the hotel is sold out and you're arriving late at night; otherwise you'll get the "last-sell" room—the least popular room reserved for the last-to-arrive guest.

Call ahead for your car. When you're ready to retrieve your car from valet parking, don't expect simply to arrive in the lobby, hand over your ticket, and instantly get your vehicle. Always call at least 10 minutes beforehand, lest you be left standing in the driveway, late for dinner.

Timing is everything. If you have a complicated request, or need to have a personal conversation with the concierge, call or stop by the desk in the late morning, midafternoon, or evening. Concierges are busiest in the morning at check-out time, when business travelers need the most assistance, and in the late afternoon and early evening at check-in time, when guests want dinner reservations. The ideal times to chitchat are usually between noon and 4 pm and 8 pm and 10 pm.

Tip early and often. For the best service, don't wait to tip your concierge: give half the money up front, then the other half once your request has been fulfilled. If the staff knows you're a good tipper, they'll work extra hard to ensure that you get what you want, when you want it.

Tip your concierge based on the time spent arranging your request. For simple matters that require only one phone call, such as an airport shuttle, tip $2. For restaurant recommendations and reservations that require discussion and opinion, $5 to $20, the latter for harder-to-book tables. For itinerary planning, tip $20 to $100, depending on how complicated and time-consuming the arrangements are.

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