Ask and you shall receive

By John O'Ceallaigh

Hotel concierges handle the most outlandish guest requests. John O'Ceallaigh shares some (barking) stories.

An elephant visits Badrutt's Palace Hotel in St Moritz, Switzerland. Photo / Supplied
An elephant visits Badrutt's Palace Hotel in St Moritz, Switzerland. Photo / Supplied

Many travellers are hesitant about troubling a concierge with a complicated request - if he's busy with something more important, wouldn't it be rude to disturb him?

But concierges are there to make a guest's stay as comfortable as possible, and are willing and able to do far more than simply secure a table in a popular restaurant.

With the recent release of The Grand Budapest Hotel, featuring Ralph Fiennes as the concierge at its centre, this under-appreciated vocation finally is getting widespread attention.

The five examples below illustrate just how far concierges will go to satisfy guests' more unusual - and some would say unreasonable - requests.

1. Two dogs say "I do"

Abbas Golestani, the head concierge at the Beverly Hills Hotel, is used to dealing with all manner of inquiries, but a request from a Russian guest surprised him.

"She bred dogs and decided that two of her collies should be married at the hotel," he explains.

Luckily, Golestani knew a judge who officiated at wedding ceremonies and was willing to step in. The hotel's catering team prepared a dog-friendly cake and treats for the special day, and customised outfits were procured: the groom wore a tuxedo and bow tie; the bride dressed in traditional white.

The event was organised in three days and cost about $17,900 - and it has earned Golestani a reputation as the go-to concierge for canine-related inquiries.

"One guest asked me and my team to speak to his dog in its own language, so we had to bark at it," he recalls.

"Another guest asked me about having plastic surgery performed on his dog, but I didn't refer them to a surgeon on that occasion."

2. Star-struck

For Luis Vasquez, the concierge at Langham Place Fifth Avenue, one request stands out.

"A couple was due to visit us and the man wanted us to arrange some kind of red-carpet experience so his partner could see what it was like to be a celebrity."

The team took the commission seriously, and, in addition to placing a red carpet at the hotel entrance, hired 100 actors from an extras agency to play adoring fans and paparazzi. Security was put in place, cameras and placards emblazoned with pictures of the woman were provided as props and, when she arrived, the assembly went wild. So wild that passersby were convinced a real celebrity had arrived and the crowd swelled rapidly.

Although Vasquez is unsure of the total bill, hiring the extras would have cost about $95 a person.

It seems the woman relished the experience, mostly: "She was thrilled, and a bit scared."

3. A rose a day

A regular guest at the Bulgari Hotel in London, a New York businessman, told the concierge, Ian Steiger, that he wanted to do something romantic for his Chelsea-based girlfriend.

The decision: have a fresh rose delivered to her house every day for one year. The problem: he didn't trust a florist to do it each day without fail. The solution: get the concierge to do it.

So Steiger bought a fresh rose every morning and delivered it to her door; when he was away, his colleagues took responsibility.

On December 31, the woman's father travelled to her door by vintage Rolls-Royce to deliver the final rose and drove her to Berkeley Square, where her partner proposed (she said yes).

The hotel invoiced the guest $10 a day for delivery of the rose. That's unexpectedly good value considering the round trip took 50 minutes of Steiger's day and a decaf espresso at the hotel bar costs the same amount - if you don't pay the service charge.

4. Animal magic

The manager of Badrutt's Palace Hotel in St Moritz, Angelo Martinelli, has dealt with unusual requests in his 50 years at the hotel.

"One guest wanted to give his wife a birthday present. We suggested she would be more impressed if he gave her something unpredictable," he says.

So they arranged to send her an elephant. A circus was touring Switzerland at the time, so the concierge team enlisted its trainer to bring the animal to the hotel.

The "incredibly surprised" wife had an hour-long audience with the elephant before it rejoined the circus.

More recently, Martinelli responded to a request from an Arab guest who was inspired by White Turf, a horseracing event on the frozen lake at St Moritz each winter.

After a call to the mayor and four days of planning by Martinelli, the guest and his party witnessed an incongruous spectacle: a herd of camels racing on a frozen lake in the Swiss Alps.

5. Blood sports

At Cottar's Safari Camp, in Kenya, the camp's guides serve as concierges and often need to appease guests more used to city breaks.

One American couple visited during the wildebeest migration, but stipulated that they didn't want to see blood spilled.

For the camp's co-owner, Louise Cottar, this presented clear logistical difficulties.

"We obviously don't control what happens during feeding seasons," she says.

"What happens in nature is natural."

But the guides dealt with the request.

"A spotter sat in an elevated position at the back of the car and surveyed the surroundings with binoculars. He was able to warn the driver in Swahili about any nearby kills, and they could then discreetly drive in another direction."

Another guest was much less squeamish, says Cottar. In one ceremony, the Masai tap a cow's jugular with an arrow and drink the blood as it spurts from the wound.

"One American was so captivated by it that he asked to drink the fresh blood too. The tribespeople considered his positive approach an honour."

- Daily Telegraph UK

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