Association Vice President featured on Yahoo! Travel

Source: Sid Lipsey
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I Had to Fetch a $12K Bag of Potato Chips & Other Confessions of a Concierge

You won’t believe the wild requests a high-end concierge gets. (Photo: iStock)

A hotel guest is demanding a bag of potato chips — that are only available on another continent. A diner at your restaurant needs you to find a stolen engagement ring before he pops the question to his girlfriend in a few hours. And another guest asks you to help arrange some… er, “personal entertainment” for him, even though it’s against the law, hotel policy, and your own ethics.

Such is the job of a high-end luxury hotel concierge, to whom rich and influential guests (who are never told “no”) turn when they need something done, no matter how crazy or difficult it may be. In this world, concierges are the Tom Cruises of the hospitality industry — when these miracle workers get a “Mission: Impossible,” they have no choice but to accept it. 

“When someone comes up to you and wants something, you don’t ask him, ‘How do I do this?’” says Frank Hernandez, the lead concierge at Halekulani, a five-star luxury hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii. “You need to be confident that, ‘I got this; I will take care of this, so don’t worry. I will let you know when it’s here.’ That’s what guests love to hear.”

Frank Hernandez loves the challenge of achieving the impossible for his guests at Honolulu’s Halekulani’ hotel. (Photo: Halekulani)

Hernandez, who’s been doing the impossible for his guests for 10 years now, admits catering to the rich, famous, and influential on an island paradise can be a bit daunting. “They generally have a staff back home of a dozen people that know who they are, know what they like, and how they like it,” he says of his high-end guests. “When they come here, they don’t have that staff — they have me. And it’s my job to, in a matter of minutes, figure out what they like. Figure out how they like their coffee — figure out how when they say rare or medium rare, what that really means. So it really means finding the meaning behind every little request and every detail. It’s what these guests pay for.”

Sometimes these guests’ demands go far beyond the realms of coffee and steak. And Frank has to work some magic using the many resources at disposal, including fellow members of the international concierge organization, Les Clefs d’Or, and his personal network of local chefs, club managers, and store owners. (You never know when you’re going to need a favor from, say, a manager at a Louis Vuitton to secure a must-have item for a guest. Says Frank: “A lot of times I’m waking [store managers] up at two or three o’clock in the morning saying, ‘Can I get into your store in the next 30 minutes?’”)

By using that support — as well as his own personal tenacity, smarts, and creativity — Frank has pulled off some pretty crazy requests from the rich and (sometimes) famous. And nothing shocks him anymore. “We’ve seen so much through the years as a concierge you kind of go numb to what is really normal and what is really out there.” 

Here are some of the most unbelievable missions he’s pulled off:

All that and a ($12,000) bag of chips

Yes, potato chips are awesome, but would you pay $12,000 to enjoy your favorite brand on vacation? (Photo: iStock)

Frank once helped a concierge at another Hawaii hotel fly in a brand of potato chips that are sold only in Africa for a prominent hotel guest. (Frank describes the guest as a “very, very well known” award-winning film actress.)

“She just really wanted these chips,” remembers Frank, and a bag of Ruffles just wouldn’t do. So the concierge at the Maui hotel where the snack-craving guest was staying set the ball in motion: he called another Les Clefs d’Or concierge in Africa, who picked up a few bags of the chips, boxed them up and put them on a flight to Honolulu. And, no, the chips didn’t travel via FedEx or UPS. Frank says the concierge bought a seat just for the chips. (Just imagine what the passenger seated next to the potato chips must have thought:Is this my seatmate or an in-flight snack?)

It was at this point that the Maui concierge pulled Frank into the Great Chip Airlift. “He called me and said, ‘Frank, I need your help!  There’s a bag of chips arriving into Honolulu and I need you to go to the airport and find it,’” Frank says. “So I had to physically go to the airport, speak to the airline, the staff, and the flight’s chief steward. I promised them complimentary room nights and lavish dinners and anything that they needed.” Frank found the chips and booked them on a flight from Honolulu to their final destination in Maui, where they finally arrived for the actress’ snacking pleasure. The final tally of her big chip airlift: six flights and $12,000 worth of airline tickets. At that price tag, to paraphrase that old ad slogan, bet she couldn’t eat just one. 

When the concierge becomes the Lord of the Ring

Frank and the Case of the Missing Engagement Ring (Photo: iStock)

Another of Frank’s concierge war stories also involves a guest who was staying at another hotel. However, this guest had dinner plans at Halekulani’s restaurant, La Mer. And this was no regular vacation dinner — the guest was planning to propose to his girlfriend.

Says Frank: “He called here and spoke to one of my colleagues and said, ‘I have this engagement ring but I want it to be a surprise.’” The guest had the ring shipped fromTiffany & Co. in Seattle to his hotel in Waikiki but had trouble finding time alone to secretly pick it up from that hotel’s staff. “‘My girlfriend just doesn’t leave me alone,’” Frank recalls the nervous guest saying. “’She’s stuck on me like a shadow, like, 24 hours a day. If I leave her side she’s gonna know something’s up.’” So Frank and a coworker agreed to drive to the hotel in Waikiki to pick up the ring. The plan was for them to take it back to Halekulani, where later that night the staff would present the ring during the guest’s romantic The Bachelor-like Hawaiian proposal dinner. 

Frank and his colleague picked up the special package with no problem. But as they drove back to their hotel, they noticed that something was a little off with the signature Tiffany blue box. “We’ve received a lot of shipments of rings and jewelry and stuff here and I know what a shipped Tiffany box looks like,” says Frank. “I just had that feeling that this doesn’t look 100 percent right.” When the two got back to Halekulani and opened the box, their fears were confirmed: The engagement ring was missing, replaced with a vial of ink. (Frank suspects the ring was stolen somewhere along the multiple stops between Seattle and Hawaii; the ink vial apparently was placed in the box so it would weigh about the same as the missing ring.)

Frank says he and his coworkers initially responded with a good, old-fashioned freakout (albeit a brief, professional one, of course). “We were like, ‘Oh my God! The ring is not here!’” he remembers. But then he went into problem-solving mode. The first thing they did was agree not to tell the guest about the missing ring right away. (“We didn’t want to alarm him because we still didn’t have all the information or a recovery plan,” says Frank.) Fortunately, the apparent ring thief left the receipt in the box, so they knew what type of ring it was and how much it cost. Even more fortunate: Frank knows the regional sales director for the Honolulu Tiffany — which is just three short blocks from Halekulani. Frank called him and laid out the problem.

After some calls between the Honolulu Tiffany and the Seattle store in which the ring was purchased, Frank’s friend called back with some good news. “‘I’m going to come by the hotel in the next 30 minutes,’” Frank recalls him saying. The Tiffany manager arrived with a brand new replacement engagement ring; the exact ring the guest had bought wasn’t in stock but the replacement was similar, in the correct finger size and, best of all, came with an even pricier stone than the one that had been stolen. (Tiffany did not charge for the replacement or for the upgraded rock.)

Fortunately, Tiffany came through with a new replacement engagement ring. (Photo: iStock)

“We called the guest at that point just to let him know what happened, and he was beyond elated,” Frank says. “The ring was presented as planned, the girlfriend knew nothing of what happened, and she said ‘Yes!’”

No, they won’t help you find prostitutes

Yes, Frank gets asked to help find prostitutes. He responds with a creative (and non-X-rated) alternative. (Photo: iStock)

“On occasion you have a gentleman who’s lonely and wants to visit a bar or club where he can find company,” says Frank. “But guests won’t just come out and say, ‘I want to go somewhere where I can find someone to take home,’ or a prostitute. They will ask you in a certain way that lets you know what they’re asking for, but without them asking for it.”

Of course, Frank doesn’t promote that kind of hospitality. But just because Frank won’t honor that specific request doesn’t mean he won’t try to find a less tawdry solution. “I won’t ever say ‘no’ to a guest,” he says. “It’s about being able to take a ‘no’ and saying, ‘But I can do X-Y-Z for you, and this is actually a better option.’ Convincing them that you’re right without them feeling like they’re wrong.”

For the standard hooker request, Frank says “X-Y-Z” can involve some alternatives of the non-sexual (and legal) variety. “He’s on a business trip by himself and he would rather not be by himself at the moment,” Frank says of the typical wannabe john. “I am going to send him to a nightclub or a beautiful bar in a beautiful hotel where they’re going to have a beautiful waitress and a great evening. I may have a manager come by and greet him. I may have the lead hostess know his name before he arrives so he knows that I called prior to his arrival.”

That’s often enough to fill the needs of a lonely traveler in a way that won’t get anyone arrested. “The next day he comes by and he’s like, ‘That lounge you sent me to was amazing! The hostess was the best and the waitress just took such good care of me!’” says Frank. “It’s all about taking the higher road and also not embarrassing them.”

The Great Apple Jacks Airlift

A is for “Awesome” — or “Australia” or “Airlift”: Frank helped arrange an Apple Jacks airlift for a girl Down Under. (Photo: iStock)

Potato chips aren’t the only food Frank has had airlifted for a guest. 

“I did have one person — a Grammy Award winner out of New York City — who wanted to purchase as many boxes of Apple Jacks [cereal] as I could get my hands on that afternoon to FedEx to his goddaughter in Australia because they don’t have Apple Jacks there,” says Frank. 

This was one task that Frank considered a mission of mercy. “My immediate reaction was, ‘God, I love Apple Jacks!’” he laughs. “This is an emergency! We need to get her her Apple Jacks, poor child!”

Frank says he and his colleague cleaned out the shelves of every store in Waikiki and the surrounding area. In all, he says about 142 boxes of Apple Jacks went out to the lucky Australian girl, who’s probably now on a permanent sugar high!

Last Requests

The most touching request Frank’s ever honored. (Photo: iStock)

High-end concierges sometimes do more than honor their guests strange requests; they’ll honor their last ones, too. Frank recalls one frequent guest, an elderly woman who would come to Halekulani once a year and stay there by herself for several months at a time. When the guest first started staying there, she was a bit on the difficult side. Frank described her as “very grumpy, lonely, mean…not the nicest guest.”

But over time and a few stays at the hotel, she started to warm to Frank, telling him her life stories and specifically requesting he be the one to escort her from her room to the hotel restaurant for dinner every night. “That was very endearing to me,” recalls Frank.

Sadly, one day Frank got word that his special guest had passed away back at her home. Another surprise came his way once her last wishes were revealed.

“She wanted her ashes scattered in [the ocean] in front of Halekulani,” he says. The hotel made plans to have an outrigger canoe take her ashes out to sea to be scattered. But Frank says when he and his colleague, Wendy (who also was close to the deceased guest), learned company officials planned to accompany the remains out to sea, the two concierges had the same thought. “I can’t let people who don’t know her scatter her ashes,” Frank recalls thinking. “It needs to be us.”

Frank and Wendy were given the honors. “We paddled out, took some orchids and scattered them in the water,” he recalls. “One of the paddlers was a Hawaiian chanter. He chanted a beautiful song, with beautiful words, and we scattered her ashes out in the ocean. The great part about that is that as we were paddling out, we were the only ones there. But as we were paddling back to shore, every single staff member of the hotel was on that beach.”

For Frank, sending off a guest in such a beautiful fashion was an especially emotional career highlight. “Oh God, it’s something that you can’t even put to words,“ he says. “It just warms your heart, and you’re humbled.” 

Being able to help people in their hour of need — be it by helping one guest with a snack craving or escorting another to her final resting place — is a huge professional perk of being a concierge. “We have an opportunity where we’re able to be that angel, where we’re able to do something good for the sake of good,” Frank says. “It’s amazing. It’s a blessing, definitely. I feel like being a concierge is the best job in the world.”