Backstage Travel: No 1 - the concierge
Never off duty – the Mr Fixit of the hospitality world
Sunday 03 March 2013
Ben Malpass is head concierge at the Savoy, London.
He wears a secret-service-style earpiece and a dark suit. He has contacts all over London and he'll go to extreme lengths to spend your money, should you wish. There's something rather cloak and dagger about the job of a hotel concierge.
Ben Malpass admits it's tough trying to meet the demands of guests at the 268-room Savoy. "We are given the task to just get it done. Don't break the law, obviously, but the priority is to keep the guest happy. We will go to extraordinary lengths to get guest requests satisfied."
The term concierge derives from the Latin conservus, meaning "fellow slave", and indeed a concierge's function is to serve guests free of charge (if you don't count the room rate and tips). The concierge will facilitate whatever a guest wants – and in the luxury market that means far more than a table at a top restaurant or tickets to a sold-out show.
Malpass, who leads a team of about 30 staff at the Savoy – including porters, doormen and seven concierges – aims to provide "unrivalled access" to all that London offers, achieved through intimate knowledge of the city and abundant personal contacts. For guests with money to spend and time to play with, he's essential – if you want an exclusive 16-day itinerary, with a private view of the Crown Jewels, he's your man.
Since joining the Savoy in 2010, the 37-year-old has sourced an authentic Roman legionary's helmet from Wales for a guest who wanted it shipped to his office in Bermuda; arranged the purchase of a £140,000 handbag in Mayfair; and sealed the deal on a £300,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom.
More than half the Savoy's guests use the service – and this high figure is due to the number visiting for pleasure, not business, says Malpass, who has spent 16 years on concierge desks in London. And work doesn't just start when a guest checks in. The Savoy receives about 100 emails a day detailing the demands of future clients.
The legwork required to fulfil requests happens very discreetly – an "organised chaos" lurks beneath the concierge's unruffled exterior. It's a high-stress job that never stops; when he's not on duty (generally from 7am to 7pm) Malpass is out vetting London's latest hot spot. Occasionally he even sleeps at the hotel to ensure uninterrupted service. "I've taken one of the richest men on Earth for a walk around London at 3am because he fancied a walk. Not for 59 minutes, not for 61; he wanted to walk for 60 minutes, and he made that very clear."
"It's not a job, it's a way of life," he adds. "It is bonkers."
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