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Concierge to the stars Michael Fazio

Top concierge Michael Fazio reveals tried-and-true tips for getting the best perks, freebies, and upgrades

More people than ever have access to what was once available to only an elite set. The demand for “special treatment” has skyrocketed, and many of us want to learn how to win a little of it for ourselves. Why not? We deserve it, right?

But how do you set yourself apart from the masses vying for those few choice seats in the hottest restaurant, or that deluxe corner room with the ocean view? When they say “sold out,” does that really apply to you?

After many years as a concierge, the techniques I use to get my clients what they want have become second nature. To my clients, it’s magic. To me, it’s using integrity, perseverance and a lot of charm. You might be able to trick your way into a perk once in a while, but it’s far better to learn how to do it right. (And sometimes, even if you do do it right, you still need a little magic!)

The most common questions I’m asked by far is (1) how to get upgraded in a hotel, and (2) how to secure a table in an overbooked restaurant. Neither is as quick and easy, but if you sharpen your skills and put a little effort, you‘ll have more successes than failures.

For a hotel upgrade:

First things first: If you can, don’t check in during the morning hours. Room inventories are at their lowest until around 3:00 pm, when the housekeeping department turns in their final reports. Early birds get whatever is available at that moment (and the people who got upgrades the night before haven’t checked out of their rooms yet). If you do arrive in the morning, approach the check-in clerk with a smile and let them know that you are happy to wait until later in the day in hope of getting a better room.

It also helps if you take a few moments to survey the clerk during check in. Ask how many rooms are in the hotel, and how many of those are suites. Next, ask the difference in price between what you are paying and a suite. Finally, ask what the occupancy rate is for that night. Low occupancy (75% or less) + a healthy number of suites/rooms (250 or more) + a reasonable spread between your rate and the suite rate ($150 or less) = a likely upgrade.

If you’re not a strategy person, I suggest seeking the help of a large corporate travel agency. Ask friends who work for giant companies for the name of the firm that handles their travel. Agencies specializing in corporate travel book large volumes of room nights, and often have access to pre-negotiated extras that are not extended to others. You can also join a travel site like TabletHotels.com where, for a small annual fee, you are guaranteed a range of nice upgrades and perks when you book through the site.

For a “hot” restaurant reservation:

New, trendy restaurants in major cities are always “fully committed” (a term I find annoyingly patronizing, and one with disturbing connotations). You can often find yourself pleading for a reservation. Again, you have to accept the fact that the person at the “gate” has the power, and it’s up to you to get them to open that gate. Many people think that cash is the golden key, and I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t useful. Nevertheless, technique is required to maximize the power of that tightly folded bill that passes in your handshake.

First of all, it’s taboo for people in high-end service to be bought. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t accept a sign of your appreciation, but we know enough not to take what we cannot reciprocate. In other words, if you show up to a restaurant without a reservation and you know that there’s a month-long wait to get in, you can’t just approach with a folded bill and assume that’s all it’s going to take. In this case, the best maneuver is to approach the maître’d when they are away from the podium (as in out of the sight of others who are waiting) and say, “We’ve tried so hard to get a reservation and we weren’t able to. Would you mind if we had a drink at the bar to wait for a no-show or cancellation?” Now is the time to discreetly pass anywhere from $20 to $100 in their hand while smiling and saying, “Thank you for anything you can do.”

Using these basic techniques transcend into all areas of service — not just hotels and restaurants — as long as you remember the two most vital components:

  • You will get better treatment by establishing yourself as more of a colleague and less of a VIP.
  • A little industry knowledge goes a long way and it shows that are an insider.

Editor’s Note: Michael Fazio is the author of Concierge Confidential: The Gloves Come Off, and The Secrets Come Out! Tales from the Man Who Serves Millionaires, Moguls, and Madmen. A partner in Abigail Michaels Concierge, which serves almost 20,000 hotels and private clients, he has been featured in The New York Times, The New York Post and Crain’s New York Business, and is a recurring guest on ABC’s “The View.” He lives in New York City.

3 comments so far.

  1. avatar Joan Larsen says:

    Michael Fazio — I am definitely going to buy your book .  . for tips when travelling are worth their weight in gold I have found.  Early on in travelling to New York or London, I have found that the hotel concierge has found us tickets for “sold out” plays that night — and when you are on vacation, to me every minute counts and every day is meant to be a gem.  To stand in long lines for theatre tickets when you could be visiting the city sights doesn’t make much sense to me. 

    The best story I have had in recent years — when we hadn’t even thought of trying for a hotel room upgrade — was in Las Vegas, checking into our hotel.  Married for many years, we still seem to get new life when travelling.  . and as we stood in line, my husband had his arm around me and we were laughing.  As we gave our names, my husband happened to call me his “girlfriend” (which is how he always thinks of me and says so).  The room clerk was somehow “blown away” by all of this.  Without our thinking of asking, she said I am going to upgrade you two to a suite.  All smiles!!!  We didn’t say no — and were escorted to the most luxurious suite I have ever been in . . . a palace with his-and-her bathrooms of such dimensions and accoutrements, a bedroom I will NEVER forget .  . and on and on.  Let’s just say we spent more time there than seeing the Vegas strip — and still talk about it – a lot.

    When life is good, it is very very good we have found!!!

  2. avatar Lila says:

    Good advice on the hotel check-in, but NO restaurant is worth bribing my way into.  I am just as happy eating knishes on the street.

  3. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Let’s not forget the power of being polite. I have been given upgrades for thanking the staff for their time and effort. These ordinary people are just trying to make a living and they don’t appreciate someone giving them grief just because they can as the customer. I once watched a clerk reduced to tears over a petty issue. Instead of checking in at a moment she needed to collect herself I went to the gift shop and bought her a small bear. If I am a regular some place I get to know the staff and bring small treats for them. I’d rather be a welcome guest than a known pain in the rump.