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Extreme Customer Care - No Request Too Unusual for Top South Florida Concierges

By Hannah Sampson, The Miami HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Dec. 26, 2011--Talk about extreme customer care. Being a concierge in top South Florida hotels means catering to unusual requests, often on short notice.

How about pulling together a wedding in an afternoon or figuring a way to ship a new mom's breast milk home to her baby in a hurry? Would you drive hours from West Palm Beach to Miami and back to exchange a gift for a guest?

Bernard Nicole, chief concierge at the exclusive Flagler Club at the Breakers Palm Beach resort, once arranged to ship a 160-foot yacht from Florida to London. And when a guest's car broke down, he not only sent a limousine to pick her up, he also helped the woman find and buy the new Cadillac she wanted, dark blue outside and beige leather inside, even negotiating to get her a better price.

Here's a look at some unusual requests to local concierges:

Guilherme DeMelo, chief concierge at the Mandarin Oriental, Miami.

--Traveling palm trees: A guest wanted 100 palm trees from Florida shipped to his home in Saudi Arabia. "He said the Floridian ones are better." It took several days, but the hotel was able to find a nursery to supply the trees, locate a container that would fit them and arrange to have them shipped. "We got it done and we got a big thank you. He was super happy."

--Stress-relieving fish: During the 2010 Super Bowl, when the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts faced off in Miami, a guest was so stressed out about the game that she wanted to find a way to relax. "She asked us to buy her a bowl with tropical fish to have in the room so she could stare at it." A pet store owner stayed open late to accommodate the last-minute request and the woman got her fish -- and her wish. Her team, the Saints, won.

--Square dancers: A couple asked where they could learn how to square dance. While familiar with places that teach Latin dances more common to Miami, the staff was initially flummoxed. "We looked at each other like, "In Florida? Seriously?'" Someone called around and finally found a studio in Hollywood that teaches square dancing.

Michael Cooper, chief concierge at the Lago Mar Resort and Club, Fort Lauderdale.

--Sarsaparilla soda: A guest wanted to try sarsaparilla soda. Cooper found only root beer but located sarsaparilla candies at a British store for the guest to taste.

--Whale watching? Guests sometimes confuse South Florida with Mexico or the Caribbean. One asked where to go horse-back riding on the beach. Another wanted to take a whale-watching excursion.

Guillermo Funez, a senior concierge at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach

--Proposal from above: A guest wanted to stage an elaborate proposal for his girlfriend. He hired a banner plane to fly by the hotel trailing the question, but the trick was making sure the fiancee-to-be would see it. "We had to get her in the right time at the right place to see the plane." The concierge team, posing as real estate agents, told her that her boyfriend was interested in buying a unit at the hotel and brought her to meet him. Brunch had been set up inside and the boyfriend waited on the balcony. "We were like, "OK, we'll be right back.' " The plane passed at the designated time, and the proposal went off without a hitch.

--Sunset beach wedding: Inspired by a wedding going on at the hotel, a man who was engaged decided he too was interested in getting married at the hotel. During his weeklong vacation. Within a day, the concierges got the man transportation to get a marriage license, set up Tiki torches and a canopy on the beach and arranged for rose petals to be spread around the room after the ceremony. A concierge who is also a wedding officiant performed the wedding, another concierge was the photographer and Funez served as witness. "Guests were watching from afar. It was a lot of excitement."

--Christmas away from home: A family from New York was coming for the holidays last year. The father didn't want his kids, who had never been away from home for Christmas, to miss out on all the holiday spirit. "I told him, "Just ship the gifts down. And then we'll pick them up and don't worry about the rest.' " Concierges put an artificial tree together, decorated it and the rest of the unit and arranged the gifts once they arrived. "I'm not an artist, but I tried. It came out very nice." The family loved it. And they can expect the same treatment again. "He's coming this year. We're setting up the tree."

Detlef Walenter, Ritz Carlton Fort Lauderdale

--Marrying guests: An older couple called for a notary public, seeking to marry that afternoon. Walenter is a notary and arranged it. The pair wanted something simple, romantic and spontaneous. With just two hours left on his shift, Walenter reserved the resort's wine room, set it with flowers and candles, prepared a bottle of champagne and strawberries to celebrate and found a special poem to read during the ceremony. The couple was thrilled. "They returned the next year for their anniversary."

--Hay and ants? One guest wanted bales of hay in their room. Someone else was looking for carpenter ants for their room. "There are times you just don't ask why."

John Durham, The Hotel of South Beach

--Last-minute proposal: A man decided to propose to his girlfriend unexpectedly. "He didn't know he was going to propose; he felt the moment was right." The hotel set up a table by the pool, got him a bottle of champagne and some roses. "In the end, it all turned out favorable for him. She said yes."

--Moonlight massages: One night around 11 p.m., a man and two women asked if they could all get massages by the pool. The pool was closed, but Durham was able to call in the massage therapists and set candles up in the cabanas. "They got their massages by the moonlight."

Sun Sentinel staff writer Doreen Hemlock contributed to this report.


(c)2011 The Miami Herald

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