TIME Magazine default image

May I Fetch You Some Flavonoids?

Feb 26, 2015
Ideas
Joel Stein writes a weekly column for TIME magazine. His book, Man Made: A Stupid Quest For Masculinity, changes people’s lives.

While everyone else whines about income inequality, I'm doing something about it: learning how to kiss up to the 1%. Just as our ancestors searched for holy grails and husbanded falcons for royalty, I'm going to cater to the desires of billionaires, which seems to mostly involve making political ads and pressing juice.

To practice serving the superwealthy, I spent a day working as a concierge at the Peninsula Beverly Hills on the Saturday before the Grammy Awards. The Peninsula handles much of the Establishment before awards shows since it's known for being discreet, with a secret back entrance leading directly to some villas, and for extraordinarily personalized service, including monogrammed pillowcases for repeat guests, thereby bringing order to the chaos of the post-Oscar pillow fights that plague other hotels.

I snapped a name tag onto my suit pocket and arrived at the daily 8:30 a.m. meeting, which began with the insanely charming managing director, Offer Nissenbaum, handing each of the 14 department heads a list of the 36 guests checking in that day. Several were famous, many were CEOs, two were paying $9,500 a night, and one was checking in for his 149th time. We were told to offer our congratulations to people who had been nominated for a Grammy, won the Super Bowl or recently gotten a promotion. I thought a blanket "Congratulations on being able to spend $9,500 on a hotel room" would save us a lot of trouble trying to memorize stuff, but that didn't fit Nissenbaum's vibe.

His vibe, it turns out, is way more NSA. He has a file on everyone who has ever stayed at the hotel over the past eight years. One guest checking in had slow room service six years ago, which will definitely not happen again. There are also a lot of people referred to as "sensitive guests," which I'm pretty sure means "total jerks." One does not like the toilet seat closed. Another will take complimentary rides in the hotel's Rolls-Royce but not the Mercedes. And one woman, believe it or not, demanded to be addressed as Her Royal Highness, though in fairness, she was actual royalty.

Before my shift, I asked head concierge James Little--this year's L.A. Concierge of the Year--what to do if a guest asks me for something illegal, like prostitutes. Little recommended saying, nonjudgmentally, "We just can't do that because we can't guarantee the quality of the experience." He will, however, agree to get just about anything legal. He flew to London to fetch a long-term guest's dog for her, in order to save her the expense of chartering a jet for her pet. She was so grateful, she flew him business class and put him up for a week so he could see England for the first time. Rich people have no idea about basic stuff, like the fact that dog fetchers fly economy.

When I started my night shift, I quickly noticed that truly powerful and famous people don't ask for much. That's because they have assistants. And competence. I also noticed that rich people, like the rest of us, don't make reservations until the last minute and have the same horrible taste as nonrich people. They like steak restaurants, nightclubs with hot girls and drinks that involve Red Bull; we are heading toward a world with regular Red Bull and Premier Cru Red Bull.

Still, I was impressed at some of the ingenious ways they came up with to waste money. One woman had us send flowers to the restaurant Spago for her table's centerpiece. Little had no problem delivering that. He said the algorithm of service is contacts, money and time, and that with two of those, he could get anything done. My algorithm was more like, How much do I hate the guest? How lazy do I feel? And, Did they tip me? When I had all three of those, I asked Little to handle it.

We even helped people who weren't staying at the hotel. I went to Whole Foods for a woman in Australia who often stays at the Peninsula and is unable to locally source soy isoflavones, which are a real thing that people at Whole Foods not only know about but told me aren't big anymore. When I returned, international tax attorney Leslie Schreyer and his very attractive wife Judy stopped by the concierge desk to chat, and she told me she has called the hotel from her New York City apartment to buy boots she couldn't find. When the Alexander McQueen store in Manhattan couldn't find a mink coat in her size, she asked a Peninsula concierge for help during a stay. "By the time one of the concierges here found it, it was on sale, so the joke was on them," she said. I'm pretty sure the joke was less on Alexander McQueen than on Karl Marx.

At the end of the night, despite the fact that I had offloaded most of my nonflavonoid tasks onto him, Little said I would make a great concierge. I kept my cool and bantered with guests, and have useful connections, admittedly largely at Whole Foods. When the Great Inequity comes, I will be prepared to serve. My first question is going to be whether people miss their dogs.


Ideas
TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.
TIME may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website. Offers may be subject to change without notice.