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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

One hand washes the other

This Miami Herald article doesn't surprise me. I've been to all 50 states, about a dozen countries and have encounter people who work as concierages. Their job is to help those staying at the hotels the concierage works for. That they may send customers to certain business establishments don't surprise me at all. Or that these businesses sometimes gives benefits back. It's part of doing business and as the saying goes, "One hand washes the other."

There will also be like in any business some bad apples. Most concierages(or any other profession) will take their work seriously. Their job is to help their hotel or motel's customers have a good time during their stay. Giving bad referrals or recommendations can endanger their jobs.

If these people get a reward for referrals, it don't bother me as long as I am happy with the businesses or tours they recommnd to me.

On a personal note- My wife has worked in the office of our church for almost 13 years. For many years she would refer people to a certain funeral home in our town. They were Catholic, and members of our parrish and did do a good job. Leonita did this for no other reason than that, though when my father died we were given a small discount on their services, and we paid nothing for son Daniel's funeral. The funeral home did this for us without us asking or even expecting it.

One hand washes the other or back scratching. That's how business is done all over the world.

Open Post- Jo's Cafe, Wizbang, Real Ugly American,

As a concierge at South Beach's Delano hotel, Brian Bean often makes reservations for guests at China Grill and its sister restaurant, Tuscan Steakhouse.
So often, in fact, the restaurants' management company rewarded Bean with a free trip to London last year.

''To receive, you have to give,'' said Steven Haas, general manager at China Grill, which offers top concierges catered cocktail parties, spa treatments and $500 Movado watches. ``This is our way of paying them back.''

From a cash payout for booking a boat tour to a VIP table at a hot nightclub, concierges often receive some benefit from the businesses they recommend to guests. Known as incentives or commissions, concierge rewards are both a controversial topic and standard practice in the hospitality industry.

''How common are commissions? I think they're pretty common,'' said Sara-ann Kasner, president of the National Concierge Association. Especially in big
restaurant markets like New York City and Miami, she said, ``because it's a very competitive world.''

Even some of South Florida's most celebrated restaurants say they depend on hotel referrals for a significant chunk of their out-of-town business, so they're eager to woo concierges with perks and freebies.

''It's a brutal business. You're vying for every hotel guest,'' said Frank Randazzo, an owner of Talula Restaurant and Bar in South Beach, which gives out $125 gift certificates to concierges. ``I'm competing with my fellow restaurants and what incentives they offer.''

The hospitality industry mostly justifies the incentives as either helping concierges make better recommendations (by attending a free tasting party at a top restaurant) or as compensation for conducting another company's business (by taking a commission on a limousine ride booked for a guest).

And concierges say they don't let perks cloud their recommendations -- out of professional pride and financial self-interest. Since satisfied guests tip well, concierges say it would be foolish to let incentives dictate their restaurant recommendations.

''No matter what the reward, you don't recommend a place you haven't tried [or] don't like,'' said Bean, the trip-winnning Delano concierge.

Concierges earn 15 points for each customer they send to China Grill Management's four Miami Beach restaurants, which include Blue Door at the Delano and Social Miami at the Sagamore.

The first concierge to earn 37,000 points (equal to about 2,500 customers) wins this year's first prize: two business-class tickets to Spain, a three-night stay at the Barcelona Ritz-Carlton, followed by a 10-day Mediterranean cruise. Haas said the prize, one of 25 the company offers each year, costs about $20,000.


Igor Omerhodzic, lead concierge at the Loews Miami Beach, said he earned enough points last year for a China Grill trip and probably will be in the running this year. Despite the contest, if a guest asks for the best Chinese restaurant in town, Omerhodzic suggests Mr. Chu's Hong Kong Cuisine.

''I'll say any day or night, it's better than China Grill,'' he said.
But even supporters acknowledge incentives can walk a fine line between reward and kickback.

''I sent out a pretty heated letter last year saying we absolutely discourage the paying of commissions of any sort for restaurants to secure reservations,'' said Ed Ponder, chief concierge at the National in South Beach and past president of the Southern Florida Concierge Association.

Ponder said the warning followed reports of new restaurants trying to woo concierges with cash commissions. Ponder and other concierges said cash payments from restaurants are rare -- but not unheard of -- in South Florida, and are banned by most hotels.

Payments for booking tours and other services are another matter, which the concierge industry considers the equivalent of travel-agent commissions.

Miami Duck Tours lets concierges keep the $6 deposits they collect from guests who reserve slots on the $26 amphibious trip through Miami and Miami Beach, while concierges keep about $60 of the $250 Island Queen Cruises charges for its gondola rides in Biscayne Bay, owners from the two companies said.

Don Meyer ran concierge desks for small Fort Lauderdale hotels in the 1990s. He said his company didn't charge hotels, but made its money through commissions on car rentals, day cruises and other bookings.

''If you go to a concierge and you ask them to do something, they are only going to suggest the things and places where they get a kickback,'' Meyer said.

But Meyer said restaurants rarely offered money for customers, though free meals were commonplace.

Restaurateurs said tasting parties and free meals are a must for doing business with concierges, who make between $21,000 and $24,000 a year in South Florida, according to state labor statistics.

''If a restaurant invites us, we go. Because how else could we share that experience?'' said Kay Cremeens, chief concierge at Marriott Harbour Beach Fort Lauderdale, which bans restaurant payments to concierges. ``Some of my people make nine or ten dollars an hour. They can't afford to go to the Grill Room on Las Olas or Grill 66 or some of the other high-end restaurants.''


But the back-scratching between concierges and the businesses eager for hotel guests can leave travelers somewhere between suspicious and fuming.

After a long day touring the redwoods, Heather Callahan and her husband wanted to grab a bite at a casual restaurant and go to bed. The concierge at their San Francisco hotel had a recommendation and insisted that she make the reservation for the jean-clad couple, Callahan recalled in an interview.

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