Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Secret Life of Hotels

By Michael Fazio – May 26, 2011

If not for luxury hotels, where would politicians connect with prostitutes? Where would celebrities rendezvous with porn actresses? Where would an exhibitionist paying $800 a night for a room publicly display sex acts in his window to pedestrians on the Highline?

To guests who pay thousands of dollars per night for a suite in luxury hotels like The Plaza, The Trump International, The New York Palace or even the Sofitel, the hotel is their home away from home. With this customer base, whatever complexities or eccentricities the guest is accustomed to in their private home will likely be requested in the privacy of their hotel suite. In my many years as a concierge, I was glad to oblige anything that would make them happy. It was not an issue to have specific bedding purchased exclusively for the guest during their stay; I didn’t hesitate for a moment to provide a client with an “unauthorized” private tour of the trading room floor; I was eager to maneuver my way past the waiting list to enable my guest to score the coveted Birkin Bag that she had to have that day.

My experiences in delivering “your wish is my command” service to this luxury clientele came with enough blush-worthy encounters to fill a book. It certainly didn’t hurt that I simply do not judge my guests, and let them know it. But something about my open willingness to serve exposed me to a world quite different from my own world. When spreading rose petals on a bed wasn’t decadently romantic enough, I was asked instead to fill the bath tub with chocolate. When every available flavor of ice cream in a ten-mile radius wasn’t quite right for my guest’s craving, I had to find a chef who would concoct artisanal peppermint ice cream that would satiate his palate. When nature failed the male libido of her lover, I was asked by a guest to procure Viagra on the spot—with no mention of a prescription.

The Dominique Strauss-Kahn incident has incited lively conversations among industry colleagues as well as among most of my staff at a private company that supplies concierges to hotels, where many of us come from long histories as concierges in various NYC luxury properties. It has presented a new perspective on what we often shrugged off as nothing more than annoying guest behavior.

Colleagues and staffers alike have shared stories. The guest who asks for a pack of cigarettes to be sent up to the room and receives us at the door fully naked. The guest who calls down “just to chat” and has porn blatantly blaring in the background. The guest who explicitly propositioned me to accompany him and his wife to a swingers party—the same party that I had earlier helped him find. Was this a criminal offense? Should I have gone to management to report harassment? But this man was not my boss. He was my guest, and it was my job to make the guests feel at home. (Although in those types of cases, I demurred.)

Our formal hotel training was focused primarily on the guest experience. Our emotional comfort was treated as an aside. Sure, we had safety training pertaining to things like an intoxicated or irate guest who threatens physical harm to us or other guests. Certainly, we were never formally told by management not to report incidents of guest behaving badly. But none of us are able to recall standardized procedures or policies to report indiscriminate guest behavior toward us.

In the same way that family matters are usually handled within the home–especially with the rarefied elite—hotels exist in an insulated reality. In the hotel universe, issues are often best resolved in a gentlemanly and discreet manner that avoids unnecessary public drama for the guest or for the hotel. As a hotel Concierge, it has never been my experience that a hotel covers up an incident that presents a danger to staffers caused by an unruly guest.

Michael Fazio is a partner in Abigail Michaels Concierge, Manhattan’s premier concierge business, serving almost 20,000 condominiums, hotels and private clients. He is the co-author of the book “Concierge Confidential: The Gloves Come Off–and the Secrets Come Out! Tales from the Man Who Serves Millionaires, Moguls, and Madmen.”


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