Can you trust your hotel concierge? Because I was one.
Being a hotel concierge is actually quite tough, and I can personally attest to this from personal experience. Before my first travel magazine gig (Business Traveler), which led me to the world of travel writing, I worked as concierge at a trendy, busy boutique hotel in NYC. The odd number of requests and encounters with celebrities were insane (including Hugh Jackman, Charlize Theron, Victoria Beckham and Hilary Swank, to name a few) but actually recommending places in the city was stressful AF, especially in NYC. You had to know guests' personal likes/dislikes, places that would blow them away and even get them reservations.
Obviously, with the Internet and review sites, it's definitely easier now (oh, great... I'm dating myself), but not all hotels are created equal—and many concierge operate differently.
Having visited the concierge desk at hundreds of hotels as a guest, I can honestly TIMES HAVE CHANGED! I know a BS artist when I see one. Generally, luxury hotels are reliable, but listen. You have to watch for these red flags below, luxury hotel or not, and, if they ever recommend a TGI Friday's for dinner, just go to a Chipotle instead. JUST KIDDING. Just e-mail me, I'll let you know where the best grub is.
1. Partnerships. Many hotel concierges have partnerships with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, car services and other attractions. Some times they get a kick back for referrals/reservations, so their recommendations may not be the most genuine. For instance, if you ask for a reservation at a romantic restaurant, they'll obviously recommend one that is a partner because they'll get a kick back. I’ve noticed this is a lot rarer these days thanks to social media, online reviews, etc., but a good way to test it: Just ask them, "Oh, that restaurant sounds amazing. Is it a partner with the hotel?"
2. The infamous Xeroxed guide. How many times have you gone to the concierge at your hotel for recommendations and they hand you a Xeroxed sheet of paper with all the general, popular businesses? Sure, in smaller cities, it may be legit because you’ll only have few options, but this method is so much easier for concierge when they're getting the same questions asked dozens of times a day by dozens of hotel guests. If your questions are more specific, it will yield better results. Try: What is the most authentic dim sum place locals go to? What is the best time of day to visit a museum? Where can I rent a bike for less than $10 a day? It's the concierge's job to get you answers, and asking more specific questions will help them help you. But some times, they may not know at all (see #3).
3. Have they personally been? Concierge work a lot and, depending on the hotel, they don’t have the time of day and extra cash to splurge at expensive restaurants, visit notable attractions, try out the wines at a busy wine bar, etc. If concierge recommends a place based on how wonderful it is to everyone else, it may not give you the full picture considering they have not been themselves. A concierge in Miami once recommended an authentic taco joint. When I went, I discovered it was a hipster spot with, like, Keisha playing in the background. As you can imagine, the tacos were not authentic, and it was clear as day she had never been.
4. Tip them, and they'll get the job done. Most travelers don't realize concierge get tipped, like doormen and room service. Any form of gratuity in hospitality is appreciated, and it's certainly understood if the concierge bends over backwards with a request. If you tip them during your conversation or from the get-go, you can bet you won't have problems 1, 2 or 3. I remember, when I worked as concierge, model and actress Amber Valletta tipped me $20 when I let her use the computer to check her email (she didn't bring her laptop and we didn't have a business center). Even though I treated all guests equally, her tip inspired me to look out for her even more as it implied she was also looking out for me. Guys, it's how hospitality works, so... TIP!