August 17, 2004
Working with Rich People
Personally, my policy about dealings with the very wealthy goes like this: they already have all the money and all the power, so why should they have my respect too? But then, I'm not the chief concierge at the Ritz-Carlton, and Frederick Bigler is. People like Mr. Bigler are the real reason that rich people are happier than the rest of us poor old saps: when you're rich, you can pay people to do absolutely anything for you, even things you don't actually need to ask them to do. They'll just come up with new and inventive ways to make you feel like you are more important than everybody else.
And when you're paying $595 to $12,000 a night for a room, you expect that kind of service. He will escort you to the bathroom instead of just showing you where it is (I assume this is in the lobby, not in your suite,) he will rent you an armored car to take you shopping, he will send up special treats for your dog that you didn't even ask for, and this is my favorite, he will orchestrate a "Charlie's Angels" theme weekend for you and your girlfriends and narrate the activities he has planned for you via a cassette tape that he slips under your pillow every morning. It's sort of like having your mom stay with you in your hotel, except a fabulous, indulgent, doting mom who is at your beck and call and never tells you you've had too much to drink and get your hair out of your face. Mr. Bigler says he "likes making them feel special," but apparently what guests at fancy hotels really want is some kind of grown-up version of a nanny. See the outstanding title essay in David Foster Wallace's A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again for further reading on this subject, using the example of guests on a luxury cruise.
Not surprisingly, Mr. Bigler is not a native New Yorker--he grew up in Lancaster, PA. The secrets to much of his success as a concierge are his skill in reading people, giving them what they want, and also just being polite. He says, "Some New Yorkers aren't aware that if you don't give someone eye contact, it's considered rude."