"Service through friendship" is the motto of Les Clefs d'Or (The Society of the Golden Keys), the international association of hotel concierges, founded in 1929. The symbol of the crossed keys on the lapels of concierges came to represent the power to open doors unavailable to the average traveler. Networking, service, "opening doors"--does this sound like something a meeting planner might be interested in?

I have been a meeting planner for more than 22 years, and have worked with these gifted concierges for nearly two decades. Concierges have incredible knowledge and contacts, and are walking encyclopedias on most everything that will affect your group.

One year, a top producer for my company could not find a room anywhere close to the Million Dollar Round Table Annual Meeting. I called a concierge with whom I had developed a telephone relationship, and she not only found him a room but got him VIP treatment.

Of course, concierges cannot always book sold-out performances or get last-minute reservations at the finest restaurant in New York or Paris, but they will always offer an alternative.

One of the best ways that I have worked with concierges is through a reservation system I created several years ago. My company had more than 300 agents on a trip to Chicago and the program offered one free evening. Realizing the concierge had a staff of four, I had visions of endless lines and disappointed agents. So the concierge and I devised a six-page restaurant list that included a description, cost, and type of food. This list was sent to agents with a "ReserFax," a form addressed to the concierge with space for three choices of restaurants, time requested, and number in the party. More than 90 percent of the faxes were returned before the trip. Then attendees simply picked up a confirmation card at the concierge desk.

I always include compensation for the concierge in my meeting budget. For groups of 50 to 80 couples, I budget between $300 and $500. Remember, they divide tip money among the entire staff, so don't undertip if they do something really special.

"Service through friendship" is the perfect motto for this talented group of individuals. So in planning your future trips and meetings worldwide, look for the golden keys.

My Pre-meeting Concierge Checklist: * Before signing a contract, call the concierge to discuss the property and the area. No travel agent or guidebook can match a concierge's inside information.

* Meet with the concierge staff on your site inspections. Take the concierge to lunch to discuss how your agents may work with them most effectively.

* Go over the ground operators, outside caterers, and other vendors you are considering using off-property. Concierges know the latest information about changes within these organizations.

* Send photos of your VIPs and senior management to the concierge staff prior to the meeting.

* Request that the concierge attend your pre-conference meeting. Give him or her a copy of your program agenda and a list of your attendees.

* Use the ReserFax and tailor it to fit the anticipated needs of your group. For example, it could also be used to obtain difficult reservations at major attractions.