I think it’s safe to say most of us have stayed in a hotel at least once in our lives. From business trips to getaway vacations and rundown motels to 50 story condos, we’ve all had our fair share of hotel life. Whether you’ve been there once or a thousand, the routine is almost always the same. You’ll book yourself a room — attempting to get the best deal you can — check in and confusingly try to find your room. Once you slide your key across the access, you drop your bags, inspect your bed (pretending no one else has slept there) and maybe pocket some bath products. After checking out the goodies in the mini bar, you’ll order up some room service, watch a little T.V. and set up your wake-up call to beat checkout time. Sometimes you’ll get up a little extra early just to snag some complimentary breakfast. Before you finally leave, you’re likely to take a couple more linens for the road. Finally, it’s check out time and that’s that. But while we may know everything about the hotel routine from a customer’s perspective, there’s even more that happens behind the scenes. And that’s where “Heads in Beds” comes into the picture.
Written by Jacob Tomsky, this memoir focuses on “Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality.” Basically everything you’ve ever wanted to know about how the hotel business works. The book essentially follows the life of Mr. Tomsky, aka “Tommy Jacobs,” as we follow his life through the hotel business. As a freshly graduated philosophy major with no career leads, we find Tomsky begin his journey in hotels by becoming a valet parker for a swanky hotel somewhere in New Orleans. Pretty soon, though, the manager notices his tremendous amount of potential and promotes him to front of the house as a desk agent.
Tomsky continues rising through the ranks, from managing the housekeeping department to working the front desk at a very ritzy Manhattan hotel spot. All along the way, our narrator explains the secrets behind getting anything and everything you could possibly want while staying at a hotel — all for free or by slipping a $20 tip. It’s not all fun and games, though, as we quickly find the hotel business, if run by the wrong people, can be much like any corporation: corrupt and full of people looking out for themselves. There are definitely a few lessons I’ve learned from reading this book that I’d like to share with you without giving too much of the story away. Either way, I think I’ll have a great experience the next time I stay in a hotel room.
1. Customer service is very rarely rewarding and almost always a bitch. If you’ve ever worked in the customer service business before, you know what I’m talking about. I’ve worked both in the restaurant and retail business so I’ve had my fair share of customer interactions. No matter where you are, the facts are almost always the same. You know you’re probably doing a good job when you don’t hear from anyone about your performance. But make a mistake, and you’re sure to hear about it. I’ve had customer’s tell me I was the worst service they ever had and been stiffed a tip on a $100 check. So I know where Tomsky is coming from.
Tomsky’s story takes us through the various customer service interactions he’s encountered in the hotel business. As a valet driver, our narrator dealt with crappy vehicles and running to and fro retrieving cars for hotel customers. His biggest peeve was getting blamed for scratches customers tried to accuse him of making on their brand new Ferraris. Once he moves up to front of the house, though, the real test begins and the challenges of customer service become largely apparent. Customers arguing over the room they’ve been booked or upset with having to settle for a double bed over a king. My favorite, though, is when a guest happens to lose some very “questionable items.” Apparently housekeeping mistakenly took one of his shopping bags that contained some rated R materials and, needless to say, a blow up doll ended up becoming an inside prank with the staff. I can assure you the guest was not amused. Another type of complaint comes from guests who book their rooms online. These fools are under the illusion that hotels actually work with the websites to make sure rooms are booked. Your best bet? Call the hotel immediately after just to make sure everything is ship-shape.
2. Humans are disgusting creatures. A little obvious I know, but after reading how your typical customer acts in a hotel room, you don’t know the half of it. I’m the kind of person who feels bad if I don’t make the hotel bed before I leave (despite the fact that they take the sheets off anyway.) But Tomsky really did have it bad. Once he’s promoted to housekeeping manager, the real skeletons start coming out. Sheets filled with all sorts of unholy matter, including specks of blood and “slimy latex condoms hiding among the folds like greasy snakes.” Vomit in anything but the actual toilet and everything in the toilet god knows where. Walking in on guests doing the dirty or finding bondage gear still attached to the bathroom towel holder. Plus rooms trashed like a 16-year-old boy’s room. Celebrities are the worst. Tomsky says when guests check into hotel rooms, they turn into children. No form of self-discipline whatsoever. I believe it. Here’s a tip: Hotel rooms service you but they are in no means owned by you. Out of respect, keep it clean.
3. It’s payback time. There’s a saying in the restaurant business for customers who are rude to their wait staff: don’t mess with the people who make your food. No matter what type of customer service business your in, workers always have a means of getting back at absolutely unruly guests. Unreasonably complain about the room you’ve been booked? Refuse to tip your bellman? Expect everything — and I mean absolutely everything — to be free? Watch out. Valet drivers have been known to take your car for a joy ride whether or not you tip. I guess it just depends on if they like you or not. Not tipping always create a much worse scenario, though. Maybe flashing a $20 tip would have gotten you a luxury suite and not the pit of despair. And watch out for those plastic cups in the room. Our narrator has witnessed maids cleaning minibar bottles with pledge and putting furniture polish on drinking glasses. Employees can re-activate your key cards at any time so you won’t be able to access your room (aka “key bombing”.) Tampering with wake up calls, defaulting tooth brushes or replacing men’s cologne with urine are some of the more elaborate ones. My favorite payback, though, has to be Room 1212. When Tomsky works in New York City, the area code is 212, but not many guests realize they have to dial an 8 or 9 first to get out. So the poor sap in room 1212 will get call after call after call all through the night, devoiding them of any chance at a good night’s sleep.
4. How to survive and cheat the hotel industry. Tipping in the hotel business is the ultimate key to getting everything you want. The higher you tip, the better your treated. That’s the first and most important step to surviving your night’s stay. Tipping the bellman is probably the most significant thing you could ever do for having the best night of your life in a hotel room. You know those runners who come up in the middle of the night to deliver you extra towels or wine corks? Ask for some slippers, give them a generous tip and they’ll bring you 20 more. Tomsky says these can make for excellent (and cheap) Christmas presents. Even if you can’t/don’t tip, there are still ways to get by. As in most service-based industries, the phrase “the customer is always right” is very predominate. Want to drink from the mini bar or order a late night movie without getting charged? Simply notify the front desk agent you never did any of it, and they’ll take it off. No questions asked. Know why? Apparently mistakes and glitches happen all the time in hotels, so managers won’t risk the embarrassment of being wrong if they call you out on your bluff. It’s that simple.
If you want to get really elaborate, listen to this. When you first check in, make a big deal over making sure your room is non-smoking and go up to your room alone. When you get in, put everything from the minibar in your bag and light up a smoke. Then, inform the desk agent below that your room reeks of smoke and asked to be moved. When you get to your new room, drink up and relax. According to Tomsky, “Moving rooms in the system, when it’s done the same day you check in, leaves almost no trace, no overnight confirmation that you ever occupied that suite. Certainly nothing that allows them to track down those five minutes where you stole $500 worth of individually wrapped snacks.” Genius. Need to cancel your hotel reservation last minute without a same-day cancellation fee? Simply call the hotel (making sure not to get the manager), make up some phony excuse and ask that your reservation be moved ahead one week. Then, call back the next day, talk to someone different and cancel your reservation that is now one week away. These are just some of the many ways you can enjoy your stay a little better. In the end though, it almost always comes down to this: tip.
Overall, “Heads in Beds” definitely opened my eyes to the inside workings of the hotel industry. Getting to see the other side of hotel life from the workers’ perspective was definitely the most fascinating thing about this book. The stories were hilarious, interesting, exciting and sometimes depressing. The greatest thing I will take away from Tomsky is the knowledge of what to do the next time I stay at a hotel. I’d say it’s more than worth it to know how to keep your room a little cleaner, avoid pee-scented cologne and cash in for a free mini bar.
Interested in reading more? Order a copy here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0385535635
Featured image credit: http://www.sheratondallashotel.com/News
Other image credits: http://lifehacker.com/5972701/confessions-of-a-hotel-insider, http://www.smartertravel.com/photo-galleries/editorial/10-dirty-hotel-fees-you-should-never-pay.html?id=322&photo=29571, http://www.dailyfinance.com/on/tripadvisor-tipping-survey/, http://www.manss.com/en/Project/Meoclinic-Identity