I've worked in hotels for more than a decade. I've checked you in, checked you out, oriented you to the property, served you a drink, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, parked your car, tasted your room service, cleaned your toilet, denied you a late checkout, given you a wake-up call, eaten M&M's out of your minibar, laughed at your jokes and taken your money.
Image by TessarTheTegu (Shutterstock).
From New Orleans to New York, I've played by hotel rules and in the process learned every aspect of the industry. Due to the fact that I just don't care anymore, I will now offer easy and never-publicised tips and tricks.
Want a late checkout? An upgrade? Guess what! There are simple ways (and most of them are legal!) to get what you need from a hotel without any hassle whatsoever. But first, let me warn you about a few things that drive hotel staffers crazy.
Things a guest should never say
"My credit card declined? That's impossible. Run it again." Man, don't make me run it again. If your credit card declines once, it will, without question, decline again. Your card is not a crumpled old dollar, and the banking system is not a stubborn vending machine. That's not how the banking system works. You need to call your bank. And, no, you can't use my phone.
"They told me I should ask for an upgrade." Who the f**k is they? Oh, they. Well, they told me to remind you to tip the doorman.
"Don't you remember me?" Let me think about this… average of 500 guest interactions a day… it's been two years since you stayed with us. So that's a clean quarter of a million separate interactions since your last stay. Wait… Wait! No. No, I don't remember you.
Things a guest should never do
Do not continue your phone conversation during the entire check-in. Can you imagine how it feels, as a human, to be part of someone else's effort to multitask? While you say to the phone, "Uh-huh. Yeah. Yeah, well, I told her they wouldn't go for it. I know these people," I get the lift of an eyebrow, side glances, brief and uninterested head nods thrown in my direction indicating your main focus remains on your call, perhaps a moment where you hold the phone slightly away from your ear to benevolently allow me 5 per cent of your attention. That call will end in five minutes. But because you treated me like an automatic check-in machine, this room I'm giving you will plague your whole stay.
Do not snap the credit card down on my desk. You know this one, where you press the card down with your thumb and use your index finger to bend the front corner of the card up and then release it so it snaps authoritatively and loudly on my desk? You just made me hate you!
Do not hold out your hand for the change you're waiting on. You know, when I am still counting it out but your hand is there, in front of me, floating in the air, waiting while I count, empty, implying impatience, and uselessly reasserting the fact that the money I am counting belongs to you. Relax, buddy. It's coming. You look like a five-year-old with your hand out like that.
Do not threaten a front desk agent — ever. I have taken rooms from people who were even pre-registered into a gorgeous room just because their attitude was off. They never even knew they were originally set to see Central Park in one of the corner rooms with the big bathroom. I took it from them just because they yelled at their wives or manhandled their wives' elbows in a way I didn't appreciate. At the front desk, I am a god of instant karma, and one of my other weapons is the "key bomb": When I check you in, I program a single "initial key", then start over and cut a second "initial key". Either one of them will work when you get to the room. Slide one in; you get the green light, and as long as you keep using the very first key you slipped in, all will be well. But chances are you'll pop in the second key at some point, and then the first key you used will be considered — as far as the lock is concerned — invalid. At some point after that, you will be locked outside your room, jamming your first key into the slot, fighting that damn red light.
I also happen to know the electronic curtains are not functioning in room 3217, and it gets loads of morning sun in there. Good luck sleeping in. If I put you in room 1212 in New York City, your phone will not stop ringing with wrong numbers. Why? Well, a surprising number of guests never seem to learn that you have to dial 9 to make an outside call. So all day and all night, idiots dispersed throughout the building will pick up their phones and try to straight dial a local number, starting with 1-212. Whatever they press after that matters not because they have already dialled room 1212, and 1212's guest will constantly pick up the 3am call and hear the loud mashing of other numbers or some drunk guest saying, "Hello? Hello? Who is this?"
Things every guest must know
You never have to pay for using the minibar. Minibar charges are without question the most disputed charges on any bill. Why? Because it's done by people. The traditional minibar, before they invented the sensored variety, is checked (maybe) once a day by a slow-moving gentleman or lady pushing a cartful of snacks. Keystroke errors, delays in restocking, double stocking and hundreds of other missteps make minibar charges the most voided item. Even before guests can manage to get through half of the "I never had these items" sentence, I have already removed the charges.
You don't have to pay for the in-room movies either! Here's how, in three easy steps: 1. Watch and enjoy any movie. 2. Call down and say you accidentally clicked on it. Or it cut off in the middle. Or it froze near the end. Or it never even started. Would you like them to restart the movie for you? No thanks. You need to go to bed/leave now. Just remove the charge, please. 3. Order another movie.
And you can easily avoid a same-day cancellation penalty. This little move will not work with online prepaid reservations — only what we call "natural" reservations, booked through any channel as long as it's not prepaid. Call the property directly and ask for the front desk.
"Good evening, thank you for calling the front desk, my name is Doesn't Matter, how can I assist you?"
"Excuse me, are you the manager?"
If the person says yes, hang up and call back. What we want here is certainly not the manager.
"No, I am not. Would you like to speak to the manager?"
"No, actually, I just have a quick request. I think you can help me. Well, I was supposed to fly in late tonight, but my 12-year-old daughter is sick - "
Let me stop you right there, dear guest. Sure, you need a reason, but what you don't need is a 45-minute story. Try again.
"No, actually, I just have a quick request. I think you can help me. I've had a personal emergency and won't be able to check in tonight. However, I have already rescheduled my meeting for next week. Do you think you could just shift tonight's reservation to next Friday without a penalty?"
"Sure. Next Friday, the 24th, all set. Same confirmation number. See you then."
Done. Now you have a reservation all set for next Friday! Why is that good? Well, tomorrow, whenever you get around to it, call the hotel back (this time no need to inquire about a manager), and just tell the front desk you want to cancel your reservation for next Friday, as you are well within your rights to do. No problem.
If you are going to complain, if you must complain, then, please, eat a mint. Self-explanatory. You catch more bees with honey than with garbage. Well, bees love garbage. Damn. Whatever…just eat a mint.
I don't want to hear your tragic airline-delay story. I don't. At all.
You should never feel comfortable enough to actually call us by the names on our name tags. Gluing a name tag to anyone's chest makes him or her subordinate. Using it without permission implies that you are aware of this fact and don't mind rudely pointing it out. To pick the name off a tag and use it, whatever your intention, makes employees acutely feel they have lost their personal worth, that they themselves are included in the price. Their mothers use that name on a birthday to ask, "Personal Name, did you get everything you wanted, baby?" What right do you have to use it? Just because you walked into the lobby? My advice is to ask for permission. "Jake…may I call you Jake?" Yes, you may. And thank you.
Finding your agent
What are we looking for in our agent? Someone who is efficient and not at all nervous, almost bored. If the agent is overly zealous or nervous, he or she might have just begun working at the property. Not only does the agent have to be comfortable playing the game; the agent must know the property and the system well enough to play it properly.
Tip up front: Let the agent know you are serious immediately. Here's how I do it: I walk up, smile without showing teeth, give the agent my CC, drop a 20 on the desk, and say, "This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I'd appreciate it." Boom. If I am after something specific, I will include that as well: "This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I'd appreciate a room upgrade, late checkout, wine, whatever."
Finally, if you happen to have a successful experience, then make a point to memorise the agent's name.
Standard front desk lies
1. All the rooms are basically the same size. 2. Of course I remember you! Welcome back! 3. There is nothing I can do. 4. I appreciate your feedback. 5. I'm sorry the bellman made you uncomfortable. I will certainly alert management. 6. I didn't mean to sound insulting. 7. I will mail this immediately. 8. My pleasure. 9. I would like to offer my deepest apologies. 10. We hope to see you again!
From the book Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky. Published by arrangement with Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf/Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House.
Confessions of a Hotel Insider [The Week]
Jacob Tomsky has worked in hotels for more than a decade, doing everything from valet parking to manning the front desk. And in Heads in Beds, he pulls back the curtain on the hospitality business, revealing the crazy yet compelling reality of an industry we think we know. Prepare to be amused, shocked, and amazed as he spills the unwritten code of the bellhops, the antics that go on the valet parking garage, and the housekeeping department's dirty little secrets.