Confessions Of A Hotel Insider

Confessions Of A Hotel Insider

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.”

“Thank you.”

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.


  • This is brilliant! Having worked in hotels both here in Oz and in the States, I can certainly tell you all these things are true! You should treat your guest service agent with the same fear / respect you would treat your bank manager approving your loan for that dream Ferrari you’ve always wanted.

  • Also- I am not a mind reader. I am surprisingly good at interpreting what you really mean, and anticipating what you are likely to ask for, but I am still not an actual mind reader so do not get upset with me for not doing something you didn’t actually ask for.

  • Great article! I’m sure anybody that has worked in the hospitality industry or has had any customer service experience in the past nodded in agreement that all humans are obnoxious idiots.
    Remind me to smile next time I see you at the front desk sans clacking credit card.

    • And that the guy that wrote all this is your typical a-hat.. yup.. that about sums things up.

      Maybe a lot of this is meant tongue in cheek but it just comes across a disgruntled service worker that shouldn’t be a service worker. The people that are staying in the hotel are also real people with lives that extend beyond the revolving doors of your pathetic life.

      • Sorry, I didn’t realise that having a life of your own meant you had to be rude to other people. But then again you sound like just the sort of arrogant idiot who’d continue a phone conversation while talking to a service worker, due to an overinflated sense of self-importance, and because you think that service workers should put up with your crap because “it’s their job”.

        • Precisely my point.. what gives this a-hat the right to be rude, obnoxious and dishonest to the customers he is paid to serve?

          And you couldn’t be further from the reality of how I treat people in all industries.

          • Customers lose their right to polite efficient service if they’re rude, obnoxious, and dishonest themselves. If they are, then they can expect to receive similar treatment back. However if customers are polite and considerate, then there’s no problem. The door swings both ways, the fact that one person is in a serving role doesn’t change that.

      • Yah, I think I see what you mean.

        The last time I checked into a hotel, me and my wife had been travelling all day. We were tired. We stopped in the park outside the hotel and had a huge argument. So when we checked in, we were tired and grumpy. We weren’t rude, but it would have been obvious that we were in a bad mood. The last thing we would have needed was some obnoxious twerp with a god complex on the front desk giving us static because we didn’t bow down to him, and then programming in malfunctions on our keys and ensuring that we were going to sleep in a crappy room with broken fixtures.

        Really uncool and I’m glad the person who wrote this book is out of the industry. People like that shouldn’t be employed in jobs where their only purpose is to makes peoples lives easier!

  • I worked in hotels for close to 10 years before a change of career. I found myself remembering all of these tips and opinions. Sadly, it also reminded just how petty I was, and the false sense of superiority I felt as a younger man being given control of peoples lives during their stay with us.
    I can’t believe I was actually like this guy; getting so offended because a complete stranger clicked their credit card, or used my name on my name badge.

    • I always thought thats what the badges were for, to create a sense of familiarity between employee and guest so that it can make the interactions easier and less ridged..

      Anyway, there was that thing about the tip, dropping a twenty and all.. Does that actually work in Oz? I don’t really stay in a lot of hotels but i always wondered if it worked in Oz, in the states, the whole tipping thing is a big deal and its expected, but in other places its not, in Oz it would feel weird to drop a 20 on a guy, in places like thailand and Bali its sort of hit or miss but generally not accepted and in places like Japan its considered an insult.

      I would never know how to handle that, not that i have 20 bucks to just throw around either mind you.

  • “if your credit card declines once, it will, without question, decline again.”
    Not true. I have had my card declined multiple times only to have it work on the second attempt.

  • I spent 7 years in various service industries, and a lot of these ring true, but a few don’t.

    The declined credit card thing is just pissy – honestly, running it again is just about the simplest bit of work you could have. I’ve never had a problem doing that for a client, rude or polite. Most are polite (and usually embarrassed, too) so what’s the harm in displaying a bit empathy and humility. And occasionally, it has worked the second time.

    The room-switching thing – not all guests are stupid, some just think your place is crap in general and figure one room is as bad as another. They don’t complain, they just take everything that isn’t nailed down, and then complain. In as many forums as possible.

    I have to admit, I agree about immediately using your name from your name tag. Ihated it when a client used my name. I used their first name back at them. If they were cool with it (which was most of the time), I knew it was just a personal preference thing. If they weren’t, then I knew they were being an arse, and then the games would begin.

    Overall, my rule of thumb was that I would always be professional to clients, but my level of helpfulness depended on their level of courteousness.

    • I’m honestly surprised by the name badge thing. My intention has always been to make the transaction more personable rather than treating the clerk as an automoton. Isn’t it better to use a name rather than “Hey, you!” or “Boy/Girl” or “Mate/Buddy” or using your position title like “Bellhop!”. I would have thought the alternatives would be far more demeaning than actually using your name. I would have thought you would prefer being treated as an individual. I know I have in the past when I worked in a supermarket while at Uni. It means people have taken the time and thought about treating you like something other than a servant and more of an equal.

      • I find it a bit surprising too. I like people calling me by my name, and I prefer to call other people by their name. I HATE being called “Sir” or anything like that. There’s absolutely no personality to it. Maybe it’s just because here in Tassie we call our teachers by their first names and I’m still used to using first names after finishing school.

      • For me, it’s overly familiarand presumptuous to use my name without my actually offering it first (or at least, if a client asked me for it/ if it was OK to use it). A name badge is a way of the company helping you identify someone who provides good or bad service, not an invitation to be my pal. It was also a regular thing that clients would say my name, but rhyme it with “minion”. Not the majority, but a sizeable minority.

        As I said, it became a judgement call. If it was someone just being friendly – which was most of the time – I let it go, because it was my issue, not theirs.

  • The dude that wrote this story/book needs to get a grip. It’s hotel-stays.. not hospital stays or rocket science, or diplomatic affairs at the UN… lets put things into perspective. He sounds positively delighted to be “trapped” in his little world, with his little power games and personal pet peeves.

    Let’s not forget that at the end of it all… no one is forcing him to work in hospitality. seems to me if things got so bad he found the need to pour it all out and spend time to write a snarky sarcastic, patronising book.. maybe he needs to step back, take a look at life and ask himself if maybe the service industries are not his true calling… we each only get one turn at Life.

    Treat people as You would like to be treated.. with respect. The rest will take care of itself.

  • I’m thinking the author of this piece should have stayed in school longer, that way he might be on the other side of the check-in desk at a snotty hotel and not have a chip on his shoulder.

  • Geeze, and here I was thinking I was being nice by making the interactions between staff and customer more personal and on a more equal level by using your name. If you guys are so sensitive about being called your first name I’m not sure even asking you to use is it going to be enough. I think I’ll just go back to using your job title,

  • I guess that the difference between the service industry and the sales industry. You CANNOT act that way in the sales industry and expect to retain a good rapport with your clients and surrounding businesses.

    Also, specifically, the name thing is super weird for me. I call all my clients(i work in sales) by their name as a sign of respect and that I am paying attention to when they introduced themselves. I also specifically introduce myself with my name so that they may call by such if they need to get my attention. I would hate to be addressed as sir/boy/mate/buddy by someone who clearly knows my name but refuses to use it.

  • “I have taken rooms from people […] just because they yelled at their wives or manhandled their wives’ elbows in a way I didn’t appreciate.” I assume this means the wife lost the nice room as well, even though she was the victim. I find this very disturbing – he only thinks about the husband’s welfare, it’s like he doesn’t understand the wife is human.

  • Maybe those in the service industry should be called “servants” instead of “agents” to help them remember what their jobs are about (i.e. serving, not being the petty tyrants of their little hotel world).

    • And its the idea that those people are “Servants” that drives all the rudeness people direct at them. Working in customer service, people just treat me like I am sub-human filth.

  • What a pretentious piece of shit:
    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.

    I often use peoples’ names when I speak with them. It actually personalises the whole shitty boring transaction – I dont get this perception that it belittles because someone wants to use your name. Maybe in NY but here in Straya it’s a respectful notion that people should use your name on a name tag. What else is it there for?!

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