Hospitality Starts at the Front Desk

My Take on “Heads in Beds”    2/1/13

I recently finished reading Heads in Beds ~ A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles and So-Called Hospitality, by Jacob Tomsky.

I will get the disclaimers out of the way first:  Mr. Tomsky can write – really well.  He wrote about something he knows inside and out.  While his course humor is not my style, he builds it and delivers on it impeccably.  I loved his respectful nod to Brian Wilson.  I can see someone wanting to make it into a movie because it is a mostly untouched topic and with the right Stars, this could become a successful satire (if only Ryan Gosling were 5 years younger).  Heads in Beds could do for the Hotel Industry what The Nanny Diaries did for the Au Pair business.

At what expense?

I am not disputing that what Mr. Tomsky wrote isn’t true or didn’t happen.  It’s just that

I didn’t want to know about it.

I am the original Pollyanna.  I pride myself on maintaining a certain amount of naiveté  and wonder, and even after nearly 20 years of meeting planning, I still buy into the Hospitality Façade.  Because it is nice.  Of course we all know it is a show – but it is a show of niceness.

Often the best reason we stay in hotels is because we need a break – an escape from the everyday ugly real world stuff.  The Delusion – we want that.

And, I know I am talking about maybe no more than 2% of Hospitality people who are practicing the Heads in Beds  credo.  Most everyone works very hard from their heart and sincerely wants to please their guests.  How do I know that?  I don’t really.  But it is something I want to believe.  And I do.

I’ve always regarded tipping as a gracious way to personally say thank you for excellent service – not a side business.  I know – Pollyanna again, but it is a lovely convention.

Do I really have to start bringing extra $100s in singles and pass out campaign tips out so Hotel people will like me?

Isn’t the Front Desk Agent just doing his/her job when I am checking in?

Why wouldn’t she/he look out for me?

Not all of us have an inner screaming child inside prepared to throw a tantrum if we don’t get an upgrade or key to the Concierge Level.

Now, when I check in, I will wonder if the Front Desk Agent moved me to a bad room because I didn’t tip her.  Is that why I always seem to get the room furthest away from the elevator?  Maybe if I had used a bellman I wouldn’t think it so bad.

Ok, I get that the Doormen and Bellmen are stuck in a position of under-appreciation – until we really need them.  And with roller backs many guests simply do not.  Sticky wicket.  Mr. Tommy made his point.  But do I really want to know about the behind the scenes tipping pass-around and how the guest is really being played?

Do I really need to know all those tricks on how to scam a hotel in order to get more from my stay?  If I ever try to get free mini bar product per instructions in the book, I picture immediate arrest.  I am one of those good do-be people.  I follow the rules.

Remember when they were called honor bars?

The essence of Hospitality is that if you come to this property you will be taken care of.  That’s the Promise. Millions of dollars are spent every year on advertising and media agencies to tell you exactly how that is going to happen.
In my view, the lead character in the book, Mr. Tommy (aka Mr. Tomsky) did one thing wrong:
He broke the trust.

Once the trust is lost, so goes the Promise. 

He put us on the defensive and worst of all: He made us feel UnWelcome.

I love the model of decorum and that sense of social honor one can feel when entering a great lobby. Where is the ebb and flow of energy going now?

Now that we know what really goes on behind the scenes, am I going to feel paranoid about what the F&B server counting the Coca-Cola cans after my Break really thinks about me?  And I going to pay for it?

What Mr. Tomsky is  talking about is how the control has shifted.  It is a game of POWER and the Guest feels vulnerable.  Yet, I just signed off on a $1.2 million final master bill.  Now, is that right?

After working many years planning corporate group meetings, I understand the gavotte of negotiating with a hotel and also have gained a respect and understanding of what it costs to keep a hotel with excellent service in business.

Despite all that understanding, there are times when one can feel hostage to the Hotel’s pricing structure. And stuff will go wrong, e.g. inflexible dates, promised meeting rooms yanked away, screwed up rooming lists, the feeling of pulling teeth, etc.

It took me a long time to be able to separate the two:  the Business of Hospitality and Hospitality Service.

(Now who is writing the book?  : )

The truth is we want that Great Experience all the agencies write and talk about.  The trust that my Group will be taken care of  throughout the experience just has to be there.

Sometimes that Hospitality Façade does need to get broken and a GM has to tell the guests “This is the way it’s going to be.”  Like the time there was a major water main break in the 12th floor restaurant that poured all the way down floor by floor in the middle of the night and we had to be evacuated.    Bam! Just like that the GM was right there at 3:30 in the morning in his jeans, T-shirt and nametag, addressing and informing the sleepy guests who will need to walked, who can stay and that breakfast will be set up and served in the lobby starting at 4:30 am  – complimentary, of course.

You see, we do need to be taken care of.  No BS.

But it is a  game for Mr. Tommy and those who play “who is going to be made to feel special and who isn’t” and it shouldn’t be.  We are paying for excellent professional service.   Is it too much to ask that it also be sincere?  Apparently so for the 2%.

My main concern in all this and why I felt compelled to write this is the influence this book will have on the perception of a global – no universal – industry.  How do the hundreds of agencies doing the good work for all your properties compete with a little book whose current Sales rank is 8,153?  The irony.

I would hope Heads in Beds makes the reading list  for all the Hospitality schools and programs as to what not to do.  The irony.

Look out now!  Every Hotel should be on the alert for all those guests coming in ready to try out the mischievous shenanigans Mr. Tommy so lovingly outlined in great detail.  Housemen – hang on to those slippers!

I shouldn’t take it so seriously?  Maybe not.  After all, it is real life.

Except for the fact this affects a $457 billion global industry (STR 2011)/$21.6 billion USA (AH&LA 2011) …………

You may be right and yet I find myself writing this piece anyway.

For this Pollyanna wants to hear as she has left the building, “We Hope You Enjoyed Your Stay With Us”

Andria Goldin