Employees of the hospitality industry—hotel clerks, restaurant workers, valet parkers—have a unique view of two things: how hotels operate and what hotel guests are really like. After 10 years in the business, in jobs ranging from front desk agent to housekeeping manager, Jacob Tomsky offers a peek behind the counter in an eye-opening, often hilarious new book, Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.
We checked in with Tomsky to find out more about annoying guests and the risks of drinking from mini-bar glasses.
Why did you decide to turn your experiences into a book?
There was a salient moment, as I stood still one afternoon in the center of my hotel’s lobby, watching everyone around me—people checking in, storing luggage, getting cabs, asking for upgrades, demanding to speak to a manager, disputing the bill, having their credit cards declined—and I realized I understood every single thing that was happening, all the nuances of every issue, in full detail. Then I realized that if more people had a broader perspective, some of these problems could be eliminated and we could all be happier and stop misunderstanding each other. And I was pretty sure I could make it funny, too.
Tell us three things you learned about human nature from working in hospitality.
One: People can be horrible to those they consider subservient. And as a hotel wishes to create a sense of home in a traveler, it can, in turn, make the guest believe that the hotel workers surrounding them are in fact servants in their own home. So some people, since they probably don’t get the chance to berate a servant in normal life, and love watching “Downton Abbey,” seem to relish the opportunity.
"Whenever possible, float through the room like a zero-gravity astronaut."
Two: Everyone is cheating on everybody.
Three: Money might shape the soul. Those who have a lot of it expect the world to bend around them like wind. People who have little of it are fully prepared for the world to bend around them like a door to the face. But rich or poor, those who are generous are usually deeply kind in other aspects. Those who are tight will rarely accept just an apology or give you the benefit of the doubt.
What’s the #1 thing guests should never touch in a hotel room?
Whenever possible, float through the room like a zero-gravity astronaut. Further, to avoid towel contact, allow yourself one hour to air dry after showering. That, or don’t worry about it. I would honestly bet that a hotel bathroom is cleaner than your own bathroom. In the book I do mention most housekeepers’ only option is to clean the mini-bar glasses with shampoo or even zesty lemon Pledge. Knowing this, what do I do when I’m thirsty and in need of a glass? Rinse it out in the sink and use it anyway. I try not to care.
What’s the worst “jerk move” a guest can make?
Blaming and yelling at Person A for Person B’s honest mistake—that’s an Olympic-quality jerk move. A guest who accuses a housekeeper of stealing her dog’s lame toy. A guest who accuses the front desk agent of deliberately canceling a reservation. But I am basically OK with jerk moves. Jerks, and their moves, are part of the job.
What are the most annoying words a guest can say to a front desk agent?
Well, maybe: “Come on! You must remember me!” If you have to ask then we certainly do not. But I will totally pretend to, if you’re really hellbent on me remembering. I will put on a screwy face and say, “Wait! I do remember you!” while hoping to god this charade ends quickly. Funniest part is, even if you force me to pretend I remember you, next time, I will still not remember you.
With your experience in the industry, do you still stay in hotels?
You kidding me? I love staying in hotels. If you’re tearing tickets at a movie theater all day, imagine how much you’d enjoy leaning back into a plush seat and letting a movie entertain your day away. Being surrounded by people on vacation means that when I get the opportunity to check in as a guest, I toss myself face first onto the soft bed, peer excitedly into the mini-bar, and strip down to rock that robe as soon as possible. After working in housekeeping, I couldn’t enter a hotel room without checking the cleanliness of the baseboards or dragging a finger for dust along the top ridge of the bed’s headboard. That was professional curiosity, but it’s out of my system now.
If you’re traveling for the holidays, which is worse: staying at a hotel or staying with family?
I suppose it depends on the family. But there is nothing better than pushing into your empty hotel room at the end of a long day with family, arming yourself with a candy bar and relaxing on top of the cool bedspread, watching crap on TV you’d never watch at home. But I’m lucky to have a wonderful family and when I’m in town I prefer to stay with them. It’s just a bring-your-own-candy situation.