Stuff You Probably Don’t Understand About Hotels

The week just started and I already need to get away from my job. Today was one of those “anything that can go wrong” days.

So, I’ll take you back to my first full-time job upon my last graduation. This is the kind of post that makes me wish I had a lot of readers, because this is must-read material here.

See, my first job after law school was working the front desk at a hotel. Like a bunch of other law school grads nowadays, I couldn’t get a job practicing law or even being a paralegal. Student loans were either deferred or close to coming off deferral/forbearance, so I no longer had time to play. I needed a job. This was kind of before I figured out that I wanted a career in information technology.

I wanted to do something easy and incorrectly figured that working in a hotel would be it, especially at night. I wanted to work night audit, which involves some accounting-type of stuff and is also basically like being a night manager, and I was told when I was hired that I could work 40 hours doing night audit. Er…found out in training, though, that the manager had told almost everyone they hired (this was a new hotel that hadn’t even opened yet) that they, too, could work night audit and get 40 hours. Apparently, I was the only one who noticed this and realized that there was no way this could be true, and I brought it up to the assistant manager.

Long story short–ended up with about 30 hours working pretty much every shift, which basically made me a regular front desk worker who checks guests in and checks guests out except on the weekends when I worked night audit. My schedule was all over the place, except for the weekends (until I eventually got on night audit full time).

That’s when I started to see that front desk workers don’t just check guests in, check guests out, deal with payment and book reservations.

See, prior to having to work full time, I used to travel quite a bit. I still go a couple of places a year and often end up staying in a hotel. When I go to Michigan, I stay on the University of Michigan campus at the law quad most of the time, which is like staying at a hotel that doesn’t have everything a normal hotel has. The reason I thought working front desk at a hotel was easy is because my hotel stays have always included minimal contact with front desk staff. I would speak to them to check in and check out–that’s it. My parents were basically the same way whenever we traveled when I was a kid. I had no idea that this wasn’t how other people operated.

I was so blown away by stuff hotel guests do and say and expect until I sat down one night and started coming up with a list of things hotel guests need to get through their heads. I came up with over 10 things, but this was years ago and several laptops ago. When I saved the most important files off my other laptops, I guess I forgot the list existed and failed to save it. But for you…I still remember some of these things that I must pass along to you travelers, plus probably some additional ones.

1) Don’t leave home without knowing where you’re going. I am not sure I can really think of a good enough excuse to have to call the hotel and get help with finding them. There’s GPS on phones and in cars. There’s google and mapquest both on phones and on computers/laptops. There are even–my father’s favorite–old school maps! But, most of all, why would you go to a completely different city–especially if you’ve never been there before–and not have mapped out  exactly how to get from point A to point B? You’re asking for bad things to happen to you.

2) If the hotel has working computers, for crying out loud, use them. What is the sense of coming to the front desk and asking them to look up stuff for you if the hotel has a “business center” or computers available for your use? Better yet, don’t the majority of you bring cell phones with internet access and/or laptops? It seems as if some of you just don’t think front desk workers have enough to do, so you take it upon yourself to give them busy work. Cut it out.

3) By the same token, if you’re not staying at a luxury hotel, don’t ask them to call anybody for you. I don’t get this staying at a Choice Hotel and asking front desk workers to call cabs, restaurants, pizza places or even the police for you. You have a phone in your room. Hell, you probably have a phone in your pocket. I think most hotels will act like this is the front desk’s job even if it has not been explicitly addressed. But I just don’t see how, in a cheap city like where I live now, treating you as if you should not have to lift a finger at all is included in a $59 or $69/night room…or how in, say, downtown Chicago, a $119/night Choice Hotel room means you should not have to lift a finger. Make your own damn restaurant reservations.

4) No, the front desk cannot control your next door neighbor. Oh, it’s 2am and somebody down the hall is being noisy? Tough schitt. Especially if you don’t want to move rooms. If you don’t want to move rooms, what are you calling the front desk for? Did you really think the front desk worker was going to leave his/her actual job behind–manning the front desk–to come up to your floor and tie some kid up or put tape over the mouths of some ghetto adults? No can do. Beyond calling up to the noisy person’s room and asking him/her to quiet down, there’s not much the front desk can do. And even that or going up to that person’s room usually doesn’t amount to anything. And, please…if you’re going to whine about someone being noisy and seriously expect an effort to be made to shut somebody up, know the noisy room number. Finally, threatening to call the police on noisy people…um, unless they are fighting, banging on your door, shooting and such…you’re just being a little bit dramatic.

5) Please learn this about every type of customer service worker, including but not limited to hotel front desk workers–if you can easily access the person, he/she is probably not that important. This means that this person makes very few decisions and has very little power. Hotel front desk workers often can’t do anything about your complaints, especially if you’re looking for stuff like free or reduced-price rooms because your stay was allegedly so awful, upgrades to suites and so on. And they usually are not at fault for the hotel being garbage in terms of the internet service, the breakfast served, the rooms or bathrooms not being clean enough for you, or anything else you can think of that’s wrong with your hotel stay.

6) In light of #5, save your damn tantrums–they won’t get you anywhere. And it’s not simply because the person with whom you’re throwing a tantrum is a scrub. Just because someone works front desk at a hotel does not mean you’re better or smarter than they are, and it doesn’t mean you get to take out however you feel for whatever reason on this person just because he/she can’t really say anything back to you. So, if a worker feels mistreated for these reasons, the worker is going to have an eff-you attitude when it comes to assisting you. There are people who serve people in some capacity every day who don’t seem to understand this. One of the guys at my job complains all the time about our tech support callers, and, yet, he was being an ass on the phone with a customer service worker who, I guess, screwed up some order of his. Personally, the way I respond to a customer or client depends on how pleasant and reasonable the client’s demeanor is. Some people think being an ass gets results. More often than not, though, workers avoid you and leave you on hold longer when you call or pass the call off to someone else, and the people who are in charge start to not care if they lose your business (while you’re threatening to take your business elsewhere, a lot of people are silently hoping you will so they won’t have to deal with you ever again, i.e. that’s not an effective threat). But I will jump through hoops for nice people.

7) Front desk workers are not babysitters. This means that they’re not just sitting at the front desk keeping an eye on your car. They are working. So, if something bad happens to your car, unless the front desk worker did it, it’s not the hotel’s fault (yes, my hotel was blamed for someone breaking into someone’s car). If a stalker boyfriend might come to the hotel and find you, no, the front desk can’t keep an eye out for him (yes, I’ve had requests similar to this one once or twice). If you’re just checking into the hotel and want to leave your car right in front of the hotel entrance (blocking traffic), no, the front desk can’t make sure nothing happens to it or to your belongings.

8) Don’t pay with a debit card. Don’t even book with one, if you can help it. Weird stuff sometimes happen with debit cards, which leads to bewildered or angry hotel guests and silly confrontations with hotel front desk staff in which the guest doesn’t believe anything the front desk worker says (and, of course, it’s all the front desk’s fault). Long story short–if you don’t want to get charged before you check out, especially if you don’t have enough money on your card, just pay cash or use a credit card (or switch to a debit card when you’re checking out and get your cash back if you paid cash…CCs will not have been charged). You might not have issues every time or at every hotel with debit cards, but save yourself the hassle that one time at that one hotel by just never using them. And while you’re at it, learn how to read your card statements correctly (i.e. there’s a difference between “pending charge” and an actual one, and just because there’s a pending charge doesn’t mean it will go through).

9) Maybe the most important thing I can teach you about hotels–hotel front desk workers are usually poorly hired and poorly trained. There’s a lot of turnover in hotels, and, though it seems that most jobs suck at training new employees, hotels particularly seem to not believe in training. They love to just throw a brand new person right on out there, and if the newbie is lucky he/she has been shown how to check people in, how to check them out, how to book reservations in the system and how to process payment. If the newbie is lucky. But considering that there’s an entire hotel layout–complete with a breakfast area and ice/drink machines–paid parking in the most major cities, specials and promotions, hotel booking websites like Hotwire that fax over reservations, different amenities in different bedrooms, guests who think the front desk staff is supposed to know any and everything about the hotel as well as the city, ways to handle certain situations and so on…newbies need way more than they get.

I don’t know what’s crazier–the fact that guests assume front desk workers know the local area like the backs of their hands or the fact that I’ve never known a hotel to include the local area in their training. The funny thing is managers will hire people who don’t know the area and this might be barely discussed in the interview, and then later on they’re kind of like, “Oh…XYZ doesn’t really know the area as well as she should…” And that’s not the only thing hotels screw up in hiring people. Hotels hire more bad fits for every single position they have–including manager–than probably any other industry. Because of the turnover and the fact that hotels are cheap–which leads to their not hiring enough workers, as well as their not doing everything they should to make their hotel meet customer expectations–they conduct quick interviews that don’t focus on the right things, such as customer service skills, the ability to calculate monetary change/prices/tax, and other areas that a particular manager might care a lot about (such as knowing the area well, if that’s important to that manager)…and then they are shocked when a front desk worker sucks or they can’t keep front desk workers for more than a few months. A lot of the time, it just seems as if they need someone and they grab the first person off the street. That’s not quite how it goes, but they do hire and put a new person at the front desk with the quickness.

—–

So, after learning all of this and doing night audit, I was basically handed the keys to that first hotel in which I worked. It would have been my business, except I wouldn’t have been the owner. But I would have been running it by myself. All nine of the things I just listed probably had something to do with the reason why I didn’t accept the keys, but none was bigger than #9. For one thing, I knew I had no business running a hotel. I learned from working there that the manager/owner had no idea how to make the right hires, and I had not been trained at all on how to run a hotel and would have received very little guidance on that. So, instead of looking at “I’m getting a promotion” or “I’m getting more money,” I looked at my lack of knowledge of the hospitality industry, my lack of knowledge of management and of my lacking the type of personality to “run” anything. I also looked at how everyone who had that position before me failed, and that eventually ended up including the main manager/owner.

But I got great references from that job, though. And plenty of crazy stories. I will never look at hotel stays the same way again, though.

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