Posts Tagged hospitality

Don’t be a Scrooge This Holiday Season

No one wants a Scrooge staying at their Hotel

I’ve talked a lot about tipping before. Specifically about tipping the hospitality professionals that service you when you’re at a hotel. That’s an important word “professionals” we don’t do it for fun. OK…not just for fun. We do it to get paid as much as because we find some enjoyment from it (those of us that aren’t twisted bitter Gollum like creatures). I’m of the firm belief that tipping is one of the smaller expenses you encounter while traveling, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. Far from it, and the nicer of a place you’re staying at, the less of a cheap bastard you should be.

A fellow blogger and hotel worker, The Hook, had a recent post on this exact matter. Here is his post: The Hook’s Definitive Guide to Tipping and Service I recommend you read it if you travel even a little. Even if you’re staying at a Motel6 you should tip your housekeeper at least.

I left a comment on his post that I felt like highlighting here.

Don’t forget that tipping your Housekeeper, Concierge and the Valet is just as important as the Bellman. And the 55 cents you had at the bottom of your pocket and you dumped on the dresser and didn’t feel like picking back up before leaving doesn’t count as a tip for housekeeping, it should just count as littering you cheap douchebag. How much did your car cost? Or how much will it cost if the valet dings up your rental? Throw the guy a tip or park your own car. And you know how the Concierge knows about that really awesome restaurant they sent you to? They went and eat there, and only occasionally did they get some sort of “industry deal” to do it, and the hotel likely didn’t pick up the tab. They likely paid for it out of their own pocket, so that they could experience it, recommend it to you, and improve your vacation, throw a few bucks into the cause. If you don’t have cash hit the ATM. If you’re not willing to tip, then stay at a Motel 6 or stay home.
And I can’t agree more that you need to actually express to the Front Desk what your expectations and needs are. And it’s so much easier to accommodate those requests if you ask while you’re at the desk, before you get into the room. We’re not mind readers. But we are very good listeners.

It’s nothing I haven’t said before. But I think it bared repeating.

Lastly, I wanted to share these two pictures I snapped from my phone while checking rooms a couple of weeks ago. These rooms were right next door to one another, are identical in size and layout, and yet one was noticeably messier than the other, there was also one other noticeable difference.

You're a bad person if you do this.

All the piles put together added to a little under $4, which for the size of the room is descent. If everyone left $4 I wouldn’t have anything to complain about. This was just insulting because they don’t know that I’m going to come along, find this crap, scoop it up, and turn it into dollar bills for my housekeepers. I can’t even tell if they were trying to send a literal message or not. It doesn’t seem to spell anything to me. Seems more like coins stacked into a giant middle finger, or at least that was the message I received. It’s not like they were too lazy to go out, get dollar bills, and leave a real tip, this probably too more energy than that. And this wasn’t just the bottom change in their pocket that they dumped out the night before and decided they didn’t want to bother picking up. This was someone’s idea of a joke. One of my female staff said “That would be like a guy offering to buy me a drink at a bar and ordering a water!”

You're a rock star

This is far and above what they needed to leave. This person probably has worked in some sort of service industry in the past. Either that or has money and doesn’t mind sharing it around. Either way they’re awesome in my book. That’s a tip that says “I know there are some cheap bastards out there. I’m going to make up for it.”

Now does anyone want to guess which room was a bigger mess? The stacks of change or the $20 bill?

I won’t even dignify that with an answer. I think we all know what the truth is.

Good day to you.

I SAID GOOD DAY!

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Crazy Hotel Guest Story – Young Money

These aren't the stairs in this story. There's more cactus, steep falls, and dangerous scalding water.

There are unique benefits and disadvantages to working at an independently run hotel like I do now. I tend to think this story represents both sides of that coin.

One of the nicer units we have available at the hotel is a 2-bedroom full-sized house on the hillside overlooking the property. It’s a gorgeous unit with an even better view that overlooks the property, the pool and the rest of the town. It has a full-blown kitchen, fireplace, and is our most recently and fully remodeled unit. It used to be the owner’s house on property. The one downside of this spectacular unit is that you have to drive down from the hill to access the rest of the property. There is a path that leads down the hillside, but it’s rather precarious and isn’t exactly safe if you’re not familiar with it. That applies extra in the dark, especially if there’s booze involved. We told guest’s as they’re reserving that there’s no direct path from the unit and that you have to drive up and down the hill. When they check-in we told them about the path, but ask them to please not use it. I had been asking the GM and owners to build a locked gate across the head of the path since I got there. That has finally happened, but not before this little incident happened.

I was sitting at my desk answering emails when my phone rings with a call from one of the reservations extensions.

“The guests in the <hilltop> are on the phone. They want to talk to a manager about the path,” said my agent.

“What about it?” I said playing dumb.

Long pause. She’s not sure if I’m kidding or not. “Ummm…the pool told her she can’t use it. She’s been yelling at me for like fifteen minutes on the phone.”

“Yup.” Audible sigh. “Put her through to my desk.”

I have no doubt that she’s been screeching and saying all sorts of mean things to my agent on the phone, but when I answer her voice is all soft and sweet. I let her tell me about how much she enjoyed her massage and they love the room, but that she thinks it’s ridiculous that they can’t use the path down the hill.

I go through my usual lines about all the reasons that the path isn’t safe.

She says she should have been told when she booked the room.

I tell her that’s our standard practice when a guest books over the phone. Then I point out that she booked her room online and that the information about the path restriction is actually in the room description on our website and on her confirmation letter. That should really be check-mate right?

Well she didn’t read her confirmation letter. I apologize and tell her that I’m really sorry, but that I just can’t allow them to use the path.

“Well then I think we might just have to check-out because this is just stressing me out too much.”

Really? You can’t just let it go? Sometimes in life we’re just not allowed to do things. Does it really need to stress you out? Can’t you just let it go and enjoy all the other awesome things going on? Packing up your stuff and moving isn’t going to cause more stress? OK.

“I’m really sorry if that’s the case. Of course if you don’t think you can stay in the room as it is I’ll release you from the rest of your reservation and you can check-out early without penalty.” They had actually checked-in the day before and already spent a night in the room. This is a $500+ unit and I won’t be able to resell them at that rate, but it’s better than having them harp on me the rest of their stay. It’s a compromise where really no one wins.

“And you’ll refund last night too?” She asked.

I wanted to laugh. “I can’t do that. You already stayed last night. The best I can do is release you from the rest of the reservation even though we’re inside the cancellation policy.”

“I don’t think that’s fair.”

I knew I could be opening the door to disaster for myself, but I went ahead and asked “Was there something wrong with the room last night?”

“Well no.” Surprisingly she answered honestly.

“But…” of course “…this entire experience has just ruined my vacation.”

“I’m sorry, but the best I can do is release you from the rest of your reservation without charging you for the remaining nights.”

“Well if we stay will you give us a discount?”

Eye roll on my side of the phone. “I’m not willing to do that. If you decide to stay it would be at the original rate you reserved.”

OK, I probably could have bent a little bit here. Even if I took $100 off each night it’s still more than I would have been able to resell the unit for, and we wouldn’t have had to clean it an extra time. There were legitimate business reasons to do it. I was sticking to principles, probably a mistake, but I also had visions of giving her the discount and then them continuing to fight us on using the path.

“AHHH!” She screamed into the phone. “Fine let me talk to my husband. We’ll get back to you.”

She hung up before I could respond.

Five minutes later my phone is ringing again. This time it’s the Front Desk. “The gentleman from the <hilltop> is here. He wants to talk to you.”

Of course he is. I head up to the Front Desk, put on my best customer service smile and step up to meet the guy. He’s all worked up and goes off about how this experience has ruined their trip and that I need to do something to fix it. This guy is short and greasy looking to be honest. He and his friend both have a trailer park, red neck, white trash look to them. Their massive truck parked out front is new but also lifted with huge off-road tires.

Pretty much one of these.

The guy is loud as he talked to me, and overly casual, calling me “buddy” and “pal”. He also explains to me how they stay with us often (I’d seen their file, they don’t) and that he’s rolling in cash. And mentions several times about how he’s always getting horrible service from people because he’s young and has “new money” and tries to get me to say I have the same problem. I’m pretty sure you get horrible service because you’re a loud obnoxious jerk. This isn’t about money for him he keeps saying. Really? Cause it kind of seems like it’s a little bit about money.

I reiterate the things I’m willing to do for him that I had already told his wife.

“Well then I want to talk to your boss.”

Of course he does.

“Well he’s not here today, but let me see if I can reach him.”

“You do that.”

Great. I step into the back office and then out the back door and whip out my cell phone and call the big guns. I explain everything and he agrees with me 100%. However, he’s willing to give them $50 off their remaining night just so we don’t have to resell the room. That’s the smarter call, and the easier one to make since he hasn’t had to be arguing with the guest.

I step back up and present my offer.

“That just won’t do it. I want a full comp for tonight and a free massage for my wife.” He isn’t quite shouting, but his voice is very loud.

“I just don’t see that happening.”

“Well why don’t you see if your boss sees it happening.”

Great again. I excuse myself and go make the call. The resounding answer is “No way” as I knew it would be. My GM hates to negotiate in these situations, it just rubs him the wrong way.

When I step back up to the desk there’s another guest in the lobby now so I usher the man outside. I tell him that our original offer stands, and that if that doesn’t work for him then they’ll just need to check-out as we originally discussed.

This is when things turn really south.He goes back into the woes of being young with money and getting shit service, as he sits on the tail gate of his lifted F350. Not kidding. He tells me how his wife was upset with him last night and so he didn’t get laid, and that if I don’t give him something to make her happy now, he won’t get laid tonight. This is an entirely inappropriate conversation. Especially at the volume he continually speaks.

He keeps trying to get something out of me. His lowest “offer” being that he wants a free massage for his wife so that she can relax. I stick to my guns and he and his buddy head back up to theto decide whether they would stay or go. When I get to the back deck I find one the members of the owning family waiting for me. At that time he was also the maintenance manager, and he had overheard the guy talking to me out front about his trouble getting laid, and he wanted the rest of the story.

As I’m filling him in, the Front Desk Agent pops her head out to tell me about what happened when I stepped away the first time to call the GM. When I was out back on the phone she answered a call for a reservation and was trying to sell the <hilltop>. He was standing at the desk and heard her mention the unit’s name and started shouting to be heard over the phone, “Don’t do it! It’s not worth it.” repeatedly. She obviously didn’t sell the room.

That was the clincher for the owner. “That’s it. They’re not staying here. I’m kicking them out.”

“Really?” I say a wide smile spreading over my face.

“Yeah. Let’s drive up there.”

We’re just about to get into a work truck when the douche nozzle drives back into the lot in his massive truck. I point him out to the owner, let’s call him Delta for this, and Delta walks up to the guy as he rolls down his window.

“Hi. We were just coming to tell you that we’ll take the $50 discount and stay.” The guy said.

“Hi. I’m Delta one of the owners. We’d actually like you to check-out. We don’t need your business here. Please don’t return.”

“What? Really? Why?” The red neck sputters.

“I don’t appreciate your language in front of our other guests or trying to drive reservations away from us as we’re trying to resolve and issue for you. You have 30 minutes to check out.” Delta explains.

“Fine.” The guy said in what seemed like indignant astonishment.

“Thanks. We’ll bring you the bill for last night.” We turned to walk away.

The douche bag revs his truck and as he pulled out behind us he shouted, “I can’t believe they let fags work here!”

Delta looks at me and says, “If they’re still there in 30 minutes call the cops and have them evicted.”

Now technically I don’t know if we could have gotten away with that, but I didn’t mention that. I could tell Delta was really pissed now. And in that moment, Delta was my hero.

So I drove the bill up. The wife actually said as I handed her the bill, “Why does this always happen to us?”

Because you’re an idiot, and your husband is a huge ass hole. Probably mostly because of your husband though and all his “new money”. Too bad you can’t buy class.

Epilogue

Five months later I get a call from Reservations. It’s the douche bag and his wife once more trying to book a day at the spa. Their file indicates that they’ve been black listed by the owners. So I get to have the awkward conversation with them that they’re not welcome back on the property by the owners.

“So we can’t ever come back?” the wife asked.

“Not after your last visit. I’m sorry. Not as things are now. No.” I replied. I thought it best to make things as blunt as possible. Although I wasn’t really sorry. That’s just a reflex.

“Is there anything we can do?” her husband shouts over the speaker.

“Write the owners and see if they’ll change their minds. I can’t over ride the owners.”

I never found out if they wrote in or not, but last I checked they’re still black listed. Good for them.

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Crazy Hotel Guest Story – The Naked Superman

I’m exposed to far too much nudity in my line of work, and it’s never been enjoyable. In fact it’s been entirely male nudity as far as I recall. This is especially true at my current property where I’m as much involved in Spa Operations as Hotel Operations. Usually it’s because someone has passed out from one of our heat intensive bath treatments. Extreme heat and booze just don’t mix people.

This particular incident happened this last summer or spring. I know the weather was particularly nice, but hell it’s California, so that doesn’t really narrow it down.

I was just sitting down for lunch at my desk, deli sandwich and emails yum! When my cell phone started ringing. Being a manager I never really “clock out” ever. I’ve also been a line employee and had manager that were horrible about answering their phones whether they were on a break or not, so I take pride in the fact that generally my staff can count on reaching me by phone. I checked the caller ID and saw that it was a fellow manager, our Spa Supervisor who I will call Jelly Bean for a reason that only really makes sense to me and her. She would be quite annoyed if she knew that was her pseudonym actually. Perfect.

I answer the call. “Hi Jelly Bean,” I say with a forced smile in my voice.

“<Hotelnerd> there is a naked man lounging by the pond,” she whispers into her phone. For the record we are no a clothing optional facility.

“Ooookay…” Chuckle. Jelly Bean was still a relatively newly minted manager, in fact this might have been 2 summers ago now that I think of it. “Would you like me to come talk to him?”

“No….I can do it….” there’s strong reluctance and uncomfortableness in her voice though.

I take pity on her. I start standing from my chair. “I’ll be right there.”

It’s about a 30 second walk from my desk to her location. I get out there to find a gentleman sprawled out on a chaise lounge chair, his robe draped across the chair next to him basking in the radiance of the sun. Four chairs down from him sits a lone woman reading a book with a hand up to the side of her face to shield her peripheral vision from the site. Jelly Bean is on the other end of the pond so I give her a little wave as I approach the gentleman. As I approach, I can’t help but get the Full Monty as it were. I really didn’t need to know that this guy believed in waxing….everywhere.

I come up beside him and bend down to speak softly but firmly to him. “Sir. I don’t mean to disturb you, but we’re not a clothing optional facility. I’m going to have to ask you to put your robe back on. Please.”

He opened his eyes and looked at me, “Really?”

“Yeah, I’m afraid so.”

“Fine.” He sighed and rolled his eyes at me.

“Thank you. I appreciate it. Sorry to bother you.” I said and turned to walk away as he got up to put his robe back on.

Jelly Bean circled around her end of the pond and we met out of sight. “Thank you. I really didn’t want to get that close to him.”

I shrugged at her, “Not a problem.”

I walked back to my desk and had just taken a bite of my sandwich when my phone started ringing again. I glared at it accusingly where it sat on my desk. Jelly Bean showed up on my caller ID again. Great.

“Hotelnerd, he has the robe on now, but he has his legs spread straddling the chair and every time the wind blows a little the robe moves and exposes him again.”

Sigh. “I’ll be right there.” I was already out the door.

I repeat the trip over. Approach the gentleman again, but he’s readjusted himself before I could get there so that his legs are stretched out straight now, not spread and his robe is completely folded over him. I just keep walking past him, circle the pond and meet up with Jelly Bean.

“Did you go talk to him?” I ask.

“No he repositioned right after you hung up.”

“Alright well I’ll hang out for a minute to see if he acts up again.” I tell her and we step around the pond so that that it’s less obvious that we’re watching him. He must have felt our eyes on him, because he sat up, swung his legs to the ground and stood.

His robe sash WAS NOT tied shut. A gust of wind blew and his robe flew open, flashing the lady still 4 chairs down trying to read her book. I see her hand fly up again to shield her view. He could have quite easily gotten up the other direction, or tied his robe shut, or done any number of other things, but that obviously wasn’t his goal. He starts walking off down the boardwalk towards the rest of the spa, robe sash still untied and robe billowing out behind him like a cape.

“What’s he doing?” Jelly Bean says in outrage.

I’m wincing as I say, “I think he just gave us the Full Superman.”

I took off at a brisk walk after him. I have long legs and the distance disappeared fast. Yep, still not a single hair on this guy except on his head. Joy.

“Sir.” I’ve lost most of my pleasant courtesy at this point. “I need to ask you to tie you robe closed. You’re exposing yourself.”

“Fine. Fine.” He waves his hand at be before snatching up the ends of his robe sash and tying it closed.

“Thank you.” I say as he walks away.

You’d think his nakedness would end there. It didn’t.

I come up to the Spa Front Desk later and hear my staff there talking about a naked man.

“Oh you mean the one out at the pond that Jelly Bean and I dealt with?” I ask.

“He was naked in the lobby!” They tell me.

Apparently after interacting with me for the final time, he made his way all the way back to the locker room, disrobed, then came out into the lobby to ask the Front Desk where the bathroom was. You know….the one he walked right past to reach the locker room. Shocked they quickly directed him to the right door. After using the restroom, he returned to the locker room and put all of his clothes back on. I later found out that he came out into the lobby and was complaining to his friends about how he was trying to relax at the pond but we wouldn’t let him.

Really? Really!?! REALLY!??? I was more than happy to let you relax at the pond. You just had to keep your junk out of sight!

But from now until the end of time Jelly Bean and I will refer to a naked man at the pond as a “Code Superman”

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Eating a little crow on Thanksgiving

Not exactly the bird I wanted today

Earlier in the week I posted about my encounter with an Internet Troll via email and how I handled him. This post needs a little follow-up.

To be clear, while I somewhat enjoyed engaging in a semantic argument with the superior asshole and not indulging him, I probably should have indulged him. It just wasn’t great customer service, and it has come back to bite me in the ass. The Troll forwarded our email conversation to a property owner and I have since been chastised by my boss, and the owner is making efforts to try to recover his business.

While it felt great at the time to respond to him the way I did, it was a mistake. Not just because I poked the bear and got in trouble for it, but because as a manager in this business I have to represent the interests and reputation of the property owners and not my own all the time. If I was the owner of this property my response still would have been horrible customer service, but at least then it would have been my place to make that decision. To be honest, I might have responded the same way if this was my hotel. But it’s not, and I knew as soon as I hit the send button on that email that it was probably a huge mistake, and I should have known that it wouldn’t end there. Of course it didn’t.

In customer service it just doesn’t pay to respond to superior assholes in kind. No matter how good it might feel in the moment.

People always say, don’t respond to emails or texts angry. I think I’ll listen to those people next time.

You win this round Internet Trolls.

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Crazy Hotel Guest Story – Slaying The Email Troll

The Internet Troll: A vile creature that lurks in dark dank rooms, using the internet to say nasty things that he just can't say in real life.

This one barely qualifies as “Crazy Guest Story” because the guy never actually ended up being a guest, just some jack hole that booked and room, cancelled it and then emailed me to be an Internet Troll. I sat on these emails for over a week now, mostly because this guy pissed me off so much at the time I didn’t even want to consider dealing with this shit. Below you’ll find his original email to me, my response, and then this response to my response. I admit, I probably shouldn’t have responded to his original email at all, at least not in the mindset that it originally left me in. It’s bad to email ticked off. However, I also don’t think there was anything all that out of line in my email. Compared to his initial message I think I was pretty gracious, at least not the condescending ass that his original message made him out to be. In the end my message also had the desired effect I think, it cemented the guy’s desire to never stay with us in the future which if his email is any indication of his actual personality, I don’t want his business anyways.

Here we go. This is his original email to me.

I’ve just canceled a reservation at <my hotel> for April 20th. On your website you notify people you’ll charge a deposit at time of booking. I was surprised to discover I was charged for the full amount 6 months in advance. On calling your front desk, I was told this behavior was part of a new policy and therefore totally normal. It isn’t. Pre-payment happens in the hotel industry, and it’s called just that. The term deposit in the english language means part payment held as security. If you don’t believe me, look it up here http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/deposit. I was also told when canceling my reservation that my deposit would be turned. Apparently no-one you employ understands what that terms means. Unimpressed. Very unimpressed.

This was a straight copy and paste with just one little redaction. The part that irked me the most was his link to the dictionary, especially because he’s reading the definition wrong. And I think it fairly perfectly fits the definition of Internet Troll provided by the Urban Dictionary. Also, when you’re starting an argument like this, maybe you should do some proof reading before you hit send. Even little typos undercut your argument when you’re arguing pure semantics.

Here’s my response.

Hello <Jack Hole>,

I’m sorry there was a misunderstanding over the term “deposit” and if the amount caught you by surprise. The announcement on our website and in the email confirmation both clarify the amount will be for the “room and tax for the entire stay”. We didn’t construct our verbiage to be deliberately misleading or deceptive. Deposit is a commonly used term throughout the industry and we chose to use it over pre-payment. Your own definition from dictionary.com says “to give as security or in part payment.” As I read it, that doesn’t rule out the deposit being the entire amount because it says “as security or in part payment”. Throughout my career and years of travel I’ve seen the two terms used interchangeably at many different hotels. And I believe the agent on the phone was saying that your deposit would be “returned” not “turned”. I’m sorry you won’t be enjoying a stay with us in April.

Best wishes,

<hotelnerd>

I’ll admit I could have handled his initial email a number of different ways. I could have even ignored it all together. If he had been a return guest with a positive track record of staying with us (and not being a pain in the ass) I might have even waved the deposit policy for him. If he’d just been a little more gracious and less of an Internet Troll I might have still bent the policy for him. In the end, I just didn’t see the point in trying to recover his business. I know that isn’t necessarily “superior customer service” but he’s hardly a “superior customer” he’s just a “superior ass hole.” I enjoy giving my guests great customer service and making them happy. I really do. But when I’m dealing with people who are just miserable S.O.B.s sometimes it’s nice to handle things in a way that hopefully keeps them from ever being a headache for me or my staff in the future.

Sometimes being an asshole just doesn't get you what you want.

The final email in our exchange.

Really? You’re in customer service and that’s your response.

I didn’t respond to him after that. His response told me that my original response had accomplished its mission, and I had better things to do with my day. But what I really wanted to say was,

Yeah. Really. That’s my response. Goodbye.

I know this is a fairly tame story, but I haven’t gotten to share this exchange with much of anyone and I thought this was a descent format to do that in since I could just post pretty much the exact text of our exchange.

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A Day in the Life of a Hotel Front Desk Manager

I wish I could say this was an exageration of what can actually happen. It's not....

I was listening to the Nerdist Podcast Episode 139 with Neil deGrasse Tyson and one of the questions that Chris Hardwick tossed at Neil deGrasse Tyson was “Tell me about a day in the life of a scientist” or something to that effect. Neil kind of chuckled, much how I do when considering that question, because he doesn’t have such a thing as a “typical day”. By and large I can say the same thing, every day I show up to work, and outside of some basic responsibilities that go along with whatever shift I’m working that day I don’t ever really know what the day is going to throw at me.

Typically I get here, and if nothing else is immediately more pressing I check my voice mail and do my initial scan of my email inbox. In a day I receive 15 to 40 emails in a day that require varying degrees of my attention. For the record I hate voice mail, I hate voice mail at work and I hate it at home. Email and text is such a better way to get a hold of me. As I’m scanning email or immediately afterwards I try to touch base with any other managers that are around, especially my fellow operational managers. Often times they have some critical piece of information that is going to shape the rest of my day from staff being out sick, issues from the night audit shift, upset guests I might encounter, maintenance issues, or one of the owners running amok around the property.

Next up is my first walk around the property for the day (assuming that nothing more pressing jumps in my path). I’ve talked about this before, but I think I would go crazy if I was stuck at my desk or in meetings all day. I love going out to walk around the property and see it with my own eyes, it certainly doesn’t hurt that I work on a particularly beautiful property. On this walk I try to hit as much of the property as I can, not just my department, but the pool, guest areas, the spa, laundry, everything I have the time for. There are times that I can’t help but think of myself as Admiral Kirk touring the Enterprise at the beginning of The Wrath of Kahn. I shared this particular image with on of my staff one time and now she calls me “Captain” whenever she feeling like humoring me, or is buttering me up for something. On this first walk I try to survey as much of the property as I can and in particular I’m looking for anything that might be amiss, maintenance issues, staff (specifically uniforms), and littering (I pick up garbage all day long). More than looking for things that might be wrong, I’m also mentally settling into my day.

It’s after this point that I usually can’t tell what the day will hold for me next. Here’s just a sampling of what I had to deal with today.

  • People not staying in the hotel or visiting the spa that thought it would be nice to picnic on our front lawn with their massive dog (we don’t allow pets).
  • Relocating some guests that tried to sneak their 7-year-old into a room in a part of our lodging that is 18 and older.
  • Former guest upset about our $10 charge to ship some lost & found home to her. Apparently places she’s stayed always do it for free. Right. Sure they do.
  • Broken heater in a guest room after maintenance has left.
  • Guest that wanted to complain about the couple that brought their 7-year-old and we relocated. Wanted a discount even though we made them leave.
  • Guests with both glass and alcohol at the pool. Our pool is hot.
  • Two staff members missing their name tags.
  • It’s a holiday weekend and we’re running low on change.
  • Multiple people who want to talk to me about why their case is special and they should get an exception to one policy or another. Some got their exception and some didn’t.
  • Motorized housekeeping cart with a dead battery that we have to push back to base. Those things are solid metal and loaded with shit.

And some of those bullet points become a little routine, but even the routine ones are somewhat unpredictable. Every guest interaction is different and a bit unpredictable even if you’ve dealt with the same issue a thousand times. You just can’t tell how it’s going to go until you’re in it. That’s about it for today, but I still have about an hour and a half left. Along with that I’m answering questions from my staff and the staff of other departments, pitching in on phones, pitching in at the desk, slogging through my emails, doing more property walk around, staying in touch with the other managers. I can also be composing memos, designing procedures, writing employee evaluations or written warnings. And the property owners weren’t even here today to heap random projects on me. I only take short breaks to blog at work so that I can vent some steam quietly and not explode on people.

And I wouldn’t give it up for the world. I love working in hotel operations, and even when I’m a GM someday or if I become an owner even, I hope to at least have a couple of toes in the daily operations. At least I feel that way now, if it ever stops being fun then it’ll be time to run as fast as I can away from operations.

 

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Where I see myself going…

This isn’t exactly a new revelation for me, but I don’t want to be a Front Desk Manager the rest of my life. Only recently though, I’ve started to actively contemplate the myriad of possibilities arrayed before me. Given the climate of today’s job market, I figure I need to have a pretty good idea of what my goals are now and be looking for the next move. I’m still quite happy at my job, I’m not in a position where I’m dying to leave or hate coming to work every day. I still regularly learn new things in my position. However, if I wait to be restless and miserable in my current position, the act of trying to find the next move will be even more torturous, it would also make it much more tempting to leap at the first opportunity and not the best one.

The next logical step for me is a position as Assistant General Manager or a Director position at a property of at least equal, but preferably larger size to the one I’m at currently. I’d be fine with a Director of Rooms or Director of Operations type position, I think those would be a good next step. Also I’d love to get some experience in Revenue Management as that’s becoming an increasingly important position in the hotel world. The ultimate goal there is to end up as a General Manager somewhere. At the moment I prefer working at an independent (non-brand) property, but that could certainly change as advancement opportunities tend to be a bit more obvious if you get in good on the corporate ladder. The goal for me is to stay in high-end resort type properties as I just prefer the atmosphere at destination/vacation properties over city, business or convention hotels.

I’ve already started looking, somewhat passively, for this next move. It started because I took a guest complaint at my current job one day, resolved the issue for the guest, gave him my business card, and the next Monday I had a voice mail from the guest wanting to discuss a GM position with me. He was on the board for another local property that was looking for their next GM and was so impressed by his brief interaction with me that he wanted to see my resume. I got as far as the phone interview. Several weeks later I heard that the property had a new GM which was a bit crushing at the time. The entire scenario had gotten me excited to think I could skip straight off to a GM position from my current position. I knew at the time that it would be a giant leap forward, but the possibility provokes all sorts of dreams for me. I’ve since kept an eye out for other positions. My fiancée and I have discussed relocating to get out of the area that we both grew up in, so I’ve cast my net as far off as Seattle and San Diego at this point. I was briefly being considered for an Assistant GM job in San Diego, but such a massive relocation is somewhat of a deterrent to employers in this job market if they have enough local qualified candidates that can potentially start much sooner with less hassle. It’s still good practice at interviewing (just on the phone) and I feel like my resume is pretty well tuned too.

Beyond looking for my next job, it starts getting a little murkier when looking at the big picture of my career path. There are several options none of them necessarily being mutually exclusive to one another. I could theoretically go after one, two, or all three in some capacity.

I haven’t discussed this a lot here, but my family has a small Inn in the local area that my dad currently runs. My grandpa built and opened the place, and it’s always been a distinct possibility that I could succeed my dad when he’s ready to retire and be the 3rd generation Innkeeper. It’s not a sure thing because my family isn’t the sole owner of the property, but I think by the time that opportunity presents itself my resume and my family will make me a near shoe in. This possibility is fairly distant on the horizon (10 to 15 years) so I have to actively pursue other opportunities in the mean time.

My fiancée and I have already started discussing investment plans for the future, so that hopefully we can reach a point where we have sources of income other than our own labor. Right now the feeling is that we would like to own actual businesses instead of just investing in the stock market. One of the possibilities we’ve discussed is buying a small lodging property of our own, one that I could theoretically go and run if need be, but our first preference would be to hire management staff to handle day-to-day operations while we focus on other investments, our own jobs, or whatever. This is a little pie in the sky at the moment, as we need to develop some capital and likely other investments first, but I think could be a great plan for our long-term future. This could prove to be a really great asset if down the line I end up running my family’s lodging establishment as well, especially since it might allow us to invest in the family property and not just wait on what inheritance I might receive even further down the line.

Another possibility that I’ve been actively considering is developing my own business as a hired consultant for hotel development and management. We’re in the midst of rather hectic expansion plans at my current property, and after sitting in on a number of expansion planning meetings, I’ve realized that this could be a viable path for me. It’s a scary path though. It would at some point leave me being my own boss, which is nice. It would also mean less security and having to really develop my social networking skills and self marketing which I haven’t always been the best at. It could be really fun an exciting though. And to be realistic this could also become a pretty descent side business if I end up running my own property and/or take over at my family property. I know my dad has done some consulting for people and companies, and I could probably turn that into a nice little side business for myself. I like the idea of being able to go to a place and just focus in on particular issues or a particular problem, solve it or finish the project, and then move on to the next challenge.

It feels good to put all these thoughts out into the universe. My fiancée and I have discussed them all quite a bit. I don’t expect the universe to fulfill my hopes and dreams just by putting them out there, I know there’s a lot of hard work ahead. No one is going to make any of these things happen except me. I feel like the more I talk about it, and think about it, and work on it all though, the more likely I am to be prepared when an opportunity presents itself to move forward.

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Crazy Hotel Guest Story – The 30 Year Old Baby

This is another old story, but a favorite.

Once again, it was back in my days as a lowly Front Desk Agent. I was working at a mid-range high-end big brand resort. It was a pretty busy day with check-ins for a large corporate group we had in-house. The group was spread throughout the property in various room types depending on where they ranked in the corporate hierarchy.

I don’t even remember checking this woman in, it could have been another agent, but I was the one who caught her when she stormed back up to the Front Desk. She threw her key packet down on the counter and said, “This isn’t right. I should be in a suite.”

In my head I groaned. We were pretty much at capacity, and at the moment I just assumed that the Sales Office had oversold us on suites and downgraded this lady without giving the Front Desk a heads up. It wouldn’t have been the first time. I knew we were at capacity for suites. I never let my stage smile falter though. I recovered her keys from the counter and said, “Alright. I have the group’s contract in the back. If you can wait just a moment I can check the room assignments from your group. I’m sure we can sort it out.”

“No,” she snapped. “You’re going to give me a suite right now.”

Looking back, this is when I should have known that something wasn’t quite above-board.

“I’m afraid I have to check the contract before I can make any changes to your reservation.” I tried to sound as sympathetic as I could, she wasn’t making it easy though. “I promise I’ll be right back. Thank you.”

I turned up my stage smile to 11 and ducked in the back before she could say anything else. My Assistant Manager had been listening and already had the paperwork pulled. We used her room number on the key packet to pull up her reservation and went to work. Change log showed she was always in the standard room type that she was already in – I miss having a PMS that keeps a detailed change log – and marvel of marvels we had a group rooming list that was signed by the group contact (the person in her corporation that booked the group and assigned the room types). It actually looked like the Sales Office hadn’t screwed the pooch, but just to be safe we called the group contact on her cell phone. She verified that the room assignment was right.

I walked back up front with a look that I hoped was sympathetic. “I’m sorry Ms. <GrownUpBaby>, but according to the contract with your company, this is the room you’re supposed to be in. We verified it with Ms. <GroupContact> and she said it was the right assignment. Even if she approved an upgrade, I’m fully reserved for tonight. I don’t have an upgrade to offer unfortunately.”

That really should have been the end of it. All the i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed.

It wasn’t though. I guess here is a good time to somewhat describe this woman. Tall, blonde, moderately attractive, and somewhere in her early to mid 30’s. Definitely too old to act the way she was about to.

“You don’t understand,” she sputtered. “My father is in a suite. I want one like he has.”

“You really need to discuss this with your company’s group contact. She assigned all the rooms.” I replied.

Her nostrils flared and her eyes narrowed at me. “I hope you don’t like she job,” she snarled. Then she whipped out her cell phone like a Bond villain about to detonate her Armageddon machine. I was quaking in my boots. No! Not even close!

Why do they always threaten my job? And as a manager, why do people insist on someone being fired when they complain to me? Does anyone even realize how horrible the affront would have to be for that to happen? I guess reasonable people do. You lose sane person points when you make a demand like that.

She placed the call while staring daggers at me. Meanwhile a line had developed, so I used my secret help button to ring for help and my Ass.Man. came up to work the other station.

I was about to ask her to step to the side so that I could assist the other guest when her call was answered.

“Daddy!” she whined into the phone. “They won’t give me a suite like yours. Make them give me a suite.”

I don’t know how he responded, but she made her dissatisfaction with the response apparent by screaming into the phone and slamming it down on the counter of the Front Desk several times. I’ve only rarely experienced that “record screech” moment that you see on TV and movies. You know where the record screeched to a halt and everyone in the room stops and just stares at some poor bafoon that has just done something totally embarrassing. Yeah, that happened here.

After slamming the ph0ne down repeatedly. She picked it up and screamed into the thing again, totally oblivious to the eyes on her. At that point my Ass.Man. slid up beside me with her cheerful guest smile on and quite pleasantly asked her to please step aside so that we could assist other guests.

She glared at my Ass.Man. but stepped aside from the direct line of the desk. For whatever reason she didn’t leave. My Ass.Man. and I got the line that had developed, and witness the episode moving again and within relatively short order we were once again left with just the prissy little adult baby staring daggers at us. I could tell my Ass.Man. was about to say something to her when a group of men in suits walked into the lobby. One of the men, and older gentleman, tall in a well made suite and an affable look to him, detached himself from his associates and came over to us. He had an entirely unperturbed and pleasant expression on his face until he reached the desk.

He turned to the spoiled little princess leaned in close to her his smile gone, and hissed just loud enough for us on the other side of the desk to hear. “Listen to me you little brat. You’re not getting a suite. Don’t you think if they had one they would have given it to you by now just to get you the fuck away from their desk after the scene you just made.”

Spoiled Brat’s mouth dropped open in what seemed to be genuine astonishment. Then the man turned around, reaching into his pocket and drew out his wallet. My Ass.Man. stepped forward, and with only a hint of the anger and contempt he has just unleashed on the Brat, he pulled out a Platinum Amex and said to my manager in a very calm and almost pleasant voice, “Can you please find make a reservation for her at another hotel tonight. I don’t care where you find her a room tonight, but she’s not staying here.”

He handed my Ass.Man. his Amex, she copied down the number as well as the man’s cell phone number and promised to make her an alternate reservation. He turned around and began to escort her by the arm away, but stopped just a few steps away, turned and said, “Make sure it’s not a suite.”

There was a squeak of protest from the woman before he hauled her back into motion and shot her another withering glare. My Ass.Man. and I were grinning somewhat vindictively as they walked up the stairs in the direction of her current room.

I couldn’t help but think that it was probably her “Daddy’s” fault that she turned out the way she did. I wonder if he ever realized that too?

We made her a reservation on daddies card, across town, in their most basic room, at a resort that was just a step below us. She’s lucky we didn’t just call the Best Western and leave it at that. We didn’t even have to resell her room after she checked out, the group was already paying for it whether we sold it or not.

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You want to work in Hospitality?…Why?

I’ve worked in this industry pretty much my entire life. My family owns a small Inn and so this is pretty much the family business. I haven’t really known anything else. I thought about being lots of other things growing up. I think it went somewhat in this order, a Ninja, a Starship Captain, a Superhero, a Scientist, a Writer, a Lawyer, and then finally a Hotelier. Yeah, it was pretty much like that. Why couldn’t I have been a Starship Captain? All those hot alien babes out there waiting for me to show them my Captain’s Log. Sigh.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Where was I? Oh yeah. Anyways, working in Hotels is all I’ve ever really known. It wasn’t necessarily a forgone conclusion, but the probability was strong. Don’t get me we wrong, I love this business. I think about living in cubicle land and working a Monday through Friday 8 to 5 and I shudder a little. I would get so bored if I was stuck at one desk all day long except for the occasional meeting. I did that for part of my internship in school when I was getting experience in the accounting department at a large city hotel. The office had no windows! I’d got 8 or 9 hours without seeing sunlight. At my job now, if I get bored or feel like I’ve been at my desk too long, I get up and do a little “managing by walking around” As it is my GM tell me I spend too much time at my desk!

What prompted this post is that a large part of my current position is that I’m the primary hiring manager for my department. And since I work at a small property, means that I don’t have some unfortunate HR person that screens resumes for me. I have to read – OK skim – every resume that gets submitted for my department. I’ve fortunately filled the position we had open, but resumes are still trickling in. I’ve been told I’m a harsh judge or resumes, but I really don’t think so. When your resume says “Profeciency in Microsoft Publisher, Word, Opera Fidelo Express & other programsm” I can’t help but roll my eyes a little. And then you go into my “No” folder, usually with some commentary about why you’re failing (even if there’s no one around). I plan on doing a more in-depth post about my “Folder of Shame” as I some times call my No folder, and how some people make it in there. Before you say anything, I know this Blog isn’t typo free, but at least I know what the little red lines under my words means!

Having just gone through the flood of mostly garbage resumes that come in every time we post an open position, it does raise a question. Why does anyone want to work in the hotel business?

Yeah, I know it’s a crap economy out there and jobs are scarce. People pretty much apply for anything they feel they might even be remotely qualified. Often they apply over and over and over again. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the same 3 or 4 names pop up every time I’m collecting resumes. Or people email, fax, and hand deliver their resume. One method of transmission is really alright. I went through the same struggle to find the job that I’m in now. I know what you all are going through. And for all my being a stickler about formatting, and typos, and including pictures of yourself (please don’t by the way), what I look for most when hiring is HOTEL EXPERIENCE. It’s really that important that it deserved to be in all CAPS. My most successful hires so far have all had prior hotel experience. I know it’s a catch-22, how do I get hotel experience to start with? I fell right into it. Basically you have to be lucky enough to find someone that’s willing to take a risk on you. Or you find one of the true “entry-level” positions at a hotel, and I don’t mean the Front Desk. Or you start out at the lower end of the industry and work your way up in service level. I’ve even found that other customer service experience like retail and restaurant work doesn’t truly cut it at the Front Desk. It helps, but not all the skills are transferable.

I met people in my program at school, the Hospitality Management program, that had zero experience in the industry. It blew my mind, and I quickly understood why we had required internships as part of the degree. Usually after the first one several people changed majors, because this industry really isn’t for everyone.

Let’s start with the Cons

  • Long hours
  • Sometimes having to be the party pooper
  • Late hours
  • Working weekends
  • Working holidays, sometimes all of them
  • Snotty/uppity/crazy/rude guests
  • Cleaning up other people’s messes, with a smile
  • Bursts of intense activity followed by long dull drags of boring nothingness
  • Weird sleep schedules
  • Getting to watch everyone else have a good time while you work
  • Getting blamed for stuff that you had nothing to do with

When you decide to work in the hospitality industry, you have all of these things to look forward to, and more.

Still there? Really? Why? OK, well there are Pros to this business too. It’s not all bad, but you have to be the kind of person that finds the Pros far more fulfilling then you find the Cons frustrating. And those closest to you have to accept some of the Cons as well. My fiancée still hates my work schedule, and I really don’t blame her.

  • Finding fulfillment in giving other people satisfaction and maybe even happiness.

Yup. That’s pretty much it. Probably the only universal one there is. There are other ones that apply to me only, but that’s the biggest one. If you can’t build your professional life around that singular notion then turn around and run away from this business as fast as you can! I’ve met people who have been in this business a little too long, that either never had that quality or had lost it, they’re usually bitter and angry people.

That being said, what else do I find fulfilling about this business?

  • Problem solving, every day I find I’m faced with new problems and challenges.
  • Being surrounded by beauty. I’ve generally chosen to work at properties that are destinations. Places that people save up all year to visit, and I get paid to be here.
  • Great stories. My coworkers, my bosses, my guests they all give me great stories to tell.

I’m the first to admit, there are way more Cons than Pros. I feel like the Pros are just bigger than the Cons though, and if you enjoy the Pros enough, the Cons don’t seem like problems most of the time. And really, the only way to figure these things out is to just do it in someway. There’s that Catch-22 again, because most people don’t want to let you do it unless you’ve already done it. When I see that someone has hotel experience on their resume, and they’re applying for a job with me, I know that they likely have already figured some of this out. I’ve seen people without experience that got a shot break down to actual tears by the end of their 2nd day of training. I don’t have time for that.

And let me tell you, The Money just isn’t on either list. There’s money to be made in this business absolutely, but you have to work and fight and claw your way to it unless your last name is Hilton or Marriott or Four Seasons (OK maybe not that one). I’m on a track to get to that money, but there are easier ways to get there. I’ve seen them, and if you aren’t interested and a little bit excited by the prospect of that one big Pro, then you should go for those other paths to money. Then come back and buy a hotel once you have it. You can pay someone like me to run it for you.

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Guest Loyalty Programs. Do They Work?

One of the owners of my property is a very creative and passionate man. He wouldn’t have been able to build the property I work at, with its unique flair and style without such a grand big picture already in his mind. He also has a tendency to make sweeping statements on goals and projects that he wants to tackle without much understanding of the nuts and bolts that goes into execution. When he does get involved in execution, things tend to get frustrating when the realities of business operations conflict with his personal vision. The other day in a meeting he tasked the GM and I with developing some system for tacking, recognizing, and rewarding repeat guests. We have a system in place now for tracking and recognizing, but I’m the first to admit that it’s not really accurate, and the “reward” portion is fairly lacking. The bigger boxes in the industry have developed intricate Guest Loyalty Programs, and I have mixed feelings about the big box solutions out there.

Guest Loyalty Programs swept through the “chain” side of the industry some time ago. Most every major brand (Marriott, Fairmont, Hilton, Four Seasons, etc) has some sort of Guest Loyalty Program. You know that club that you sign up for at the Front Desk or two days before you get there because it gives you some little perk like free Wi-Fi or whatever. Ostensibly the program makes it easier for the hotel to recognize repeat customers, track their preferences, track issues or problems the guest has had/caused, and offer them rewards for repeat business. The programs represent two important factors to the Hospitality industry. The first is that guest loyalty is truly essential, a guest who enjoys your product and comes back over and over again is worth their weight in gold, not only for the actual dollars they spend, but for all the other people they refer our way. The second is that information is power. These programs allow us to build massive databases of information about our guests and when used appropriately they let you keep repeat guests happier, but also allow you to better market directly to them. In order to profit from this large database of information and cover the administrative costs, less scrupulous companies will also sell this information to “partners” like Frequent Flyer programs, sister brands, and other affiliates. I’m not saying everyone does this, but some of them do. If I signed up for a program I always use my Junk Mail email address (Yes, I have like 3 personal email addresses each one with its own purpose).

The programs do all of that, however, there’s also much doubt in the industry that these programs actually foster guest loyalty. Most of these programs are tiered in some way and the basic membership is free to join. Many frequent travelers belong to every “loyalty program” out there just to have the basic membership benefits. At a certain point, they don’t care if you’re a Fairmont or a Hilton so long as your rooms are within their price range and they get a bed to rest their head on. They carry cards for every loyalty program and offer zero loyalty in return. I won’t say this is the case for every member of a loyalty program and for those that reach the upper levels of membership, many of them have demonstrated that they have at least a strong preference for your brand. The majority of Loyalty Program members are in that bottom category of occasional visitors that generally just signed up to get the initial perks.

For smaller properties a formal sort of program can be a double-edged sword. The software for Customer Relations Management (CRM), to correctly manage these programs is expensive. Sometimes it’s just easier to try to do it through your existing Property Management Software (PMS), but most PMS’s aren’t designed to track the same level of detail that dedicated CRM software can. For instance I can see in my PMS that a guest has stayed with us 12 times before, but my PMS doesn’t really track whether you told us you prefer feather or foam pillows on your last visit. Unless I remember the guest’s name, it also isn’t great at letting me know if this guest had a major issue and screamed in the lobby about something on their last visit. Being a smaller stand alone property, we have to be a lot more careful about what “free perks” we give away. If we’re going to give stuff away or offer discounts to repeat guests does that mean we have to nickel and dime or raise prices for new guests to make up for it? Or do we just hope that the guest “loyalty” this expensive software has helped us earn will make up for itself in repeat business. And isn’t the best thing about repeat guests supposed to be that they’re basically free? You’ve already attracted them once, if you did your job right the first time they should just come back all on their own regardless of marketing efforts. I know that’s not entirely accurate, but we all would like it to be.

I’ve worked at a smaller independent property before where we offered a 15% discount on the room rate to any return guest, that was easy to implement if the guest’s name was in our system. We were a trusting property, so if a guest asked about the discount and said they had stayed before, but we couldn’t find a computer record for them we just took them at their word and gave it to them. As a promotion we would offer the 15% discount to anyone that said they were referred by a repeat guest. Once again we were very trusting about this. This was a lean and relatively efficient method of promoting guest loyalty and occasionally encouraging them to refer friends and family. And I have no idea what that does to your ADR or RevPAR in the long run. It also doesn’t allow for distinguishing between the guest that’s been back twice and the guest that’s been coming back for 20 years and spends several thousand dollars each time. Should both of them be equally rewarded? Or should there be an extra perk for the guest that spends lots more money? At the smaller property most of those truly long-term guests ended having a relationship with the Front Desk manager and she made sure they got their extra attention. My current property is already too big for that level of relationship with our guests and we’re about to more than triple in size.

I have a feeling our Loyalty Program at my current property will end up falling somewhere in between the “big box” solution and the smaller independent property solution. Mostly because I doubt I’ll be able to sell the owners and the GM on the likely fairly expensive CRM software I was looking at online today, but pretty soon we’re going to be considerably larger than my small property solution can handle. I smell entirely too complex spreadsheets in my future trying to do something they were never intended for.

I am curious, if any of you have similar mixed feeling about Hotel Loyalty Programs? Do you sign up for the free perks wherever you’re staying? Or do you only sign up at properties that you really like and want to stay at all the time? Will a club membership help you decide between staying at one property over the other? Especially if both offer similar programs? Will a repeat business perk, like a 15% discount on your room, heavily affect your decision to return? OK, I know that was a lot of questions. You can answer none, one, all or just some of them. This is an issue we discussed at great length during my academic program for Hotel Management, but I haven’t discussed with most people outside of the industry or outside of an academic setting really.

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