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Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality Paperback – July 30, 2013
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, November 2012: Always tip. If you can’t tip, be nice. And if you can’t manage either, you might be better off unwrapping a new toothbrush every day. That’s just one lesson to be learned from Jacob Tomsky’s gonzo account of his years as a front-desk clerk at hotels in New Orleans and New York. From the glad-handing doormen to the unsung workers in the “back of the house,” Tomsky exposes the machinery and machinations that make luxury hotels run (if not always smoothly), advising his potential guests about whose palms to grease (and how much) in order to get that coveted park-view upgrade. Informative and mildly salacious, Heads in Beds is an entertaining peek inside the places people go to get away, and the stunts they pull when they get there. --Jon Foro
Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Jacob Tomsky
When I started working in hotels the computer screens glowed in one color, alien green, and the monitors were the size of boulders. We used to confidently toss comment cards in the trash (or, as we referred to it, file them in the “T” file) making them disappear forever. I used to cash checks by picking up the phone and speaking to another human being. Music in the lobby was usually provided by a piano player, who would swivel his head at passing guests with a ridiculous, pasty-looking smile as he tapped out non-offensive cover songs played with a non-offensive classical flourish.
Now, mid-volume, beat-heavy techno seeps from recessed speakers built into the lobby’s crown molding. The screens are flat. You can’t manage to direct anything from Trip Advisor into the “T” file and all the guests want to hook up their iPad to the toilet or whatever. And if you pay with a check I still have to pick up the phone, which is extremely irritating because who pays with checks anymore? Stop it.
But all of that change means nothing. Because I’ll tell you what hasn’t changed: The front desk agents, the bellmen, the doormen, the housekeepers, the room service attendants, and the managers. Hotel employees are still version 1.0 and I guarantee if you brought me to a bar and sat me next to a front desk agent from 1897, we’d over-drink and swap the same type of hilarious stories about the same type of insane guests. Hospitality, no matter how slick it gets, will always be a business run by people who serve people. It will always be about service. It will always take a person to explain that, no, you cannot hook up your iPad to the toilet but you can use it to control the lights and wirelessly play music through the in-room speaker system. And guests still, and hopefully will forever, hand me physical comment cards, which I will continue to throw in the trash.
During all these renovations (while I said things like, “Wait, they made the internet wireless? It’s in the goddamn air now?”) I was always writing. I grew up reading novel after novel and that’s all I wanted from life, to give back and write something good. After years of hotel work and relocations that took me from New Orleans to Paris to Copenhagen and ultimately New York City, I finally conceived the idea for Heads in Beds. I put everything I had into it, all my knowledge of the industry and the writing skills I’d developed since I was a child. I truly hope you find it funny and informative and that it helps you navigate the crooked halls of hospitality. That has always been my goal, to write something good.
That and hang out with a front desk agent from 1897.
Comparisons to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (2000) are inevitable but not entirely accurate. Yes, both Tomsky and Bourdain purport to expose the underbelly of service industries with which most readers are familiar, hotels and restaurants. But where Bourdain is all rock ’n’ roll, egotistical bluster, Tomsky is surprisingly earnest and sympathetic; there are, after all, no television programs called Top Desk Clerk. He wants your respect, not your adulation. Sure, he tosses off a few requisite f-bombs, instructs readers on how to steal from hotel minibars, and name-drops Brian Wilson, of the Beach Boys, more so because he seems to feel the genre demands it. Indeed, it would be easy to pen a book about crazy hotel guests. But this memoir succeeds, instead, in humanizing the people who park our cars, clean our hotel rooms, and carry our luggage. You will never not tip housekeeping or your bellhop again. Tomsky fell into hotel work and proved to be rather good at it; the same can be said for his writing. --Patty Wetli --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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The book is eminently readable and filled with anecdotes about guests rich, famous and ordinary. Some of these stories are laugh-out-loud funny, while others are absolutely astonishing. (People really DO that?!? Apparently so.)
Caution: There is a lot of foul language liberally sprinkled throughout the book. Some of it is perfectly acceptable, such in quotes from bellmen, doormen and valets. It's part of their job, and using it this way adds color. I get that. But there is a lot more that is not necessary and adds nothing to the text—so much so that I would have given the book five stars except for the language.
But I digress, the most interesting part of the book to me is the contrast between his initial hotel assignment, opening a new one in New Orleans under a relatively paternalistic and team oriented management team to one that became unionized in New York City. The workers certainly needed protection when a private equity firm took over but the relationship soon developed into an "us versus them" mentality with the management attempting to enforce rules and the workers trying to beat them. And, being New York, the almighty dollar is the primary motivator regardless of the level of the employee.
Still, want tips on how to beat the mini-bar or the in room movie charges, give it a read. How about how to beat the no-show charge when you miss a reservation? Yeah, that is there as well. Welcome to the games of the hotel industry!
Not exactly high art in terms of literary standards but certainly was interesting and allowed me to breeze through it.
If you have worked in the Hotel industry or even the service industry you will die laughing from this amazing memoir.