In the tradition of Kitchen Confidential and Waiter Rant, a rollicking, eye-opening, fantastically indiscreet memoir of a life spent (and misspent) in the hotel industry.
Jacob Tomsky has worked in hotels for more than a decade, doing everything from valet parking to manning the front desk. He’s checked you in, checked you out, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, tasted your room service, cleaned your toilet, denied you a late check out, laughed at your jokes, and taken your money. And in Heads in Beds, he pulls back the curtain on the hospitality business, revealing the crazy yet compelling reality of an industry we think we know. Prepare to be amused, shocked, and amazed as he spills the unwritten code of the bellhops, the antics that go on the valet parking garage, and the housekeeping department’s dirty little secrets.
Heads in Beds is more than just a memoir. Jake explains the secrets of the industry, offering easy and legal ways to get what you need from your hotel without any hassle—from scoring late check-ins and upgrades to getting that pay-per-view charge knocked off your bill. This book will give you the knowledge you need to get the very best service from any hotel or property, from any business that makes its money from putting heads in beds. Or, at the very least, it will keep the bellhops from taking your luggage into the camera-free back office and stomping the hell out of it.
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I am standing on St. Charles Avenue, uptown New Orleans, a few months out of college and a few weeks into summer. It’s already extremely hot in the full sun. Which is where I have to stand: in the sun. Next to the valet box. All day.
I took a valet-parking job at Copeland’s restaurant to shake off my college-loan laziness, to climb out of the educational womb and stand on my own two feet as a moneymaking, career-pursuing adult. Educated in the useless and inapplicable field of philosophy, I quickly deduced that my degree looked slightly comical on my already light-on-the-work-experience résumé. Perhaps it was even off-putting. To a certain eye, hell, it probably made me look like a prick. But I had to start somewhere. So I started at the bottom.
This job is not good enough. Why not? First of all, I’m parking cars. Second, we have to turn in all our tips. I imagined I’d get off the first night with a pocketful of ones to take to the French Quarter, not that you need much money in New Orleans. As it turned out, however, attached to the valet box that houses the car keys, like a wooden tumor, is a separate slot for us to jimmy in our folded tips. All of them. Attached to that box, like a human tumor, is the shift boss, back in the shade at a vacant umbrella table, sipping a noontime drink that most definitely contains alcohol. It also has chipped ice and is sweating in his hand, sweating in a much different way than I am sweating.
A lunch customer hands me his ticket. I find his keys easily in the box and take off at an impressive run. His car is not easy to find: the valet company has not rented a nearby lot to service the restaurant, and so we, certainly unbeknownst to the clients, just drive around the area and try to parallel park the vehicles as close to Copeland’s as possible. Once the vehicle has been parked, it’s up to the valet to draw a silly treasure map on the back of the ticket so another valet can locate it. My co-worker Chip draws every treasure map like this: #*. Every single one. And finding the car is never easy. But I bring it back and slide up to the curb, holding the door open, the car’s AC pouring like ice water on my feet, and receive a neatly folded bill from the customer.
“It’s damn hot out here, son. This is for you running like that.”
It’s a twenty-dollar bill. Chip, now back and posted by the valet box, holds a salute against his brow, trying like hell to make out the bill. I walk up to the tip tumor and start to wiggle it in when Chip says, “No. No! What are you doing, Tommy? Don’t you keep a dollar handy to swap it out with? Please don’t put that twenty in there. Please. It’s for you. That dude told you it was for you.”
“Actually, it’s for Copeland’s Valet Parking Corporation,” the human tumor says, setting his drink down wet on the valet box.
“Are you seriously drinking a mudslide?” Chip asks.
I use a car key from the box to vanish the bill completely and post up next to Chip. Back in the sun. The shift boss sinks back into the shade.
“I am way too old for this. Sharing tips? Forty percent to management leaves 60 percent of the tips to us, divided over twenty runners, on a check, with taxes taken out, and guess who’s running the math, guess who’s counting up the tips? A grown man drinking a goddamn mudslide.” He must have been talking to himself previously because now Chip turned to me: “You think he’s gonna turn in that twenty? Or just keep it for himself? We never get good tips out here. You know what I heard? There’s a new hotel opening up downtown. You heard that? It’s supposed to be luxury.” He said the word as if it were mystical and perhaps too good for his own tongue: “luxury.” “And they’re looking for parkers. Copeland’s customers don’t tip for shit.”
Chip, with a wide smile, accepts a claim check from an emerging lunch customer and locates the keys in the box. “It’s a fucking Mazda, dude,” he says quietly to me. And then to the customer: “You won’t be long in this heat, sir! I will run for your vehicle!” Then he takes off sprinting: it’s almost vaudevillian how he tears ass around the corner, his body at full tilt.
Chip cruises the Mazda back in record time, gliding up to the curb. “AC running and classic rock on low for you, sir.”
The customer drops something into his cupped palm. Something that makes Chip’s face contort.
Chip stands upright, essentially blocking the customer from entering his own vehicle, and spreads open his palm to let the two-quarter tip flash in the sun.
With a voice strained and tight, as if he were suffering intense physical pain, he says, “Why, thank you so very much, sir.”
Then he pivots slightly and extends his hand, palm flat, quarters in the sun again.
Then he drop-kicks both coins. Kicks the shit out of them into the street.
They arc over the road and land on the rough grass of the neutral ground, settling in before a streetcar rocks by.
I can see the shock on the customer’s face—the confusion, the horror. Chip just walks off with determination, crossing St. Charles and onto the neutral ground. After picking the quarters out of the grass, he crosses the tracks to the far side of the street and starts bearing down Napoleon Avenue, toward Mid-City: the job, the restaurant, the shift boss, me, all of us in his rearview mirror.
I finished my shift. Then I took his advice about the hotel job.
Whether I knew it yet or not, it was one hell of an important moment for me, watching Chip snap at what seemed like such a minor affront, seeing that much emotion applied to a single low-quality tip. And then watching him bend down, fish the quarters out of the dirt, and take them with him. I didn’t understand any of it. Not yet.
Here we go.
Hotel orientation. Human resources pretty much hired everyone. Everyone who passed the drug test.
I passed, thank you.
Chip did not.
The River Hotel, connected to a brand known for luxury, known for being out of almost everyone’s price range, was being built right there on Chartres Street, in downtown New Orleans. It was three weeks from opening and still under construction. Yet they hired us all, tailored our uniforms, and started paying us. A week ago I was earning money and giving it to an idiot who pounds mudslides. Now I wasn’t even working, but I was collecting a check. A good check. And no one had even said the word “valet” yet.
Not that our new managers weren’t saying any words. Honestly, they couldn’t stop saying some words: “Service.” “Luxury.” “Honesty.” “Loyalty.” “Opulence.” And mid-length phrases such as “Customer Feedback” and “Anticipating Needs.” And then longer, million-dollar phrases like “Fifteen-Hundred-Thread-Count Egyptian Linen Duvet Covers.”
Management ran classes every day on service, administered in the completed conference rooms, the tables draped with what we assumed to be Egyptian fabric and adorned with iced carafes of water, which we poured into crystal goblets to wash down the huge piles of pastries they fed us. They were hell-bent on teaching us how to identify something called “a guest’s unmentioned needs.”
“A man needs his car, he don’t need to speak a word. Get that claim check out. Get that dollar out, feel me?”
That came from the back of class. I turned my head to get a look at who I assumed were to be my co-workers: three black guys not really adhering to the “business casual” mandate for these orientation classes.
“Tommy, can you give me an example of a guest’s unmentioned need?”
I wasn’t even wearing a name badge: these hospitality maniacs had actually learned everyone’s name.
“You can call me Trish. I’m the front office manager.”
“Well, ah, Trish . . .” That got a low laugh from the back of class. “Maybe they pull in a car, it’s dirty from the drive, and we could get it washed?”
“Wait up. You want I should drive the car back to my driveway in the Ninth Ward to wash it? Or bring in quarters from home?”
“Perry. You come to me anytime, and I’ll give you hotel money to wash a car, change a tire, or buy them a CD you know they’d like for the drive home. Anything you think of, you can come to me.”
The day before the grand opening the hotel closed off a block of Chartres Street (pronounced “Chart-ers,” by the way, completely disregarding the obvious Frenchness of the word; we also pronounce the street Calliope like “Cal-e-ope”; Burgundy comes out not like the color but “Ber-GUN-dy,” and just try to stutter out Tchoupitoulas Street or Natchitoches even close to correctly). We were collected into parade groups, our new managers holding up large, well-made signs indicating our departments. Front desk. Valet. Laundry. Sales and marketing. Bellmen. Doormen. Food and beverage. And housekeeping of course, by far the largest group, about 150 black ladies dressed as if they were going to a club. The valets hung together in a small clot, not saying much to each other, looking up at the finished, renovated hotel.
The vibe was celebratory and overwhelmingly positive. We were let in, one department after the oth…