Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

by Jacob Tomsky

If you travel frequently you might be curious about the inner workings of hotels. The subtitle captures the essence of this book: “a reckless memoir of hotels, hustles, and so-called hospitality.” Jacob Tomsky starts out at a luxury hotel in New Orleans as a valet parking attendant, working his way up to positions of increasing responsibility. Later he moves to New York City and settles in as a front desk agent. He shares many stories about guests and employees, although “to protect the guilty and innocent alike” he has changed the names of the hotels and people he writes about.

Should you feel safe leaving your property unattended in a hotel? Consider the story about Tomsky teaching a coworker how to drive a manual transmission. “We burned the life out of a guest’s clutch teaching Eddie to drive. It smelled like a metal-and-oil barbecue up there.”

“Service is not about being up-front and honest. Service is about minimizing negatives and creating the illusion of perfection. Here’s how it’s done: Lie. Smile. Finesse. Barter. Convince. Lie again. Smile again.”

Along the way he explains various aspects of how hotels work, such as:

  • Walking a guest when a hotel is oversold.
  • The most disputed charge on a hotel bill.
  • Flipping the system (when last night becomes this morning).
  • How card-key locks work.
  • How employees rip off the hotel.

He also offers advice to hotel guests regarding:

  • What you should and shouldn’t do when you have a complaint.
  • How to arrange for an early-morning arrival.
  • Why reservations from Internet discount sites are given the worst rooms.
  • Whom to tip.

“Most guests put money in the wrong hands. If you really want your stay to improve, whom do you think you should tip? The bellman? The doorman? The concierge? … Those animals work for tips. Dropping money on them is extremely normal, so unless you make your presence felt with a brick [$100], it’s not going to elicit much more than a smile and a thank-you. But drop a twenty, a baby brick, on a front desk agent, and something has shifted. It works because, for us, it is a commitment. We become indebted to you.”

“Does all this seem morally corrupt?” Well, yes. Tomsky rationalizes by arguing that he is creating customer loyalty from which the hotel will profit.

Tomsky started out with ambitions of becoming a hotel general manager. His first manager gave him this advice: “You’ll be a manager soon… But before that happens, take the time to analyze the managers you have now. Pay attention to the way they treat you and the rest of the staff. Are they too friendly? Not friendly enough? Are they enforcers? Company drones? Too lenient or never, ever lenient? Just keep your eye on them, watch how their attitudes either cause or eliminate problems, and then, when you get to be a manager, you can pick and choose the type of manager you want to be, the type of manager your employees will think you are. Start thinking about that now and you will be successful.”

By the end of the book he has a much darker perspective.

Tomsky, Jacob. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-called Hospitality. New York: Doubleday, 2012. Buy from Amazon.com