Every traveler who has ever stayed at a hotel can relate to checking in at the hotel front desk. If you are traveling out-of-town, you are probably exhausted and edgy from your trip, and you may also be uncomfortably weighed down by cumbersome baggage. Under these circumstances, it's easy to forget that the person at the other side of the desk is a human—rather than an anonymous extension of a brand or of a large hotel chain.
Once you read Jacob Tomsky's new memoir, Heads In Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So Called Hospitality (Doubleday, 2012), you'll definitely be more mindful of how you treat the person opposite you upon check-in. According to Tomsky, that hotel employee wields far more power over your stay than you might imagine.
After ten years of working in the hotel industry, the author has a lot to get off his chest. He's clearly angry at how he and other hotel staff were treated by his former employers, and also angry with many of his guests who appear to have made unreasonable demands. So he has written this tell-all, with plenty of admonitions, that allows the reader to get inside the heads of the staff you're likely to encounter on future hotel stays.
While the book is well written and filled with engaging anecdotes, some of Tomsky's suggestions for guests seem dubious. For example, he boldly suggests the strategy of discretely "tipping" the front desk clerk upon your arrival while simultaneously asking for a room upgrade. There are long discussions on Trip Advisor about whether or not the "$20 trick" works. One reader suggests that people may be wasting their money to try, even in Vegas, because she gets the same upgrades by being kind. Similarly, a discussion on one of the Frommer's travel forums suggests these aren't tips; rather they are outright bribes.
There is a great deal of useful information, too: advice on how to complain, why you shouldn't expect the best rooms when booking through Expedia or other third-parties, and what not to say to the person at the hotel front desk. But the author also expounds on how to get free in-room movies, avoid minibar charges, and make same-day room cancellations without incurring charges. Many would characterize the solutions he proposes as dishonest and/or unethical.
Despite this, Tomsky is a wonderful storyteller and so the reader is likely to get caught up in his colorful descriptions of the bellhops, doormen, chambermaids, union reps, and managers he's encountered in the industry. And, in the end, like Barbara Ehrenreich's more weighty exposé, Nickel and Dimed, the book will change your hotel stays by providing more insight and compassion for the real people behind the uniforms.