2012. Doubleday. Hardcover. 247 pages.
After earning an oh-so-marketable philosophy degree, Jacob Tomsky took a job valet parking at a New Orleans restaurant. Thanks to a tip from a fellow disgruntled valet, he upgraded to becoming valet at newly opened luxury hotel. And so he unwittingly embarked on a career in the luxury hotel business which led him eventually from valet to the front desk, and from the Big Easy to the Big Apple. In Heads in Beds, Tomsky freely dishes on his behind-the-scenes experiences, though he does change the names of places and people. He even changes his own name to Thomas in the story, which is odd since his real name is presumably on the book jacket.
The subtitle of Heads in Beds is “A Reckless Memoir of Hotel, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality” and for me, the most interesting part of this memoir was the hustling for tips. I have never worked for tips: in college, I accurately judged my shy personality was not up to food service, and that I better stick to working retail. But I have had plenty of friends who did wait tables, and partly due to their stories, I don’t skimp on tips. But earning tips in a hotel environment seems a harder gig because the contact with the doorman, the front desk and the bellhop are much briefer experiences than a waiter would get. But as Tomsky puts it: “All over the world, bellmen are serious about a dollar, but in New York everyone is serious about a dollar, so that makes the bellmen absolutely psychotic about a dollar” (p. 84) At Thomas’ hotel, the bellmen would keep personal lists of frequent, high-tipping guests and make sure to be that guest’s particular bellman during their stay. Thomas himself made sure to alert the bellmen and the doormen to good tippers, and all the staff would bend over backwards to give those guests all the perks in their power to give. Tomsky is frank: he is not moved by stories of anniversaries or first visits to New York, but wrap a $20 aruond your credit card, and he’ll see what he can do for you. I liked getting a peek into the hustling mindset, though I’m quite happy not to be well-versed in it myself.
The story of hotels is the story of three groups of people: fellow staff, management and the guests. Tomsky is especially fond when describing his co-workers at the New Orleans hotel. And one of his New Yorker co-workers Orianna basically saves his job when she corners him in the men’s bathroom and badgers him into signing a union card. Not too long after, new management takes over the hotel (which Tomsky has named the Bellevue), and everyone non-union is summarily fired.
The story arc of the memoir seems to be that of steadily worsening management. The New Orleans’ management team seemed a decent group, in particular the General Manager who says at one point to Thomas:
Take care of our guests. They will love you for it. I will love you for it. I know you heard that lie we told you that every employee, every day, has a large available budget to service our guests in creative ways? It’s actually true. Use it. We will support you in your decisions.
In contrast, the new management of Bellevue is actively hostile to the union workers they were unable to fire, and are willing to undercut good guest service in pursuit of taking down their own employees. It all comes to a head later in the book for Thomas, who although a far from perfect employee, gets into trouble over things outside of his control.
As for the guests, Tomsky does get dishy about some of them, including Brian Wilson, but it’s not really new stuff here. Hotel guests run the same nice-to-mean gamut as customers everywhere. That said, there are still some interesting bad-guest and good-guest stories.
Tomsky includes a few tips for guests at the end such as “Things a Guest Should Never Say”, “Things a Guest Should Never Do”, and “Things Every Guest Must Know” (e.g. how to avoid a same-day cancellation penalty). I rarely stay in hotels, but if I ever do stay in a swanky hotel, I’ll remember to nicely tip all over the place, just to see exactly what difference in service I receive.
Excerpts from other reviews:
Curled Up With A Good Book and A Cup of Tea – “Tomsky writes in a down to earth, between friends, “you won’t believe the customer I had to today” manner that keeps you hooked the whole way through.”
Linus’ Blanket – “Tomsky isn’t able to provide much depth of perspective, and so mostly comes across as an angry employee, abusive of the power he has over hotel customers – though it seems that many rude and entitled customers may well be deserving of this treatment.”
Vulpes Libris – “The excessive swearing and slang make him seem younger than he really is, but also gives a raw, immediate feeling to the book. His behind the scenes accounts make us see the humanity behind all those faceless workers and shows how difficult and downright icky some of their duties are.”