November 25, 2012

Author Q & A: Service with some bile

Jacob Tomsky, whose new book dishes on the underbelly of the hospitality industry, is being compared to Anthony Bourdain.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

If you've ever been in a hotel and wondered how to outsmart the minibar or the in-room movie ordering system, Jacob Tomsky has the scoop on how you can drink all the little bottles of bourbon you want for free while catching a new flick on your television without being charged for it.

His snarky new memoir about the hotel industry, "Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality" (Doubleday, $25.95), spills the beans on valets and how they really treat your Mercedes when you're not looking.

Tomsky, who lives in Brooklyn and is already being compared to food author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain, explains how easy it is to get a complimentary upgrade and lots of free amenities (just pass the front desk agent a "baby brick" – a $20 bill), and why you'll always be given the worst room if you book online through a discount website.

This tell-all isn't likely to make Tomsky any new friends in hotel management, but his behind-the-scenes look at life in the industry and his passionate defense of tipping hotel workers (and treating them like human beings) will likely have the folks who clean your room cheering.

And you too, if you take his advice on how to save money during your hotel stay.

Q: I'm a little unclear after reading the book: Are you still working in the hotel industry?

A: At the time I was composing the book I was, but now I'm a full-time writer, which is wonderful.

Q: In the beginning of the book, it seemed as if you were actually proud of providing great service and got some enjoyment out of it. The second half, you seem much more jaded and all about the tips. After doing this for so long, did you get any enjoyment out of it at the end?

A: Anytime you do something for that long, it's going to be harder to enjoy it. The arc of the book, at the beginning I was a little bit happier, a little bit starry-eyed, and then there's a transition in the hotel where I worked where new management takes over and it becomes sort of an angry situation.

But you know, there was always constant joy in dealing with nice people. It had nothing to do with tips. Newlyweds would come in, and I'd make sure that they had a wonderful experience.

One of the wonderful things about being front desk, I speak in the book about being instant karma. If you came in and you said something homophobic and racist or mean or rude, or you yelled at somebody, then I was in a position to make your stay horrible. If you came in and were a wonderful person and were super-kind and excited to be here, I could make your stay 15 times better.

Q: I want to talk about tipping a little bit. It occurred to me that if you tip everyone as much and as often as you suggest, you might as well pay for the upgrades yourself. For the average Joe, what are the true expectations of a valet, a bellman and a front desk agent?

A: The standard for a valet would be a dollar or two. Sometimes they don't even work for the property. They work for an outside garage, and oftentimes you won't even see them when they take your vehicle, because they will call for the valet.

(Continued on page 2)

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