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
Staff Writer

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But if you do see the guy parking your car at the very beginning, it's good to give him a dollar. Then he'll take care of your vehicle. Or if you see him when he comes back, it's good to give them a dollar, because it's a physically demanding job. They're running a lot.

Most bellmen and doormen are happy with $2 a bag. They wouldn't consider that generous, but they wouldn't consider that rude. If you've got two bags, I would just go ahead and round it up to $5 – $5 to the doorman, $5 to the bellman.

You said you might as well pay for the upgrade, but the point is, the front desk is not a tipped position, and they are the ones that are most likely going to provide you with an upgrade, because we are the ones who have access to all the room features and all the room types. So your money goes much farther with a front desk agent because they're not used to getting it.

Q: If being a bellman is such a great job that people stay in it forever, why should someone who is really strapped for cash themselves feel guilty about carrying their own bags?

A: At a luxury property, (bellmen) might be making a decent amount of money, but in other situations, maybe not. In New York, if you've got a 500-room hotel, the possibility of getting (tips) and making a decent living is much increased. Now, if you've got a smaller hotel of 30 or 40 or 50 rooms, and you get a smaller city or boutique hotel, that one's going to pull in a lot less money.

Not to mention, the job is physically demanding. You're constantly hoisting those bags. There's a lot of bellmen who, toward the end of their career, have a lot of physical problems – shoulder problems, a whole lot of knee and hip problems, foot problems from being constantly on your feet. It is a difficult position. I can see where you're going with that, but it's not as if the money isn't deserved.

Q: That's not what I was getting at. I was feeling sorry for, say, the single mom where every penny counts. Is there a polite way to say, "No thanks, I can carry my own bag," without worrying about retribution from the staff?

A: There is definitely a polite way to turn down a bellman. They know that not everyone needs help. It could be a businesman; he's done this 6,000 times and he knows how to get to the room. Just being polite. Speaking to the bellmen in person.

One of their biggest pet peeves was when they would be standing there trying to assist you, and yet the guest would tell me, "You know what? I don't need any help with my luggage." Of course, they're telling me, but the bellman is standing right next to them. (They're treating him) as if he's not a person, or they're afraid of him. So turn to the bellman and say, "You know what? I really appreciate it, but I think I got this." No bellman is ever going to be angry at that. The service is not mandatory.

Q: What are the top two or three things hotel guests do, besides not tipping, that will instantly tick off the staff?

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