3 months. Oops. With COVID-19, it's been a bit of a strange few months. I haven't left the house too much aside from grocery shopping and a trip to visit family (we stayed sanitary, no judgements). Along with hundreds, if not thousands, of others I was officially laid off which gives me an opportunity to get out of Hospitality for the time being and find something else that I might enjoy and involves less yelling.
I figured today I would just write down some of my thoughts on the current state of the world and hospitality in general. Today I decided to walk around and try out my new face mask (safety first)!
Tipping is probably one of, if not the most, controversial topics when it comes to customer service. Everyone knows the standard 15-20% tip for your server when you go out to dinner but what should you tip the Concierge who recommended that restaurant or the door man who got you a cab? What about the bellman who brought your bags to the room when you checked in? Is it customary to tip the Front Desk agent who gave you a complimentary upgrade or moved your room for you? Well let's find out!
The question I was asked most as a bellman (aside from "What's the WiFi password") was "How much should I tip you?" I was not a fan of this question for a few reasons: A.) my first answer is always going to be "$1,000". If you want to know what I really want, that's it. What you're really asking is "How low can I go without feeling guilty?" B.) I don't know what is in your wallet so even if I said $20 and you're okay with that you may only have $5 on you and then it's a game of me saying "That's fine, don't worry about it" and you saying "No no! I'll catch you later" then mistaking me with another bellman and giving him $15 for something he didn't do. C.) It's just awkward. Ask anyone but me how much to tip me. Even if you have to lie and say you don't have cash but you'll get me later and then asking the Front Desk, that's fine. Just don't ask me. Now, all of this being said, I never ever expected a tip. Yes, it was part of the job and yes it was "expected" but it was never expected. That way, if I didn't get a tip (yes, it happened) then I wasn't disappointed.
There isn't a standard rate per bag in the industry. It varies based on where you are, the level of the hotel, how many bags you have, and sometimes even the weather that day. For example, if you have two medium sized bags and the bellman just rolls alongside you in the hall, I'd say a buck or two per bag would be fine. However, if those bags were 20-30lbs each and the elevator is broken and you're on the 5th floor, maybe bump it to $5 per bag. If you have two carts worth of items I'd say again either a buck per bag/item (guitar, dog crate, surfboard, etc) or $20 whichever is higher. If it takes two bellman, just split it evenly between them. Again, if there are extenuating circumstances (elevator broken, monsoon outside, sweltering heat wave, etc) then maybe throw a couple extra bucks to them as a thank you.
Bellman are not the only ones you can or should tip however. Depending on the situation, it is entirely appropriate to tip the Front Desk Agent as well. This can be very tricky because you don't want to tip the Front Desk for something that someone else will be doing or should be doing. For example, don't tip the Front Desk Agent and then not give anything to the housekeeper or bellman who actually brought it. Make sure the one who makes the delivery gets tipped since they are doing the actual work and tip the Agent on top of that if you're feeling generous. If the agent gives you a complimentary upgrade out of the blue, a tip is also appreciated although never required or expected. If the agent goes out of their way to assist you with something last minute (you forgot flowers for an anniversary, champagne for a new engagement, etc) a tip is recommended as this can take a lot of time for the agent that they may not necessarily have. Now, if they go out of their way of their own volition to do something nice for you that you did not ask for, that does not require a tip on your part unless you are truly appreciative and want to do that. I once checked in a guest who asked if the Boston Creme Pie was actually invented in Boston (where I was working at the time) and I had no idea so I found out that it was actually invented at a hotel just down the street from us (the Omni Parker House on School Street). Once I was done with the check in, I called over to the hotel and ordered two for the guests. I then walked over and had them waiting in the room for when the guests got back. They were super appreciative of the gesture and it made me happy to see them so excited. The thought of a tip never even entered my mind and I don't even remember if I got one because it was something I did to make their stay better not to fatten my wallet. Things like this are not necessary to tip for unless you truly want to.
In my opinion, Concierge (aside from bellman) have the most opportunity for tipping. Almost anything they do is grounds for a gratuity. If they make a reservation at a restaurant for you maybe throw them a $5. If they help you print a boarding pass, maybe a buck or two if you're feeling generous. If they get you last minute seats to Hamilton or a table for two at 3pm on Valentines Day, then maybe a $10 or $20 is in order. Most of what the concierge does is based on your requests and should be treated as such. If you're asking for their assistance, you should thank them for it. Especially in today's age of OpenTable, Stub Hub, and Mobile Boarding Passes, if you're asking a concierge to assist you with things that you can do on an app, you should be tipping them.
An often overlooked position is the hotel Doorman. I'll admit: I don't generally tip simply for opening the door. I definitely tip if they help with my luggage or get me a cab or recommend a bar in the area while waiting for an Uber. These would be along the same rules as concierge or bellman: a buck per bag or recommendation or something along those lines. Anything is appreciated in my experience.
If you leave your car with valet, it is a good idea to tip them whenever you request your car. Yes, parking at hotels is more and more expensive every year but these guys are running back and forth all day and should be tipped as a token of appreciation. If you're staying for a while and tip well this also makes the 15-20 minute wait that everyone else has a little shorter for you. I would recommend a couple dollars each time they retrieve or park your car.
Last but not least: Housekeeping. This is a thankless job and often times tips are a large part of their paycheck so I generally tip $5 per night. A lot of people make the excuse "I didn't request service during my stay" or "Well I only stayed one or two nights and they have to clean the room anyway so why should I tip them?" Because it's the civil thing to do for the person who is cleaning the sheets you just slept in buck naked and who is cleaning the toilet you just destroyed after getting food poisoning. The housekeeper is the one who makes the room look and feel like you're the first person to ever step foot in that room. That deserves a thank you.
I hope this helped anyone who may have had questions or were worried they were under or over tipping. It is a very fluid subject and not one that I had realized had so many shades of grey until I sat down to actually write this post. There are a lot of moving parts to take into consideration when tipping people and the best piece of advice would just to do what you think is right. But don't ever give pocket change. Ever. It's insulting and we will remember you. Leave a comment with your thoughts or any questions or comments you may have!
Today I just have a few amusing anecdotes about some of the ridiculous questions we get from time to time. These are from a few coworkers as well as some I've had myself.
A few weeks ago, those of us in the United States just "sprang ahead" and had to move our clocks ahead one hour for Daylight Savings Time. My colleague received a call from one of our guests who asked "What time is it?" Now, in this day and age, that's kind of a ridiculous question as there are most likely at least 3 clocks in the room: the actual clock, the TV, and the guest's smartphone. My colleague, being a professional, doesn't laugh at the crazy question and answers "Good Afternoon, it is 1:20pm." The guest replies "No, but we just jumped ahead. What time is it?" My colleague, once again the professional, replies "Yes sir, it is 1:20pm." The guest once again, now irate: "No, you don't understand. We jumped ahead last night. What time is it now?" Once again, he replies: "It is 1:20pm." The guest then hangs up on him. It amuses me that this guest not only didn't look at his own devices but, when told the time by an employee, believed he was either being lied to or thought my coworker was so stupid that he either A.) did not understand the question or B.) did not know the simple math involved if our clocks didn't automatically update. Welcome to Hospitality.
Due to Covid-19 my city, just like many others, implemented a ban on dining in restaurants. Restaurants and bars can only do take-out or delivery service. No exceptions. One of my colleagues at the Front Desk received a call just yesterday asking if our restaurant is open. "Unfortunately, due to the State of Emergency and the declaration by the Governor, (restaurant name here) is closed until further notice." "Oh okay.. Well can you make a reservation for next Monday for lunch?" "Unfortunately, sir, we cannot break the law and open the restaurant." Welcome to Hospitality.
I'm going to say this right at the start: I don't have any insider tips or anything for getting deals or free cancellation or anything in regards to the new coronavirus otherwise known as COVID-19. This post is more to talk about the current effects it's having on myself and the industry as I see it. Right now, my hotel is heavily restricting hours for non-essential positions but holding out as much as possible to not close so those who can work and get hours can still be paid. The hotel is also assisting with unemployment and hosting job fairs for those of us who aren't necessarily laid off but have no hours. The last resort is closing the hotel and it seems like they are doing everything they can to not do that.
This seems to be a trend in the industry currently: waiting till the last possible second to close to try to help as many employees as possible even when occupancy is at (most likely) historic lows. Restaurants and bars have already been closed in many cities and some only offer delivery or take out services to try to maintain some sort of profit and normalcy during this strange time in our history. In a time when it seems like companies are only out for the highest shareholders and executives, it's nice to know that at least someone in the chain of command cares about us worker bees.
Looking at LinkedIn, one would think that remote work or working from home is something anyone can do and should take advantage of. I have seen dozens of posts and articles about "How to work from home" or "10 Ways to Stay Productive while working from home". I keep wondering where the articles are to collect unemployment or for job fairs in the area or anyone offering side jobs at their now understaffed businesses (medical product manufacturing, hospitals, etc.). Maybe it's just because of my connections that they aren't posting things like that but I haven't seen a single article or post like that.
This shows, in my opinion, how invisible we are in customer service. Everyone seems so focused on remote work for white collar positions and how no one can go to the bars on St. Patty's day but they don't think about how the bartender at their favorite bar now may not make rent next month or the waitress at their brunch spot can't make her car payments because of these restaurant closures. Instead of offering articles on how to continue to work in a different setting (give me a break), how about we offer some solutions for those of us who are out of work and are at risk of spending our small bit of savings trying to stay afloat until we get new jobs or our businesses open up?
This is uncharted territory for everyone. While we've had world changing events like 9/11, the SARS epidemic, Avian Flu, Swine Flu, Ebola, etc. none have had the continuous international effect like COVID-19. We all need to stick together (but not too close) and help one another in these trying times and hopefully we can get out the other side relatively unscathed and maybe even closer to our neighbors because of it.
This is one of my first stories in hospitality. I was a bellman at a coastal hotel that had five buildings across its campus. Three of these buildings were almost their own hotels; they each had multiple rooms for different guests but guests still had to check in at the main building. The remaining two were cottages that a single family could rent which were very expensive compared to our normal rooms. The particular buildings in this story are Outer Building (OB) and Oceanview Cottage (OC). OC has 5 bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, 3 bathrooms, and a view of the ocean. Also note it was raised, so you had to take a small set of steps up to the actual building. These two buildings are the two farthest apart buildings on property; there is no clear-cut path from one to the other with a bell cart.
One hot, humid, sunny day a massive SUV pulls up and out pours a family of five with the largest amount of luggage I had ever seen. They check-in at the main building and one of my bellman agrees to meet them over at OB to help them unpack. While it's strenuous work, he gets it done and that's the end of it. Or, should be the end of it. A few hours later, we get a few complaints from the other guests in the building that there is screaming and children being way too loud in OB. Well we are almost sold out so the only place we can move them to is OC. We offer this move complimentary as there is no other option to move them too and they are disturbing our other guests. The family agrees and I'm sent over to move their bags. Normally, this wouldn't be an issue: load the bags into the SUV and meet them at the other building to unpack. That is not what happened. This family decided they just wanted to drive and get settled in so I was tasked with dragging every bag they had to OC with my bell cart. I smile and agree because that's my job and I'm already sweating through my uniform. So the family drives off and I start dragging their bags to my cart which eventually fills up to the literal edges. There isn't space for a mouse to fart on this cart.
Remember, OB and OC are the farthest apart buildings (a couple hundred yards) but this is where it's tricky. There are two ways to go: A.) drag the cart down the sidewalk on the main road which is hilly and dangerous or B.) drag it through a dirt parking lot and grassy backyard of the OC. I chose option B. So there I am, dragging a metric tonne of luggage in 80+F weather with ungodly humidity, pulling this cart over dirt and gravel, through hedges, over untamed grass, and through an alley between a fence and the building that I had no business fitting through. Finally I get to the OC, drenched in sweat and gasping for air. I put on as much professionalism as I can and start dragging the bags up the staircase. They do not offer assistance. Once I'm done, I let them know if they need anything else, to please call the Front Desk. I usually said this A.) to let them know I was done and to get their wallets ready if they so chose and B.) to genuinely let them know if they needed anything, that we were always around. The patriarch thanks me and says he doesn't have cash so he'll have to get me later. (Right...) I don't have the energy to even be disappointed and I usually don't expect tips anyway since that way I'm never disappointed so it's fine. I drag my cart back to the Main Building and attempt to not go into cardiac arrest, thankful that I won't have to deal with them anymore.
I come into work the next day happy and ready for a new day. The humidity and heat from the day prior have disappeared and given way to clouds which threaten to open up at any minute. I'm thrilled since there is nothing quite like watching a thunderstorm roll over the ocean from the deck of your hotel. It's just amazing. About halfway through my shift, the rain starts and it. is. a. downpour. This is like that scene in Forrest Gump where he's in Vietnam and drawls "Little bitty stingin' rain, and big ol' fat rain, rain that flew in sideways, and sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot, it even rained at night." I was loving it. Then we get a call. "We need to move rooms! Our room is going to flood! We don't feel safe!" Guess who? Yup. Family of 5. Well, we are sold out, that was a comp upgrade, and they are not flooding. The building it raised and it has not rained nearly enough to even come close to "flooding". My 5'0 manager tells them as such and offers come down, in the pouring rain, to talk to them and see about the flooding. The guests agree anxiously and my manager dons a rain coat that goes down to her shins, removes her heels, and walks down barefoot in the driving rain, to meet with the guests. (She was such a badass. I was giggling like a madman the entire time.) They insist on moving to the Main Building where they can be safe. They "don't even need rooms, they can just sleep on cots in the hallway!" That's not happening for a long list of reasons (guest safety, fire safety, hotel policy, just not happening, to name a few).
Long story short, they agree to stay in OC but my manager drives their 7ft tall SUV up to the main building so the engine doesn't get flooded by an inch and a half of water. I believe they did end up moving one more time but I was not the lucky one to move them back up to the main building. Oh, and that tip he forgot to give me? $3. For over a dozen bags dragged across kingdom come, he gave me $3. They came back the next year but that is a story for another time.
Our first impressions of people can make a world of difference. The Front Desk makes these first impressions for the hotel which gives the guest an impression of what their hotel experience will be like. What most people don't realize is that it's also a first impression of a guest. We're also getting an impression of what the guest will be like. If the check-in is smooth and friendly, we have a pretty good idea that the guest will not be an issue for their stay. However, if the guest comes in and immediately starts demanding room upgrades, the "best views on the highest floors" then we know that they will most likely be an issue for the remainder of their stay.
When we are working, we see hundreds of people a day (maybe thousands at the bigger resorts) and we are expected to treat every guest like they are our first check-in. We don't get to be tired and not converse because we are generally your first impression of the property or even the city and so we have to be constantly "on". Think about how much energy this must take: to constantly smile and try to converse with people who generally do not want to talk to you over and over for 8 hours. It can be exhausting. But guess what? One guest asking us how we are doing and making an effort to converse with us beyond "Man, the weather is great" replenishes that energy and then some.
Now, most people are civil but rarely, if ever, do people actually ask how we are or get to know us. We are means to an end, a voice on the phone, and the email telling you "You're confirmed." Very few guests get to know our names let alone ask how our days are or converse past the idle check in chit chat. And that's fine. We understand that people are visiting because they have meetings, a vacation, family to see, etc. They are not here to socialize with the random person checking them in. However, making some small conversation during the check in and reciprocating the questions can make our day. It's a small thing, but simply showing a tiny bit of genuine interest in how we are doing can improve our mood and make the check-in a more interesting experience than "Sign here, initial here, and here are your keys."
This is a very simple thing to do that can affect your trip very positively or very negatively. Just by being nice and getting to know people, I have gotten comp room upgrades, spa upgrades, free drinks, desserts, and food. Now, a lot of people will read this and think "Oh, sweet! Free upgrades for life!" but that's A.) not a guarantee and B.) not the point. You can ask a thousand agents how their days went and not get anything but you know what? You've made a thousand people's days. You've helped a thousand people get through one more check in. And I'm willing to bet you've made a few new friends (even just for that trip) and some great memories. It's a small thing that can have great benefits for everyone involved.
One of the things I want to be able to do on this blog is offer tips to make your trip a little more enjoyable or maybe help make the more rocky trips get back on track. This can be as easy as thanking the doorman who opens the door for you or making polite conversation during the check-in process. (Yes, it is really that simple. I have gone ten extra miles out of my way for a guest simply because they smiled and asked how I was during a check-in.) These small things that most people take for granted in their day-to-day lives mean the world to us in Hospitality because, more often than not, we are treated like drones or servants rather than people. When someone comes to us with a complaint or an issue and talks to us in a civil manner and treats us with respect, we are 1,000 times more likely to want to help that person than the lunatic who stomps to the front of the line and demands to speak to a manager because their complimentary suite upgrade isn't big enough. I'll delve more into these later in separate posts.
I'm also going to debunk some of the more popular travel myths out there (free room upgrades, price matching, etc.). Websites and magazines are always offering up "13 Things the Front Desk Doesn't Want You to Know" or "5 Insider Secrets to Use on Your Next Vacation". These articles often include misleading or blatantly false information that they know the reader will latch onto and bring to the hotel. Do these sources care? Absolutely not, because they do not have the deal with the fallout. They simply print and wipe their hands of it. There are many examples of this which I plan to explain in more detailed, individual posts in the future.
Now for a bit of a disclaimer: I am human. I will do my best to write as neutrally as possible and keep my personal views of certain stories, tips, and myths out of it but I can't always guarantee that I will be successful. I have left the comment sections open so feel free to leave a comment with any questions, comments, or suggestions so I can improve and make this a fun and enjoyable place to come!
I have nearly a decade of experience in hospitality across the country. With this experience comes some stories to tell and advice to give.