Deep Dish: Life Behind the Scenes.

Secrets unlocked! “Key to the open door” by Tawheed Manzoor (Source: Flickr)

Nope, I’m not talking about the famous Chicago pizza — although that would be real nice to have right about now. 🙂

We’re a week into 2014, and I do hope things are going well for everyone so far. On my end, I’m relatively fresh off a four-day beach holiday with family — which clearly requires a “recovery” holiday for many reasons — and I’m still dealing with extreme wanderlust; sunburn; peeling skin; and really huge, itchy and nasty bites on my arms, shoulders and hands from sea mites and bugs. (Yuck.)

Remember, kids. Don’t be like Tita KC and leave the shore without slathering on sunblock! You will pay for it dearly, and quickly.

Before 2013 ended and before I left for Pico de Loro in Nasugbu, I crossed two awesome books off my lengthy reading list. We all love tell-alls, and the two titles certainly held up their end of the deal. They dished about what really goes on behind the scenes of the wide-ranging US service industry — and the complete craziness that transpires even at the “front of the house” whenever guests and customers aren’t looking or paying attention. They also made me look back (and cringe) at everything I’ve done while on holiday or out to eat, and certain things stayed with me even during this very recent vacation. Yeah, many of those confessions will get stuck in your brain, even if you don’t want them to.

Giving us the lowdown on hotel and kitchen life: Kitchen Confidential: Insider’s Edition by Anthony Bourdain, and Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky

More importantly, these two memoirs helped me have a much bigger appreciation for everyone who has ever worked in the hotel and culinary industries, from the bigwigs to those doing the thankless grunt work. To all the unsung heroes inside hotels and kitchens: I salute you. Thanks for putting up with us mean and demanding heads and mouths. 😛 Or… thank you, ma’amsir!

“My pleasure”

If Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project made me feel like I was sitting in a cozy coffee shop, hanging out with a girl friend I haven’t seen in years, then going through Jacob Tomsky‘s Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality was like ditching my happy and enlightened BFF in the middle of her Zen-ny spiel and heading straight to a rowdy bar to down shots with the guys, with Tomsky holding court in a corner table and shouting his stories over the damn stug-stug-stug blaring from basag speakers all the way to sunrise.

Wanna live the hotel life? Read this beforehand.

Not that it was a pain to “listen” to him. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Truth be told, I haven’t turned pages and been that excited to move on to the next chapters in… well, a long time. Tomsky’s casual/conversational writing style, outrageous stories and anecdotes about his life from Valet (“Valet 4 Life, motherfuckers!”) to Front Desk to Housekeeping and back to the Desk (and from New Orleans to New York), and excellent and frequent use of sarcasm and profanity had me staying up until 5AM, reading and literally laughing out loud.

Here’s a small sample. Valet parkers using your car for driving lessons or racing sessions, and beating each other up for stealing the other’s lined-up car keys. Rated-X surprises blown up in storage closets strictly for staff use during breaks. Elevator fistfights. Drunken hot messes bouncing off the walls. Night managers peeing in stairwells. Endless sexing between hotel staff. Guests who exhibit untoward behavior getting key-bombed or having bellman piss mixed into their perfume. The possibility of guests using Pledge-cleaned glassware right after Housekeeping leaves. The LOLs are aplenty here.

Another perk of being at the Front Desk (aside from the tips): you get to meet celebrities, and know their aliases and back stories. It doesn’t fully make up for all the nasty encounters with cheap and mean customers, but it helps. I liked the sections where Tomsky talks about his encounters with Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys (from p.179: “I’m so sorry you had to die for our sins, Brian, and thank you so much”) and the starving, thin Nickelodeon actress who complained they don’t get fed anything on set. It also makes me want to give Brian a really big hug if ever I’m lucky enough to see/meet him.

Beyond the funny stories, jokes and anecdotes, Heads in Beds tells readers how to get ahead and snag a few extras while making hotel staff happy as well, and treating them with decency and respect. We may be on holiday, but we’re still guests in their “house”. Tomsky looks at both sides and tells readers how to work with the other so that everyone’s all fine and dandy during your stay and in future visits. If working in hotels is like being a voyeur, as the author puts it, then we readers get to be in the same position as he doles out tips, tricks and lessons learned from long and repetitive years of hotel work. I really appreciate the handy details on:

  • Room bookings, pre-registration, advance/rush check-ins (read p.97 now!), getting a new room, and room upgrades
  • Why and how customers get bumped to other hotels
  • How hotel staff really look at and treat budget-site bookers
  • Tipping, and why it should be treated like any other hotel transaction
  • Housekeeping tricks — oh yes, there’s more
  • How to beat “erroneous” minibar and in-room entertainment costs
  • The front-desk script that effectively induce tips and guest guilt (p.105)
  • Staff unions
  • Overall staff conduct behind guests’ backs
  • The lies that staff say to guests.

There are more tips at the end of the book. I’m not sure if all tips and tricks are applicable here in the Philippines (particularly tipping and quality of service), but if they are… umayos kayo. Hotel staff gossip about guests. All. The. Time. And word gets around real fast. Don’t worry. Many things have changed since Tomsky wrote this book — at least in the hotel he worked in.

Which brings us to the people who go through the front doors and work within them. As we marvel at the hotel itself and enjoy its amenities, we also become fodder for the hotel staff. I loved Tomsky’s observations on living in New Orleans and NYC, and the people who go in and out of hotels — businessfolk, tourists, families, loners/solo travelers, the hard-to-please visitors, tryst-ers, creatives, and prostitutes. The staff see us on the other side, and as Tomsky said, sometimes they’d like to be on that side, too — probably the biggest pitfall of working long-term in the service industry.

The only thing I didn’t like about Heads in Beds is that it kinda left me hanging in the end. And then? What happens next? Bitin.

Well, then. I’ll have to wait for Heads in Beds 2. 😉

Remember, readers. Always tip; always accept offers of service; there’s no need to tell wild stories just to get your way; never lose your cool when dealing with staff; and know that you’ll have a permanent record on the hotel system for future reference, so behave accordingly. Also, “there is always, always a better room,” and “don’t sign anything but your paycheck”!

P.S.: Who is Ginger Smith?

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality, Jacob Tomsky
E-book, Knopf Doubleday
Buy: National Book Store/Kobo Books | Fully Booked | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

(Next: “On and off the burner” — Kitchen Confidential: Insider’s Edition by Anthony Bourdain)