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Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

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Overview

In the tradition of Kitchen Confidential and Waiter Rant, a rollicking, eye-opening, fantastically indiscreet memoir of a life spent (and misspent) in the hotel industry.
 
Jacob Tomsky has worked in hotels for more than a decade, doing everything from valet parking to manning the front desk. He’s checked you in, checked you out, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, parked your car, tasted your room service, cleaned your...

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Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality

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Overview

In the tradition of Kitchen Confidential and Waiter Rant, a rollicking, eye-opening, fantastically indiscreet memoir of a life spent (and misspent) in the hotel industry.
 
Jacob Tomsky has worked in hotels for more than a decade, doing everything from valet parking to manning the front desk. He’s checked you in, checked you out, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, parked your car, tasted your room service, cleaned your toilet, denied you a late check out, given you a wake-up call, eaten M&Ms out of your mini-bar, laughed at your jokes, and taken your money. And in Heads in Beds, he pulls back the curtain on the hospitality business, revealing the crazy yet compelling reality of an industry we think we know. It is an incredibly funny, authentic, and irreverent chronicle of the highs and lows of hotel life and boy, is there a market for it: in 2010, the American lodging industry generated $127.7 billion in revenue.  Prepare to be amused, shocked, and amazed as he spills the unwritten code of the bellhops, the antics that go on the valet parking garage, and the housekeeping department’s dirty little secrets.

Prepare to be moved, too, by his insightful honesty about the profession; employees are often poorly paid and frequently abused. However, Heads in Beds is more than just a memoir. Jake explains the secrets of the industry, offering easy and legal ways to get what you need from your hotel without any hassle—from scoring late check-ins and upgrades to getting that pay-per-view charge knocked off your bill. This book will give you the knowledge you need to get the very best service from any hotel or property, from any business that makes its money from putting heads in beds. Or, at the very least, it will keep the bellhops from taking your luggage into the camera-free back office and stomping the crap out of it.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

"I just hate the guests. They always say that hotels would be perfect without the guests." After ten years in the hotel business, Jacob Tomsky can't keep silent any longer. Have fielded thousands of visitors' weird questions, witnessed countless embarrassedly drunken tourists and previously unmentionable housekeeping crimes, he is now willing to tell it all. Delivered in outbursts of long pent-up emotions, he exposes the dirty linen (sometimes literal) of the hospitability industry. Required reading for your next hotel stay, Heads in Beds makes Kitchen Confidential seem tame. Now in trade paperback and NOOK Book. '

The New York Times
Heads in Beds is Mr. Tomsky's highly amusing guidebook to the dirty little secrets of the hospitality trade. But it is neither a meanspirited book nor a one-sided one. It tells the tale of how and why Mr. Tomsky worked his way up the industry ladder, beginning as a rubber-burning parking garage valet in New Orleans…and then making his way indoors. It views the worst species of hotel guests with a gimlet eye. But Mr. Tomsky also captures the thinking of hotel patrons who just want decent treatment…If this were simply a travel book of the news-you-can-use ilk, it would be of only minor interest. But Mr. Tomsky turns out to be an effervescent writer, with enough snark to make his stories sharp-edged but without the self-promoting smugness that sinks so many memoirs.
—Janet Maslin
The New York Times Book Review
…hilarious and eminently readable…It's part Anthony Bourdain, part Tucker Max…The prose is brisk and smart…an ideal gift for the career traveler in your life: an entertaining and informative read for a long flight or a quiet night in the hotel.
—Clancy Martin
Publishers Weekly
Those who want a hotel up-grade, who must make a same-day room cancellation without getting charged, or wonder why hotel water sometimes tastes like lemon Pledge need look no further than Tomsky’s memoir, a collection of stories, memories, and secrets about the hospitality business. Bouncing around various hotel jobs—bellman, housekeeping manager, front desk attendant—for more than a 10 years, he’s got the skinny that would make most travel sites blush. Follow his advice and you’ll be drinking from the mini-bar and watching in-room movies for free. But this is more than a collection of trade secrets; it’s a colorful tale filled with vibrant characters from crazy bellman to even crazier guests. Tomsky is a solid storyteller who is able to intricately detail all the insanity surrounding him. Agent: Farley Chase. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
Kitchen Confidential for hotel-goers. Tomsky is the ultimate hotel lifer. He's performed virtually every task that a hotel worker can perform, including room service, maid service, car service, concierge service, etc. (If nothing else, his debut memoir teaches us that it takes quite a few people to run a hotel.) Despite the many frustrations involved with the tasks of his job--not to mention having to deal with the exasperating clientele--Tomsky found a happy home in the hotel world. To many readers, this may not seem like a glamorous profession. However, when the author is passionate about his career and is able to express his passion on the page, it can be a joy to read about (see Kitchen Confidential). In his debut, Tomsky doesn't quite hit the top level, but he provides an enjoyable chronicle. From the opening bit about his adventures with valeting, it's clear that Tomsky worships at the altar of Anthony Bourdain, arguably his era's finest service memoirist. The comparisons between this book and Bourdain's work are inevitable, and Tomsky's didactic and sometimes overly lengthy explanations slow the book down. For many readers, the behind-the-scenes stories about hotels are intrinsically less interesting than those about restaurants, but the author's anecdotes are at best hilarious and at worst, mildly entertaining. Ultimately, Tomsky's enthusiasm for his profession and keen eye for detail keeps his book from becoming just another backstage look at the service industry. Lacks the spark of Bourdain's work, but readable and often engaging.
The Washington Post
[Jacob Tomsky's] sharp-witted, candid new book, Heads in Beds, demystifies the world of high-end hospitality so effectively that you'll start looking up rates at the Ritz.
—John Wilwol
From the Publisher
Praise for Heads in Beds:

"Heads in Beds is Mr. Tomsky’s highly amusing guidebook to the dirty little secrets of the hospitality trade. But it is neither a meanspirited book nor a one-sided one.... [H]e winds up sounding like an essentially honest, decent guy. And his observations about character are keen, perhaps because he’s seen it all.... If this were simply a travel book of the news-you-can-use ilk, it would be of only minor interest. But Mr. Tomsky turns out to be an effervescent writer, with enough snark to make his stories sharp-edged but without the self-promoting smugness that sinks so many memoirs.... Heads in Beds embraces the full, novelistic breadth of hotel experience.... [Tomsky] is no longer a hotel employee and now, with good reason, thinks of himself as a writer."
Janet Maslin, New York Times


"For those of us who'd rather live in good hotels than in our own homes, oh Lordy, is this ever a horrifyingly good time. It's the sort of equivalent of WebMD for hypochondriacs: You know you're learning way more than is good for you, but you just can't stop reading. Tomsky, who may be an even better writer than a hotelier (and he's a damn good hotelier) has worked every job and every shift; he takes us into the bowels (sometimes literally) of the hotel business, with all the pomp and circumstance, the hidden filth, and the fears and aspirations and secrets of guests and staff alike."—Judith Newman, People (4 Stars)

"For the uninitiated, staying at a luxury hotel can be a little intimidating.... [But] front desk raconteur Jacob Tomsky is here to help. His sharp-witted, candid new book, Heads in Beds, demystifies the world of high-end hospitality.... Coarse, smart and wickedly funny, the author delivers hilarious caricatures of the hotel guests and colleagues he has encountered over the years.... Tightly written and laced with delicious insider tips."—John Wilwol, Washington Post

"A wonderfully indiscreet veteran of the hospitality industry, Jacob Tomsky knows his way around a hotel."PARADE

"Room upgrades. Free movies. Late checkouts. Jacob Tomsky promises readers the keys to the hotel industry kingdom in his tell-all book, Heads in Beds. The one-time philosophy major has spent more than a decade working in the industry and, like room service, he delivers the goods.... Beyond tips, Tomsky has packed his book with outrageous anecdotes about guests...[and] the hotel staff too.... Tomsky has only worked at hotels in New Orleans and New York, so readers may wonder if his tips will work anywhere else. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But his stories are so good, it almost doesn’t matter."—Jessica Gresko, Associated Press

“Jacob Tomsky is a star. The kid writes like a dream. Heads in Beds is hilarious, literate, canny, indignant and kind—revealing an author who manages somehow to be both a total hustler and a complete humanitarian. I love this book. Keep an eye on this writer. I’m telling you, he’s a star.”
—Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia

“And I thought I had it bad when I worked in restaurants! Heads in Beds is a hilarious, informative, and naughty peek at what really happens behind the glitz and glamour of the hotel experience. Not content with dispensing advice on how to get a better room or avoiding the vengeful wrath of bellhops, maids, doormen, and front-desk clerks, Tomsky also spins a touching yarn on how he kept his dignity and humanity intact while dealing with insufferable guests, Expedia wannabes, predatory hotel managers, conniving coworkers, and the occasional pervert. After reading this book, you’ll become either a better-educated hotel guest who constantly receives great service—or realize why you always get that noisy room by the elevator shaft. As a survivor of America’s dysfunctional hospitality industry, I highly recommend this book.”
—Steve Dublanica, author of the New York Times bestseller Waiter Rant

“In pulling the musty curtains back on the seedy hotel business, Heads in Beds provides first-rate insights for all grades of travelers. But the real revelation here is Jacob Tomsky, whose writing combines presidential suite talent with rack-rate, smoking-room, vending-machine-down-the-hall edge.”
Chuck Thompson, author of Smile When You’re Lying: Confessions of a Rogue Travel Writer

"Readable and often engaging.... [W]hen the author is passionate about his career and is able to express his passion on the page, it can be a joy to read... hilarious."—Kirkus Reviews

"Comparisons to Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential (2000) are inevitable…. [B]oth Tomsky and Bourdain purport to expose the underbelly of service industries with which most readers are familiar, hotels and restaurants. But where Bourdain is all rock ’n’ roll, egotistical bluster, Tomsky is surprisingly earnest and sympathetic; there are, after all, no television programs called Top Desk Clerk. He wants your respect, not your adulation…. Indeed, it would be easy to pen a book about crazy hotel guests. But this memoir succeeds, instead, in humanizing the people who park our cars, clean our hotel rooms, and carry our luggage. You will never not tip housekeeping or your bellhop again. Tomsky fell into hotel work and proved to be rather good at it; the same can be said for his writing."—Booklist

"Those who want a hotel up-grade, who must make a same-day room cancellation without getting charged, or wonder why hotel water sometimes tastes like lemon Pledge need look no further than Tomsky's memoir, a collection of stories, memories, and secrets about the hospitality business.  Bouncing around various hotel jobs...for more than 10 years, he's got the skinny that would make most travel sites blush.... But this is more than a collection of trade secrets; it's a colorful tale filled with vibrant characters from crazy bellmen to even crazier guests.  Tomsky is a solid storyteller who is able to intricately detail all the insanity surrounding him."Publishers Weekly

"With incredibly witty, from-the-gut prose, Mr. Tomsky provides an inside scoop on the good, the bad, and the incredibly ugly happenings that go on behind closed hotel doors—as well as front desk antics that happen right before your untrained, naïve eyes....  A very fun, entertaining read. It is incredibly relatable, not only for a consumer, but also for anyone who has worked in a public-oriented service industry. Despite his brash language, or perhaps in spite of it, the author comes across as sincere and personable with the patience of a saint—or at least he’s really good at faking it. Though it seems he was very good at this job, it’s about time for Jacob Tomsky to move on to bigger and better things. If this book is any indication, writing will be his next calling."—Renee C. Fountain, New York Journal of Books


"Tomsky shines in...this funny and profane memoir."—Nathan Gelgud, Biographile

"After the party, it’s the hotel lobby…. and that’s where things get real. Jacob Tomsky’s hilariously irreverent memoir Heads in Beds chronicles the all-work, no-sleep, but never dull lifestyle of the young hotelier and the innermost workings of high-end hotels...[and] shares five-star advice for your next check-in."—Gina Angelotti, Metro

"Heads in Beds is at turns hilarious, sad, too revealing, naughty, frightening and wildly fun. Tomsky proves to be a smart writer. His voice is warm and accessible, but he's also pleasantly snarky and potty-mouthed. He lets the reader see him at his smarmy, smooth-operating best and his filthy, fed-up worst. (And the book includes lots of tips, like how to eat and drink everything in your minibar for free, how to get extra amenities, and all of the things a hotel guest should never say to a front desk agent.)"Alli Marshall, Mountain Xpress

The Barnes & Noble Review

The crinkly handshake-that's what it's much about. Not all. Courtesy, respect, and patience are important, but for an upgrade or late-checkout privileges or a free bottle of wine, it's the twenty primed in your palm that gains attention. A Ben — and you know him — generates serious service, but a Jackson will not be ill received.

Much of the beauty of Jacob Tomsky's Heads in Beds, the story of his years as a hotelier, presents this exchange not as a scam but as a dance; you give him some of your gwap — call it the redistribution of wealth — and he will hold you close and make you feel good, all from a deeply professional distance.

But first there was college, where Tomsky studied philosophy - - which may have influenced this book more than he imagines - - though he feels lost upon graduation. "Perhaps you'd think one main goal within the philosophy degree itself would be the ability to argue unequivocally why a philosophy degree is not a complete waste of time?. Garbage. My degree was garbage stuffed inside a trash can of student loans." (Listen up, young scholars.) "So someone, some asshole, suggested I earn some money in hospitality," and the story begins. He takes a job at a hotel in New Orleans as a valet; later, he moves to the front desk, learns how to conduct himself with decorum and a sense of class, and never without perspective: "Hotels are the brothels of today" — broadly and spiritedly speaking.

He moves to New York City — to the Bellevue — and cuts loose not just about the clientele, who are not anything more than you would expect from the New York City crowd, but about how to grace yourself the minibar, cop a free movie, strangle a late cancellation without a fee. Insider dope, and fun to learn how it works. Then about how disgusting guests can be, like animals at train station toilets. And, more poignantly, how in any given room, behind any given door, someone's life is on fire.

There are also the customers he likes, a small army of recidivists who arrive and depart like clockwork — including Brian Wilson of Beach Boys fame, mooning about in his sad- happy fog, a handler at each elbow — and there is the ambience of the lobby, coaxed from cologne and rhinestones. There are hundreds of short stories he tells of hotel life, and under the sass, there is the pride that comes with doing a job well: "No agent will pocket a tip and just say thank you, not one who has a soul?. We have to earn our tips. I will do whatever I can to make you happy."

When the Bellevue is purchased in a private equity buyout, you learn how something good and old-world, even if threadbare, becomes something raped of character, denied its means to deliver service and show its style, and through layoffs leached of the accumulated wisdom that doormen and bellmen and the host of staff have gained in the name of hospitality. Tomsky gets fired himself — he is way too independent an operator — which gives him time to start writing a book. He regains his job when the hotel workers' union — and it is a wonderful thing to see so purposeful and effective a union — sticks its finger in private equity's eye and retrieves him his position.

I couldn't find a Hotel Bellevue in New York City, but Tomsky is out there somewhere, behind the desk and worth the finding. Don't forget to bring along Mr. Jackson.

Peter Lewis is the director of the American Geographical Society in New York City. A selection of his work can be found at writesformoney.com.

Reviewer: Peter Lewis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385535632
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/20/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 285,301
  • Product dimensions: 6.54 (w) x 9.32 (h) x 1.03 (d)

Meet the Author

 
Jacob Tomsky is a dedicated veteran of the hospitality business. Well-spoken, uncannily quick on his feet, and no more honest than he needs to be, he has mastered every facet of the business, worked in many departments, and received multiple promotions for his service. Born in Oakland, California, to a military family, Tomsky now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I am standing on St. Charles Avenue, uptown New Orleans, a few months out of college and a few weeks into summer. It’s already extremely hot in the full sun. Which is where I have to stand: in the sun. Next to the valet box. All day.

I took a valet-­parking job at Copeland’s restaurant to shake off my college-­loan laziness, to climb out of the educational womb and stand on my own two feet as a moneymaking, career-pursuing adult. Educated in the useless and inapplicable field of philosophy, I quickly deduced that my degree looked slightly comical on my already light-on-the-work-experience résumé. Perhaps it was even off-putting. To a certain eye, hell, it probably made me look like a prick. But I had to start somewhere. So I started at the bottom.

This job is not good enough. Why not? First of all, I’m parking cars. Second, we have to turn in all our tips. I imagined I’d get off the first night with a pocketful of ones to take to the French Quarter, not that you need much money in New Orleans. As it turned out, however, attached to the valet box that houses the car keys, like a wooden tumor, is a separate slot for us to jimmy in our folded tips. All of them. Attached to that box, like a human tumor, is the shift boss, back in the shade at a vacant umbrella table, sipping a noontime drink that most definitely contains alcohol. It also has chipped ice and is sweating in his hand, sweating in a much different way than I am sweating.

A lunch customer hands me his ticket. I find his keys easily in the box and take off at an impressive run. His car is not easy to find: the valet company has not rented a nearby lot to service the restaurant, and so we, certainly unbeknownst to the clients, just drive around the area and try to parallel park the vehicles as close to Copeland’s as possible. Once the vehicle has been parked, it’s up to the valet to draw a silly treasure map on the back of the ticket so another valet can locate it. My co-­worker Chip draws every treasure map like this: #*. Every single one. And finding the car is never easy. But I bring it back and slide up to the curb, holding the door open, the car’s AC pouring like ice water on my feet, and receive a neatly folded bill from the customer.

“It’s damn hot out here, son. This is for you running like that.”

It’s a twenty-­dollar bill. Chip, now back and posted by the valet box, holds a salute against his brow, trying like hell to make out the bill. I walk up to the tip tumor and start to wiggle it in when Chip says, “No. No! What are you doing, Tommy? Don’t you keep a dollar handy to swap it out with? Please don’t put that twenty in there. Please. It’s for you. That dude told you it was for you.”

“Actually, it’s for Copeland’s Valet Parking Corporation,” the human tumor says, setting his drink down wet on the valet box.

“Are you seriously drinking a mudslide?” Chip asks.

I use a car key from the box to vanish the bill completely and post up next to Chip. Back in the sun. The shift boss sinks back into the shade.

“I am way too old for this. Sharing tips? Forty percent to management leaves 60 percent of the tips to us, divided over twenty runners, on a check, with taxes taken out, and guess who’s running the math, guess who’s counting up the tips? A grown man drinking a goddamn mudslide.” He must have been talking to himself previously because now Chip turned to me: “You think he’s gonna turn in that twenty? Or just keep it for himself? We never get good tips out here. You know what I heard? There’s a new hotel opening up downtown. You heard that? It’s supposed to be luxury.” He said the word as if it were mystical and perhaps too good for his own tongue: “luxury.” “And they’re looking for parkers. Copeland’s customers don’t tip for shit.”

Chip, with a wide smile, accepts a claim check from an emerging lunch customer and locates the keys in the box. “It’s a fucking Mazda, dude,” he says quietly to me. And then to the customer: “You won’t be long in this heat, sir! I will run for your vehicle!” Then he takes off sprinting: it’s almost vaudevillian how he tears ass around the corner, his body at full tilt.

Chip cruises the Mazda back in record time, gliding up to the curb. “AC running and classic rock on low for you, sir.”

The customer drops something into his cupped palm. Something that makes Chip’s face contort.

Chip stands upright, essentially blocking the customer from entering his own vehicle, and spreads open his palm to let the two-­quarter tip flash in the sun.

With a voice strained and tight, as if he were suffering intense physical pain, he says, “Why, thank you so very much, sir.”

Then he pivots slightly and extends his hand, palm flat, quarters in the sun again.

Then he drop-­kicks both coins. Kicks the shit out of them into the street.

They arc over the road and land on the rough grass of the neutral ground, settling in before a streetcar rocks by.

I can see the shock on the customer’s face—­the confusion, the horror. Chip just walks off with determination, crossing St. Charles and onto the neutral ground. After picking the quarters out of the grass, he crosses the tracks to the far side of the street and starts bearing down Napoleon Avenue, toward Mid-­City: the job, the restaurant, the shift boss, me, all of us in his rearview mirror.

I finished my shift. Then I took his advice about the hotel job.

Whether I knew it yet or not, it was one hell of an important moment for me, watching Chip snap at what seemed like such a minor affront, seeing that much emotion applied to a single low-­quality tip. And then watching him bend down, fish the quarters out of the dirt, and take them with him. I didn’t understand any of it. Not yet.

Here we go.

Hotel orientation. Human resources pretty much hired everyone. Everyone who passed the drug test.

I passed, thank you.

Chip did not.

The River Hotel, connected to a brand known for luxury, known for being out of almost everyone’s price range, was being built right there on Chartres Street, in downtown New Orleans. It was three weeks from opening and still under construction. Yet they hired us all, tailored our uniforms, and started paying us. A week ago I was earning money and giving it to an idiot who pounds mudslides. Now I wasn’t even working, but I was collecting a check. A good check. And no one had even said the word “valet” yet.

Not that our new managers weren’t saying any words. Honestly, they couldn’t stop saying some words: “Service.” “Luxury.” “Honesty.” “Loyalty.” “Opulence.” And mid-­length phrases such as “Customer Feedback” and “Anticipating Needs.” And then longer, million-­dollar phrases like “Fifteen-­Hundred-­Thread-­Count Egyptian Linen Duvet Covers.”

Management ran classes every day on service, administered in the completed conference rooms, the tables draped with what we assumed to be Egyptian fabric and adorned with iced carafes of water, which we poured into crystal goblets to wash down the huge piles of pastries they fed us. They were hell-­bent on teaching us how to identify something called “a guest’s unmentioned needs.”

“A man needs his car, he don’t need to speak a word. Get that claim check out. Get that dollar out, feel me?”

That came from the back of class. I turned my head to get a look at who I assumed were to be my co-­workers: three black guys not really adhering to the “business casual” mandate for these orientation classes.

“Tommy, can you give me an example of a guest’s unmentioned need?”

I wasn’t even wearing a name badge: these hospitality maniacs had actually learned everyone’s name.

“Well, ma’am—­”

“You can call me Trish. I’m the front office manager.”

“Well, ah, Trish . . .” That got a low laugh from the back of class. “Maybe they pull in a car, it’s dirty from the drive, and we could get it washed?”

“Perfect example.”

“Wait up. You want I should drive the car back to my driveway in the Ninth Ward to wash it? Or bring in quarters from home?”

“Perry; correct?”

“Yeah, Perry.”

“Perry. You come to me anytime, and I’ll give you hotel money to wash a car, change a tire, or buy them a CD you know they’d like for the drive home. Anything you think of, you can come to me.”

“Well, goddamn.”

The day before the grand opening the hotel closed off a block of Chartres Street (pronounced “Chart-­ers,” by the way, completely disregarding the obvious Frenchness of the word; we also pronounce the street Calliope like “Cal-­e-­ope”; Burgundy comes out not like the color but “Ber-­GUN-­dy,” and just try to stutter out Tchoupitoulas Street or Natchitoches even close to correctly). We were collected into parade groups, our new managers holding up large, well-­made signs indicating our departments. Front desk. Valet. Laundry. Sales and marketing. Bellmen. Doormen. Food and beverage. And housekeeping of course, by far the largest group, about 150 black ladies dressed as if they were going to a club. The valets hung together in a small clot, not saying much to each other, looking up at the finished, renovated hotel.

The vibe was celebratory and overwhelmingly positive. We were let in, one department after the other, and we hustled up a stairwell lined with managers clapping and cheering as if we were the goddamn New Orleans Saints. They threw confetti, smacked us on the back, and screamed in an orgy of goodwill and excitement. By the time we crested the third floor and poured into the grand banquet hall, every single one of us had huge, marvelously sincere smiles stuck hard on our faces. And we held those smiles as we took turns shaking the general manager’s hand, who, no shit, wore a crown of laurel leaves. As a joke, I suppose.

“I’m Charles Daniels. Please, call me Chuck.”

“All right, then, Chuck,” Perry said in front of me and waited while Mr. Daniels located the gold-­plated name tag that read “Perry” from the banquet table beside him.

Mr. Daniels didn’t go so far as to pin on the name tag, anoint us, as it were. But we were in such a rapturous state during the event I believe we would have readily kneeled before him and let him pin it to our naked flesh.

And then there was an open bar. Not sure where they shipped in this opening team from; they certainly weren’t locals. Neither was I, but I’d spent my young life traveling, moving so often I’d learned the skill (and believe me it is an incredibly useful skill) of assimilating into any new culture, whatever that culture may be. I am a shape-­shifter in that way. And as I approached my four-­year anniversary in Louisiana, just about my longest stretch anywhere, New Orleans had already become the closest thing to a home I’d ever had. And the open bar was a nod to this town, a town that runs on alcohol, and much appreciated. This is a city where you can find drink specials on Christmas morning. Not that you could find me on Bourbon Street Christmas morning; I didn’t drink at the time. I stayed sober all through college while pursuing my degree and hadn’t had a drop since I was fifteen and used to take shots of Jack Daniel’s in my basement during school lunch. But an open bar in New Orleans? People got tore up. Housekeeping got tore up.

Now that it was revealed which department we fell into, we tended to group up for the party, getting to know each other.

“Dig this general manager. He look like a slave owner with that headpiece,” Walter said.

“Nah,” Perry said. “Chuck a cool motherfucker. You just enjoy that free drink you got,” and then he took a long finishing pull from his own bottle of Heineken.

Everyone was smiling. Everyone was friendly. Everyone had a name tag on. It was like a big crazy family, and we opened tomorrow. We were all in this together, and everyone in that banquet hall, after two weeks of service training, two full paychecks for nothing, couldn’t wait to unleash their skills on a real guest. The managers had whipped us into such a frenzy that if any actual guests had wandered into that party, we would have serviced them to death, mauled them, like ravenous service jackals.

Already the hotel had created the possibility of a home for me, a future. It seemed so glamorous, all the linens and chandeliers and sticky pastries. The hotel was beautiful, and I was honored to be a member of the opening team. It was at this very point I realized my life of constant relocation had led me to this nexus of relocation, this palace of the temporal where I could now stand still, the world moving around me, and, conversely, feel grounded. I studied Mr. Daniels as he circulated the party, all conversation politely cutting off when he unobtrusively joined a group. That was the position I wanted. That was a life I could own. And I distinctly felt, because this is exactly what they told us during orientation, that if I performed with dedication and dignity, took the tenets of luxury service to heart, hospitality would open herself up to me and I could find my life within the industry. I wanted to be king. It was possible to be king. I swore that day I’d be the general manager of my very own property.

This excitement carried over and crashed like a wave on the following day, the day the hotel opened. But before we were able to molest our first guest, we had to sit through the opening ceremony.

One thing about hotels: once they open, they never close.

I don’t mean they never go out of business; certainly they do. But the fact that a hotel could fail to be profitable astounds me. Why? The average cost to turn over a room, keep it operational per day, is between thirty and forty dollars. If you’re paying less than thirty dollars a night at a hotel/motel, I’d wager the cost to flip that room runs close to five dollars. Which makes me want to take a shower. At home. That forty-­dollar turnover cost includes cleaning supplies, electricity, and hourly wage for housekeepers, minibar attendants, front desk agents (and all other employees needed to operate a room), as well as the cost of laundering the sheets. Everything. Compare that with an average room rate, and you can see why it’s a profitable business, one with a long history, going back to Mary and Joseph running up against a sold-­out situation at the inn, forcing him to bed his pregnant wife in a dirty-­ass manger.

The word “hotel” itself was appropriated from the French around 1765. Across the ocean, a hotel, or hôtel, referred not to public lodging but instead to a large government building, the house of a nobleman, or any such place where people gathered but no nightly accommodation was offered. America, at the time, was filled with grimy little inns and taverns, which provided beds for travelers and also functioned as a town’s shitty dive bar. Having a monopoly on the alcohol game was a boon, one given to tavern keepers in gratitude for putting up travelers, something no one wanted any part of. It wasn’t until George Washington decided to embark on the first presidential tour of his new kingdom that spotlights began to shine on these public houses of grossness. In order to present himself as a man of the people, he turned down offers to stay with associates and wealthy friends, instead lodging himself in tavern after tavern, sniffing at room after room, frowning at bed after bed. For the first time in American history, townships were ashamed of their manner of accommodating travelers. The country was unified and expanding. Something had to be done about our system of lodging.

So, in 1794, someone, some asshole, built the very first “hotel” in New York City: a 137-­room job on Broadway, right there in lower Manhattan. It was the first structure built with the intention of being a “hotel,” a word that was quickly replacing the terms “inn” and “tavern,” even if it only meant that swarthy innkeepers were painting the word “Hotel” onto their crappy signs but still sloshing out the booze and making travelers sleep right next to each other in bug-­ridden squalor. The first big hotels failed monetarily or burned to the ground or both. It wasn’t until railroad lines were getting stitched across America’s expanding fabric that hotels, big and small, began to prosper and offer people like me jobs.

So, profitability aside, what I am referring to here is not the fact that once a hotel opens it will never close (or be burned to the ground!) but that once we cut the ribbon on the hotel, once we opened the lobby doors, they never closed again. In fact, they unchained them because they were built without locks, as almost all hotel lobby doors are. Three o’clock in the morning—­open. Christmas Eve, 3:00 a.m.—­open. Blackout—open. World War Whatever—­open (with a price hike).

The mayor was kind enough to attend the opening ceremony, going down the line of sharp-­dressed employees and shaking hands (or giving elaborate daps, depending on ethnicity). And then in came the public, and there we stood, smiling, proud, ready. The locals poured into the Bistro Lounge, strolled through the lobby as if it were a museum of classical art, put handprints on fresh glass doors, and began to scuff, mark, and mar the pristine landscape, putting their asses in chairs, creasing and bending the leather, scraping and marking the cutlery as they bit down hard on steak-­tipped forks.

For a long while at the valet stand, well, we didn’t have shit to do. We stood those first few hours, feet spread and planted at shoulder width, arms behind our backs with our hands clasped, as we were taught to stand. Then we began to shift on our feet. Then we began to talk quietly out of the sides of our mouths. Then to turn our heads and talk openly at a normal volume. Then to go to the back office to check our cell phones. Not Perry, though: he remained at his post, and the most he did was shake his head when everyone started to get restless.

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Interviews & Essays

Imagine a hotel lobby. Got it? Ok, now, in that lobby, I want you to imagine a dark, marbled front desk. Then, behind that marble desk, place the image of me. Now imagine (and here is where it gets hard) the author of this article posted up behind that desk for almost a decade. Standing there. Waiting. For going on ten years.

It's not necessary for me to imagine that scenario because I lived every long moment of it. And my feet pulse and ache at the recollection.

But now I am imagining you. And you are approaching the desk, preparing to check in. What advice can I offer? Well, summer travel season is upon us. We are in the thick of it. And though your paychecks remain depressingly consistent you've most likely noted that hotel rates skyrocket whenever they feel like it. Why? Because they can! Because it's America! Thus, as the hotel begins to book to capacity, the rates grow dangerously exponential. So here are a few hotel tips from an omnipresent front desk agent, designed to keep you on budget and damn happy about it:

1. Overnight parking rates at hotels are outrageous. You'd think you were sending your Honda to private school. And trust me, your vehicle isn't going to learn a damn thing. Truth is, in larger cities, hotel valets are usually driving your car to a public parking garage, one in the area that's worked out a sweet deal with the hotel. Find that public garage yourself and the middleman is cut (and so is the nightly rate). How do you find it? Ask the doorman (and by ask I kinda mean tip). It's probably where he parks his own car while working. Need another reason to avoid putting the hotel in direct charge of your vehicle? You might not even get in-and-out privileges. You don't even get visitation rights. Investigate public self-parks in the area. Park it there.

2. Let's keep tip number two transportation related. Here is a sexy hotel term: The house car. If you're at a luxury property the chances are they have a luxury house car. Again, you're going to have to go through the doorman (and by go through I kinda mean tip again). Either the doorman or the concierge might have access to a house vehicle, idling nearby, ready to take hotel VIPs (…eh, generous guests) to locations within reasonable distance of the hotel. Ask around. Cabs are expensive and full of bed bugs (just kidding, sort of) and you'd look way better rolling up in a black SUV,
sliding off the leather seats, dropping your loafers onto the sidewalk, arriving in style.

3. Room service is for people who don't care about money. Nothing will give you a stomach ache like a $25 burger, delivered cold, 30 minutes late, and with an additional 'delivery charge' tacked on discreetly to an already aggressive bill. Utilize the World Wide Web, or the concierge if you've got one, and find out who delivers in the area. Because everyone delivers. In the city even great restaurants deliver. And they'll bring it right to your sequentially numbered hotel door, hot and in a reasonable time frame. Expand your options! And lower the hell out of your total bill. You can even call for room service plates and silverware to be delivered, if that makes you feel super fancy, putting those tacos on some fine china.

4. But don't you dare pick up the hotel phone to order those tacos. That's why the Lord and Steve Jobs invented cell phones. Think a $4.00 mark-up on
Snickers is outrageous? That's reasonable compared to what goes on with those room phones. Local calls try their best to be affordable but I've seen a string of $2.00 local charges cause a string of obscenities to fly from a guest's mouth, who complained the number they kept trying never even picked up.
That guest was charged more than $20 just to not talk to someone. And long distance calls can be marked up over 500% in come cases. I didn't even know percentages went up to 500. But they do. So use your cell phone. My advice to someone who doesn't have a cell phone? Buy a cell phone.

5. One thing I recommend you actually use the room phone for? Ordering extra amenities! I've been inside the amenity storage closets. Shelf after shelf stuffed full of travel-sized everything. Mini-deodorants, lint rollers shrunk down to the size of candy bars, exotic lotions, logo'd slippers and much more. Such as… shoe horns! Anyone out there using shoe horns on the regular? Someone must, because hotels have boxes of tortoise-shell shoehorns
(they seem to only come in tortoise shell for some historically valued reason). We are just waiting for you to ask. Maybe you have a shower cap fetish?
We've got those too. And everything I've mentioned above is included with the price of the room. I'd suggest ordering up a few items, dropping a five on the person who delivers them and then asking for more. A $5 tip could get you $50 worth of travel swag. Toothbrush kits! A lifetime supply of pens! (Even tampons[!][?]) And if it becomes common knowledge that you drop a dollar or two every time an employee knocks on your door, these items will pile up for your use. Pick up the phone and ask for housekeeping. Go straight to the source.

6. Twenty in cash can be worth hundreds on the bill. Front desk agents have the whole hotel at their competent, tippety-tappety fingers. Drop a twenty on the right one and they can upgrade on the spot. Or at least ensure you get the best room in your category. It's like a bar buy-back. You tip the bartender heavy and they start giving you rounds and when the smoke clears you've created a scenario where they take money directly from you and pass you free product. In this case only the hotel owner is taking a hit. And he's in Saint Tropez ordering a $25 burger and not even glancing at the bill he's signing.

7. Avoid any and all late check out fees. The hotel can rightfully auto-charge a fee for any room still occupied past check out time. So simply call down and ask for a late check out. Be polite and don't bludgeon anyone with a twenty-minute explanation of your personal delay. We don't care at all!
Just ask. And if you dropped a bill at check-in, remember that agent's name, because he or she'd be happy to help you out, in hopes they get another small taste of your wallet.

Apply the above and you'll be doing great. Essentially, the only thing you want to see on any check out folio is room and tax, nice and clean. It's those floppy little charges piling up around the room and tax where you're getting had. Travel safe and travel smart this season. And be kind to the desk agent. He or she may have been standing there for all of eternity. It's a tough job, kid. And our feet kinda hurt.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 108 )
Rating Distribution

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4 Star

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(18)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 108 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 20, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Heads in Beds: A Reck­less Mem­oir of Hotels, Hus­tles, and So-C

    Heads in Beds: A Reck­less Mem­oir of Hotels, Hus­tles, and So-Called Hos­pi­tal­ity by Jacob Tom­sky tells about the author’s decades of expe­ri­ence within the hos­pi­tal­ity indus­try. Mr. Tom­sky has started work­ing in hotels as a valet, got pro­moted to man­age­ment and worked in many other roles within the industry.

    The book is a per­fect book for the trav­eler, a look into what peo­ple in all lev­els in hotels go through to make your stay smooth and how you can make it smoother. The book is a quick read, funny and some­times offen­sive (in a good way).

    Mr. Tom­sky started out his career in New Orleans, but is now liv­ing for a long time inNew York City. The writ­ing reflects East Coast humor, jest­ing which in other parts of the coun­try is deemed offen­sive, rude and would likely get you beaten up or killed in some parts.

    In my trav­els, I have tipped room ser­vice and bell hops before but never thought to do so with desk clerks. Now I know that I need to shall out a few bucks to make my stay more enjoyable.

    How­ever, unlike other indus­tries where tips are given, in the hos­pi­tal­ity indus­try tips go a much longer way. The author claims that when you give a tip to the desk clerk (it’s a bribe, come on who are we kid­ding?) the desk clerk will do a lot to make your stay bet­ter, from upgrades to free “stuff”. Some­thing I will per­son­ally have to try next time I stay anywhere.

    The dif­fer­ence between a bribe given to a front desk clerk at a hotel and your friendly neigh­bor­hood politi­cian is that the bribe you give to the desk clerk actu­ally gets bet­ter results. The desk clerk will work and hus­tle for you to earn the money he/she was given and you will enjoy the results (or so the author claims — I'll try it myself at my next hotel stay.

    The book could use a bit of edit­ing, not much but some of the sen­tences are too long and sev­eral of the chap­ters skip back and fourth between sub­jects. I read an advanced reader copy (ARC), so please take this with a grain of salt since I don’t know if the final book will be the one I read.

    The author’s frus­tra­tion with his cho­sen pro­fes­sion, or a pro­fes­sion which chose him (the case for most work­ing Amer­i­cans if it’s any con­so­la­tion for Tom­sky), comes out with wit and intel­li­gence while spit­ting bolts of fire – a remark­able achieve­ment in my opinion.

    At the back of the book Mr. Tom­sky included two very funny appen­dices "Things a Guest Should Never Do" and "Things Every Guest Must Know" which are an excel­lent way to close the book.

    18 out of 25 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2012

    Good quick read

    Interesting insight into the luxury hotel industry. A bit repetative at points but all in all a fun and quick read.

    11 out of 13 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2012

    Great Read

    If work in a hotel or have ever worked in a hotel (lifer myself) you will LOVE this book. I cant say enough how great this book is. So just do yourself a favor and read it.. you can thank me later.

    9 out of 10 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 20, 2012

    Cracking me up.

    As good as Kitchen Confidential!

    9 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 26, 2012

    Mmmmm its ok

    I read this, and while I enjoyed some of the authors stories, I found his writing style kind of boring. Some of his stories were kind of blah too. I purchased this hoping it would read like Steve DuBlanica's "Waiter Rant", a funny insightful look into the hotel industry. I just did not like it as much.

    6 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 7, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Author: Jacob Tomsky Published By: Double
























    Author: Jacob Tomsky
    Published By: Doubleday
    Age Recommended: Adult
    Reviewed By: Arlena Dean
    Blog For: GMTA
    Rating: 4

    Review:

    "Heads in Beds:A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality" by Jacob Tomsky was quite a interesting memoir read especially for those of us who have travels and stayed in many hotel establishments. This author shared with the reader many laughs, a lots of repetition of anecdotes...with some attitude and his personal life especially his hospitality experience. You are able to follow him from New Orleans as valet.. got promoted to management ..then to work in many other roles within the industry. Mr. Tomsky visit Europe but finally ends up in New York. I felt that this author tells it all.."including the shortcuts the housekeepers take, the hustles the bellhops make, and what is required to motivate your front desk agent to give you a better room (hint: money)."

    The essential points of the memoir aspect of this book are "A degree in Philosophy was useless for him.. working with the general public sucks, and bellhops make good money." A lot of this was humorous for the reader but when you think of it...couldn't this be true? Yes! This was a quick read that was even humorous at times and let me mention that the language was a little offensive... however, I still liked this novel and how this author felt about this job. I definitely felt this novel can make you a lots smarter... for instance...I did learn a little more about the tipping of the desk clerk...hay...they can make your trip more enjoyable. So, why not tip? I also enjoyed the two funny appendices "Things a Guest Should Never Do" and "Things Every Guest Must Know" which are an excellent way to close the book." What is up with the 'crinkly handshake' that you give the doorman? I found out about tips on "how to get out of Movies, Mini bar, Upgraded Rooms, and the best one how to get out of a late cancellation without paying the cancellation fee." Now I am not saying you should do this but.... This is where I say you must pick up this novel and you can get a real awareness of what goes on inside the hotel hospitality system.

    With that being said, Yes, I would really recommend "Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality" as a good read. If you are looking for a funny read with a lot of interesting experience ....you have come to the right place. Now..... let me also say: This is a ADULT READ...due to its language.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 4, 2013

    So so.

    It started out great. Held my interest, and was hysterical and true, But it quickly became repetitious and a bit boring.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2012

    I wanted to love this book, however, it wasn't meant to be

    I happened to read the review of this book while traveling. It sounded interesting so bought it when I got home (I had nothing to read on the plane so looked for it at the airport in Miami - it hadn't been released to airport stores yet.) As a frequent traveler, I really wanted to love this book. Other than being an elite member of a chain of hotels, I was hoping to learn the secrets to securing upgrades and freebies. While I was surprised to learn that front desk agents welcome "tips", little else about the book gave me concrete advise. I felt the pain and frustration that "Tom" often experienced with his employer - yet I'm sorry to say that unless one stays in hotels on a regular basis, I don't see much reason for reading this book other than getting into the head of a guy that is unhappy, frustrated and has little direction in life.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 16, 2012

    Having been in the travel industry for 10 years and, more recent

    Having been in the travel industry for 10 years and, more recently, been a corporate traveler, I learned a great deal from the stories Tomsky told. And no, I didn't realize tipping/bribing the front desk clerk would get me an upgrade, etc. This is a must read for all travelers.
    However, the F word was used entirely too much. I'm not a prude (heaven knows, I use the F word myself) but there were times it seemed to be thrown in for shock value or just because. That made the last few chapters drag for me. I wanted to know whether he left the industry or stayed on but forced myself to read to the end.
    By the way, the information he tells is invaluable to all travelers so I guess it was worth the reading.

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 8, 2012

    Great book!

    Entertaining, funny, and educational!

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 3, 2012

    Working as a Front Desk Manager (read that to mean Assistant Gen

    Working as a Front Desk Manager (read that to mean Assistant General Manager since he's not around much), in a much smaller hotel, I can say there is a lot of truth in Heads in Beds. Although we don't have bellhops, large housekeeping staff, restaurant, etc. I think I've met most of the guests he describes! My wife kept asking "what" when I'd laugh or comment on what I was reading. I just wish we got the tips he did (I think I've gotten $10 in two years ...). Liked this book so much I bought two more to share with my Hospitality friends!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2012

    Tori

    Here

    2 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 22, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Jacob Tomsky rocked it!!! Well written, hilarious with such an

    Jacob Tomsky rocked it!!!

    Well written, hilarious with such an easy flow. He explains from all points of view from front desk, to valet, to bellman, to doorman,...to guests and their etiquette. He covers a lot of detail and opens your eyes in such a concise witty book. 

    What you will get from this book is excellent details and tips on how to book and get better rooms, how to cancel a room and not pay a penalty, how to use the mini bar, and not at your own expense, how to treat the bellman to get tourist guide, or for anything you need from directions to sports or best plays and restaurants without bothering the concierge. It's quicker anyway. And most importantly, how to approach the front desk and get them to give you the room you really want, after all, the  check in clerk has access to the computer and sees its layout, not the doorman or concierge, so treat accordingly;-).  You will get all this useful info through funny stories, laid out matter of facttly, from the man that checked in celebrities, tourists, and locals. That's right, he includes all types and it's insightful. 

    Again he rocked it! Solid integrity to hospitality! 

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2013

    Great read. Entertaining as %$*%!

    Loved the book, loved the writing voice, loved the characters, loved the details of the hustles. Should be required reading for anyone with a platinum or higher AmEx card.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 18, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    A delightful book!  Lots of humor, lots of tips on how to "

    A delightful book!  Lots of humor, lots of tips on how to "work the system" when staying in American hotels.  Am I the only person who hasn't thought to tip the desk clerk?  Just hadn't thought of it, and to think of all the benefits a bill or two could possibly come my way.  Even without the tips, this books is well worth the read.  

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 13, 2013

    Good read

    Funny and informative

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted February 11, 2013

    My husband commented "I hate it when you find a really good

    My husband commented "I hate it when you find a really good book." 'Cause I had trouble putting this page-turner down. I thoroughly enjoyed following the author from his first job as a parking valet in New Orleans to his last job as a front desk guy in New York. All the little behind the scenes politics, minutae and fun, without being gross or scary.

    I highly recommend this read for all writers, travelers and hospitality industry workers. Bravo, Mr. Tomsky!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Trash. This book has a very shallow plot and is laced with profa

    Trash. This book has a very shallow plot and is laced with profanity. The author loves the F word and other 7th grade vocabulary. I usually give away books when I finish them. This time I will throw the book away.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Huge disappointment

    tomsky's writing is overly repetitive, and he uses vulgarity gratuitously. It's too bad that he lost his humanity along the way and became solely interested in large and frequent tips, but it makes for vacuous reading.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 6, 2012

    This is an awesome book and one of the most entertaining I have

    This is an awesome book and one of the most entertaining I have read in a long time. I found myself compelled to read the entire book in a weekend. For work I spend a lot of time traveling so I can relate to the goings on that I often catch a glimpse of. This is a must read for anyone in the hospitality industry. JT writes what so many of us have wanted to.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 108 Customer Reviews

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