“That was the first time I heard the term ‘heart of the house,’ which refers to the back offices and hallways, the storage closets and freight elevators, the white-painted rooms filled with dirty off-white sheets to be cleaned, as opposed to the ‘front of the house,’ meaning the polished marble foyers, vacuumed Oriental rugs, gold-plated railings shined to perfection, and the lobby’s center table sagging with fresh-cut flowers that cost the hotel thousands of dollars a week.”
As a rootless military kid “Tommy Jacobs” was perfectly suited for the hospitality industry. Hotels provided the familiar sense of movement, but allowed him to stay in one place. Starting out in New Orleans as a valet, then a front desk agent, and finally a housekeeping manager, he learned the many ins and outs of the business. Initially bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and dreaming of becoming a general manager, the demands of middle management began the slow decline into disillusionment and drinking, so he dropped everything and moved to Europe for a year. When the money ran out, he moved to New York, and tried desperately to get any job outside of hospitality. But when the bills came due, back to hospitality he went, only to find that the New York hotel business was leaner and meaner than anything he experienced in laid-back New Orleans. Heads in Beds takes us into the “heart of the house,” allowing travelers to catch of glimpse of what goes on behind closed doors.
Tomsky offers helpful tips, hair-curling horror stories, and hilarious anecdotes in this no-holds-barred memoir. You’ll learn what to do and, more importantly, what not to do to ensure you receive the best service on your next hotel visit. There are a lot of things a hotel agent can do to make your visit better, but a complimentary bottle of wine or a free upgrade hardly compares to the subtle and imaginative vengeance an angry agent can exact upon you without ever leaving the front desk. While Tomsky dishes some anonymized dirt about quirky hotel guests, the bulk of the narrative concerns the hotel staff, such as the female co-worker who cornered him in the men’s room and forced him to sign the union card which later saved his job. He names only a couple of celebrities, and his attitude towards Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys is almost paternal—protective rather than gossipy.
Woven into Tomsky’s more humourous tales are the darker notes of his job. He’s seen mean parents, bratty children, controlling spouses, and racist guests who expected his sympathy as they disdained coloured cab drivers. There are guests who don’t understand the difference between service agents and servants, and management companies that are hostile to unions. Tomsky simultaneously displays questionable ethics—this book will help you steal from the mini-bar, dispute your pay-per-view charges and acquire extra amenities—and admirable loyalty to his fellow hotel employees. This part of his book is more plea for respect for your fellow human beings than entertaining memoir, but it also lends greater substance to what would otherwise be a purely fluffy book of humour. You will definitely think twice about declining to tip a bellman or raising your voice to a desk agent on your next hotel visit, and the service industry will thank Tomsky for it.