Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Review: Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky

More than 10 years ago, a chef shone a spotlight to the restaurant industry and the revelations confirmed most gourmands’ worst suspicions: never order fish on a Monday (it has probably been sitting around for a while) and almost every dish that comes out of a restaurant kitchen is topped with butter. Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential was a piercing look at the underbelly of our finest (and not-so-fine) restaurants and Bourdain’s tone made the book that much more appetizing.

Jacob Tomsky, a hospitality professional who was let go after becoming not-so-hospitable, promises a similar look at the hotel industry in his memoir, Heads in Beds. The phrase captures the primary driver for every hotel out there: to have a head in every bed so as to maximize profits. Tomsky, who early on realized he was not suited for most other professions started at the very lowest rung -- as a valet driver in a luxury hotel in New Orleans. Slowly he made his way to front desk -- “the brain center of the hotel” and over the course of his career in New Orleans felt like he had seen much of what goes on behind the scenes.

Tomsky eventually moved to New York, a city which he says really toughened him up. Here too he works at the Bellevue, even if he once believed that work at a different hotel would be “the same shit, a different toilet.” And, as luck would have it, the “shit” is the same -- hassled travelers, people who won’t tip, who won’t stop yammering on their cell phones when at the desk, people who insist on asking for an upgrade -- the list of customers who seem to get on Tomsky’s nerves is endless. It’s no wonder that in the end, he has stopped caring and eventually has to enroll in an anger-management therapy course.

The book has some interesting insights into the workings of the industry but Tomsky’s tone, mostly dismissive of everyone who comes in his way (and doesn’t remember to tip), makes his memoir a little too rough to take. He hates guests who bring their own pillows, “the AAA bastards who hand out the diamond ratings” and by the way, if you booked your hotel through Expedia, you can just about give up right now. There’s a difference between hard-edged and mean and Heads in Beds often devolves into the latter.

There are some genuine tips here that one could use well  and you can definitely tell that Tomsky cares deeply about his co-workers but a lot of the book feels like a release for the grudges he holds against various people including management at Bellevue. The book concludes with interesting tips about what not to say to the front desk employees; and lies that the same employees invariably get away with.

“You can’t pay your rent with thank-yous,” Tomsky reminds the reader. What counts is: “Money. Cash on the desk. First time in New York City? Who cares! Anniversary? You’re boring me...”

Yes, you guessed it, people. The biggest takeaway from Heads in Beds is that the one thing that always opens doors, is, surprise! -- money.