Something that my readers and fans might not know about me... My "day job" is as the Night Manager of a hotel. This particular hotel is independently owned and operated as most are, but it's part of a franchise chain - one of the nation's largest and most well recognized.
It's a great job for a writer to have, because I basically get paid to write. I've held the position long enough and trained my staff well enough that I can complete all of my duties for a typical night in about two hours, leaving the remainder of my eight-hour shift (about six hours) for me to research, edit, or write. And that's just sweet. Now of course there are nights when things happen and nights that aren't typical. New Year's Eve, for example. But for the most part, it's a pretty swank job and I've really benefitted by having it.
Now the other side to this is I've learned some things about the travel and hospitality industry that I never expected to learn. With the summer travel season picking up, I figured I'd share these things with all of you, my readers and friends. I hope they help you as you make your vacation and travel plans, and set off across the state or country for whatever fun or romantic destinations you may be visiting.
1. ALL HOTELS HAVE BEDBUGS. It doesn't matter if you stay at a one-star pay-by-the-hour, no-tell-motel or a five-star resort, these creepy crawlers make their way into every hotel eventually. Don't bother asking the front desk or management - they'll lie. The problem has reached epidemic proportions in the United States in the last ten years. Here's how to protect yourself and deal with the issue if you find it, unless you just want to stay at home.
First, always make reservations. Do not just "stop along the way" at a place that "looks good." That's asking for trouble. Do your research. Go to Bedbug Registry and check the hotel you want to stay at before you make reservations. When you get to your hotel, immediately upon check in, go to your bed and yank the sheets out all the way down to the mattress at the header or wherever there's furniture. Bedbugs like to burrow into things. If the mattress is covered that's a sign the hotel has treated for bugs before - it means they're taking care of the problem. A bare mattress means you need to look at the seams for bugs and dirt.
If you find bugs or evidence of bugs, collect whatever you find in a cup from the bathroom. Take them to management and request to check out. Go to another hotel, but make sure you update the registry. If the bed is clear, congrats! Stay for the night.
2. YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. The difference between a $45 motel that you drive up to the door and a $400 full-service hotel is miles apart. I happen to work at a hotel that rates 3 1/2 stars on Trip Advisor. Our median price in the summertime is $100 a night after taxes, and I'm regularly amazed at what people expect for that price. Here's what they get: either a King or two Queen beds, use of an indoor pool, fitness center, business center, free WiFi throughout the hotel, complimentary USA Today, free parking, a hot breakfast that includes scrambled eggs and waffles every day, cable TV including HBO, in-room DVDs, a microwave, refrigerator, coffeemaker, hairdryer, and iron plus all regular amenities. Yet we take regular complaints from people who seem to think for $100 a night (which pays for up to 4 guests, by the way), that list I just gave should also include dry cleaning, room service, a full breakfast with meat, and pet grooming.
My advice to you. If you just heard all that and thought, Geez, Tucker, I just want a flat bed and four walls. I eat at Waffle House if I want breakfast. Then you, my friend, can easily shop for a 2 star motel and have no fear. If the list of services and amenities I rattled off sounds great to you, and the price for up to four people sounds fair, then shop for a mid-grade hotel (3 stars). If you just read that and thought, OMG, Tucker, I can't go without a sausage biscuit and steel-cut oatmeal with fresh fruit in the morning, and I want it brought to my room while PheePhee is being clipped and polished! Then I highly suggest you shop for a 5 star hotel, and please, tip the poor souls who have to deal with your pretentious behind.
**You should always check online at Travel Coupons for the best deals on hotels. This site is not affiliated with any third party booking agencies and does not require you to register to get the coupons.
3. TIPS. YES. YOU SHOULD LEAVE THEM. Front desk clerks at most hotels pull double and sometimes triple duty as cashiers and breakfast attendants. Oftentimes in hotels with less then 60 rooms, there's only one clerk on duty at a time, ever. That clerk is responsible for everything from checking guests in and out to resolving computer issues to handling small maintenance problems. If you make a request of that harassed and harried soul, yes. Tip them. The average wage of a front desk clerk is $9-11 an hour, without any kind of benefits.
Remember, even though the hotel is part of a franchise, it's independently owned, so most owners do not provide insurance, and since they have less than 50 employees, they fall outside our illustrious "Obamacare" law. These employees rely on tips just like waiters and waitresses, as do the housekeepers, who make even less. A housekeeper makes minimum-$10 an hour and they're the folks cleaning your bathroom. If they do a good job, tip them. Many of them clean 15 or more rooms a day. They work hard for less than they'd earn at McDonald's. Tip, people. Tip!
4.THINK TWICE ABOUT THAT BREAKFAST. This is near and dear to my heart, because as the Night Manager I'm responsible for overseeing my facility's complimentary breakfast. And I've gone around and around with upper management about the cleanliness of our kitchen, as well as the care and handling of the breakfast food items. I thought the issues were unique to our hotel, but after speaking to several other managers at a recent business meeting, I discovered the problem was widespread. Hence why I'm including this here.
First. Think about what you spend when you go out to a restaurant like IHOP for a family of four. Let's say everybody orders off the special menu, and everybody drinks water, and there's a coupon involved. So... maybe you could get away with eating for $25? Maybe? I'm being hella-conservative here, because when we go out - my trio and my two kids - our bill is closer to $55. But hey,like I said, conservative. Coupon. If you take the price of your hotel room, $80, and take off the cost of the the room, cleaning, laundry, use of the facilities, A/C and/or heat, overhead, there's no way that there's $25 left to pay for that breakfast I mentioned. So how does it get paid for?
That's right. That's not fresh food that's put out every day. If it's not in it's own sealed package or container, then there's a good chance it was served the day, or days, before. This includes everything. Eggs, waffle batter, pastries, milk, you name it. The owner of the hotel I work for is a cheap bastard. His policy when I started was that we were never to throw food away. We were to serve it until it got eaten. Now... I won't do that. I make my staff date everything and I have set limits on how long each food item can be kept. For example, I won't serve or keep a muffin for more than five days.
He argued about that with me, by the way. Thought I was being ridiculous.
But keep in mind that you may be better off saving your money and buying your breakfast at an actual restaurant, where food is served fresh every day.
5.IF SOMETHING ISN'T RIGHT, ASK. All too often we read comments on Trip Advisors where guests complain about things. When we contact the guest and ask them why they didn't come to the front desk and report the problem, they usually have no answer. If something goes wrong during your stay - noisy neighbors, a plugged toilet, a bed you can't sleep in, a refrigerator that's keeping you awake, a dog that barks, a smoking room when you're allergic to smoke, whatever - call or come to the front desk and give the hotel the opportunity to make things right. You may need to move to another room, you may end up with a discount. Or, you may be told that we're very sorry but we're unable to help you and you're welcome to check out... but at least give the hotel a chance to make things right. You never know - you could end up with a free night's stay or an upgraded room, and some upgrades are pretty "suite."
Alrighty. That's it. Now, if you aren't completely terrified. Go ahead and make your reservations. Maybe I'll see you on your way across the country. I'm the one behind the desk hammering away on the Gateway laptop with the external hard drive.
Cheers, kids. And... travel safely. Man. I can almost hear Vincent Price's laugh behind that. Shivers.