Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Summer Guests (Some Are Not)

I've been getting questioned as to when I'm going to share some hotel stories. I've always thought that I could write a book about my adventures in the resort business, but just like that once-upon-a-time failed television show that tried to convey what goes on behind the scenes, some of it seems implausible.

What I've always said is that you really do get to see people as they are. Once they've settled in, you have them where they eat, where they sleep, where they play, and where they...well...who knows what! At times, you get to see people as they really are, not the way they present themselves in public for all to see.

My first job was as a desk clerk at Grossinger's Hotel in Liberty, New York. The now defunct resort was the preeminent hotel in the "Borscht Belt," as the New York Times noted when Jennie Grossinger died, one she and her family had transformed from "a modest Catskills family resort into a luxurious resort." It was a great place to vacation and to work.

In any resort, new hires go through training and, at times, are given the task of performing certain jobs that incumbent staff prefer not to do. Along with standing out front and checking in guests, and typing rack slips by the score, there was one job at the Grossinger's desk that most would pass on. In fact, if you had the power, you'd call in someone from another office to do it...Toby checks!

Each day, a list would come from housekeeping that would have all of the hotel's room numbers and how many guests the housekeepers would report as occupying rooms that they were cleaning. If we were lucky, we'd have two registered and the housekeeper would report two persons. At times, we'd have two, they'd say one. Other times, we'd have one or two persons registered and the housekeeper would write three or more! Those were called differences and they had to be checked.

We'd trying calling the rooms and talk to the guests to straighten out differences, but most times guests didn't stay in their rooms and the differences had to be resolved before the next audit.

The only way to be sure was to go to the room. The system was called a "Toby" check as we had small forms with instructions for the guests to call a number at the desk and ask for "Toby," as we had a message for the guest. We used the name "Toby" as it could be either a male or female name and when someone called asking for "Toby" we could say we were "Toby," or say "Toby wasn't in," but we knew what that call was about.

The clerk's instructions were clear. Go to the room. Knock on the door. If guest answered let them know that you were validating registration, talk to them about numbers of persons in their room, and report findings back to the desk.

If no one answered when you knocked, announce loudly that you were from the "Front Desk," knock again, then open the door, look around casually in the room, the bathroom, the closet if it was open (no opening doors, closets, drawers, etc.). Just seeing items in the room you might get a good idea if it was two persons not one, or more than two. Leave a "Toby" note if you still weren't sure, leave the room, be sure the door is locked, come back to desk with room numbers where you left a "Toby."

In many instances, it was just good guessing.

Some times, it didn't work at all.

One call: Phone rings, caller asks for "Toby." One response, "Toby isn't here right now, but he was checking your registration. You signed in for one person, but we believe there are two persons in your room." Guest, "No, it's just me." Toby, "Well, a check of the room showed that there are two toothbrushes in your room." Guest, "Yes, I have two, one for meat and one for dairy!" (It was a Jewish resort and the guest obviously very observant of dietary laws).

Another all: Phone rings, caller asks for "Toby." Another standard response applied, "This is Toby. We are just checking your registration. You signed in for one person, but we believe there are two persons in your room." Male guest, "No, it's just me." Toby, "Well, a check of the room showed that there are men's clothes and women's clothes in the room." Guest, "Yes." Toby, "Yes, there are two people?" Guest, "No, all of the clothes are mine, I take turns wearing them." Later that day, we were treated to a view of that male guest in female clothes...true story, single registration, very stylish dresser!

Not all of the room checks went smoothly either. On one occasion, the assigned clerk knocked on the door to hear a person in the room answer, "Yes!" The clerk started to talk to the guest through the door. The guest said, "Come in." The clerk waited for the guest open the door. Clerk knocked again, guest said, "Come in!" The clerk used the key to open the door. No guest in sight. "Hello," said the clerk. A voice from the bathroom, door ajar, said, "I'm in here." The guest, astride the toilet, was happy to answer any questions the clerk had.

That same clerk, after a number of similar 'bad' guest interactions, came storming back into the office one day, threw the clipboard down on the desk, and announced, "That's it, I'm not doing any more Toby's, ever." She related that she knocked on the door, announced "Front Desk!" and the door flew wide open. Standing in front of her was the nude occupant, full frontal, who threw his arms out and shouted "Surprise!!!" Then he covered himself quickly and blurted, "Sorry, I thought you were my girlfriend."

"So," we said to the clerk, "There were two people in the room!!!"

Maybe this should be chapter one! More to come....


  1. My favorite story is 'Doris Day Day'...that one has stuck with me all these years!!!

  2. OK, that was a very good story...