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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hotel Confidential: An Industry Insider Tells All

A man works at the front desk of a hotel in New York City’s Greenwich Village in March 2009. (Mary Altaffer/AP)

Jacob Tomsky spent years working in the hospitality industry. Starting as a valet parker in a New Orleans hotel, Jacob worked his way up to front desk clerk and housekeeping manager, eventually moving to New York City.

Now in his new book “Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality” (see book excerpt below), Jacob not only talks about a life catering to guests’ needs, but also gives tips on how to get the most out of your hotel stay.

One of his suggestions: tip your front desk clerk, because your money will go further. And, he cautioned, front desk clerks wield a lot of power.

“I can make your keys stop working… I can check you out early, I can over-authorize your credit card, I can add additional charges,” Jacob told Here & Now’s Robin Young. “The ways in which we can get back at you are severe and there’s plenty of them.”

Interview Highlights

Jacob Tomsky is author of Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.

Be polite or beware:

“If you piss off the wrong person, there’s a thousand ways we can come back at you. A lot of times, at the front desk, I felt like I was a master of instant karma, you know? If you were rude to my co-workers or, you know, rude to the cab driver, or just rude in general, I can make your keys stop working. I can check you out early. I can over-authorize your credit card. I can add additional charges. The ways in which we can get back at you are severe and there’s plenty of them… We all have access to your room. We’ve got master keys. So any room, anywhere, anytime, that bellman can get back in your room and get back at your toothbrush.”

How to protect your car from the valet:

“Do a nice walk-around, a nice, visual walk-around. First of all, it’s going to give you the certainty that you need later so that you know if that scratch wasn’t there, then you’re like, “You know what? I know it wasn’t.” In general, they might assume that it was already there. And also, when I was a valet, when I saw a guest take a quick walk-around, I knew when I was pulling off that I needed to be extra careful because this guest was on top of it.”

How to avoid a cancellation penalty:

“Say, ‘You know what? I don’t want to cancel my reservation; I just want to move it to next week. My meeting’s been canceled; I need to move this reservation until next Friday because they’ve rescheduled a meeting. Is this possible?’ And many times the front desk agent is going to say, ‘Absolutely.’ Because we don’t feel as if we’re canceling, we’re just adjusting it. So, move it into the future. Hang up the phone. Drink a soda. Call back. Speak to another front desk agent and say, ‘You know what? I have a reservation for next week. That meeting’s been canceled and I need to cancel my reservation.’ And you’re well within your rights now.”

Book Excerpt: ‘Heads In Beds’

By: Jacob Tomsky

Advisory: There is explicit language in this excerpt

Introduction: “Welcome to the Front Desk: Checking In?”

I’ve worked in hotels for more than a decade. I’ve checked you in, checked you out, oriented you to the property, served you a beverage, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, parked your car, tasted your room service (before and, sadly, after), cleaned your toilet, denied you a late check-out, given you a wake-up call, eaten M&Ms out of your minibar, laughed at your jokes and taken your money. I have been on the front lines, and by that I mean the front desk, of upscale hotels for years and I’ve seen it all first hand.

How does one fall into the pit of hospitality? How is it that nearly every dollar I’ve ever earned came from a paycheck with a name of a hotel written on it somewhere (or, of course, in the form of cash from the hand of a generous hotel guest)? Call it an accident, like catching a train with the plan to go across town, but as the platforms smear by one after the other, you come to realize you’ve broken city limits, the train is not stopping and you’re just going to have to ride this life until the doors open. Or until they stop the train and throw you out on your ass.

After a certain amount of years in the hotel business (and I’ll just mention this upfront) you’re just too useless and used up to do anything else.

I grew up military; Navy mother, Marine father. As a child it was two years maximum in any given city and then we’d be on the move again, changing schools, checking into a hotel in LA, a hotel in Jacksonville, a hotel in Asheville, a hotel in San Pedro, looking for a new “permanent” residence. I grew up like a spun top, and, released into adulthood, I continued spinning, moving, relocating.

Those two-year episodes of my childhood left me feeling rootless, lost in the world; perhaps that’s why I stubbornly pursued a degree in philosophy. I cannot explain the idiocy behind my choice of major. Shit, if I had chosen business, I might be in business right now. 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. I never learned that argument. Garbage. My degree was garbage stuffed inside a trashcan of student loans.

So someone, some asshole, suggested I earn some money in hospitality. Hotels were willing to ignore my dubious degree, offer great starting pay and, I will say this: It’s an ideal career for the traveler. I love travel in every way; new people, new sounds, new environments, the ability to pick up and disappear. (My top is, even now, spinning, and though digging a nice divot into Brooklyn, the balance is beginning to lean and, once that tip finds traction, it’s going to rocket me off the continent.) Plus, hotels are everywhere: Kidnap me, duct tape my face, drop me out of a plane, and I promise you I will land in a parking lot adjacent to a hotel and in less than a day I’ll be wearing a suit, assisting guests, earning a nice check and making friends at the local bar.

Hotels are methadone clinics for the travel-addicted. Maybe the only way I can even keep a home is to hold down a job surrounded by constant change. If I’m addicted to relocating, then how about I rest a minute, in a lobby echoing with eternal hellos and goodbyes, and let the world move around me?

And that is exactly what I did. From New Orleans to New York, I played by hotel rules and, in the process, learned every aspect of the industry. Due to the fact I just don’t care anymore, here is one of my objectives: I will offer easy and, up till now, never publicized tips and tricks. Want a late check-out? Want an upgrade? Guess what! There are simple ways (and most of them are legal ways!) to get what you need from a hotel without any hassle whatsoever. It’s all in the details; in what you need done, whom you ask to do it, how you ask them, and how much you should tip them for doing it. Need to cancel the day of arrival with no penalty? No problem. Maybe you just want to be treated with care and respect? I understand, dear guest. Come on, now, calm down you fragile thing… take my hand… good… okay, now put some money in it… very good… thank you. Now that’s a proper hospitality business transaction.

And when all is said and done you will understand the hotel life, what we do and how we do it. Though why we continue to do it may be harder to grasp. All of this will be beneficial to you because the next time you check in with me (and believe me, I get around. I’ve probably checked you in a couple of times already), the next time we meet, a comforting, bright light of total understanding will be shining in your eyes and I will help you and you will help me, and reading 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 me from taking your luggage into the camera-free back office and stomping the shit out of it.

As a hotelier I am everywhere. I am nowhere. I am nameless… except for the goddamn nametag.

But first, let’s talk about names. Let’s talk about changing the names to protect the innocent. Let’s talk about how innocent I am and how much I need protecting:

My name is Jacob Tomsky. But in the hotel world we are all registered with our last name first. Jacob Tomsky becomes Tomsky, Jacob. So, in the spirit of self-preservation, Tomsky, Jacob—for the purposes of this book—becomes Thomas Jacobs. Good luck little Tommy Jacobs.

Excerpted from HEADS IN BEDS: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. Copyright © 2010 by Jacob Tomsky. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


  • Jacob Tomsky, author of “Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality.”

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  • jefe68

    I don’t know about anyone else but why do I get the feeling that Jacob Tomsky engaged in a kind extortion racket to pad his wallet.

  • Tomsalony

    I’m glad I checked this out BEFORE this segment began. After over 20 years at the front desk, I sure don’t need to listen to some clown hustling a book about how he can be just as ignorant as everyone else.


  • Wayne

    I agree.
    This is a form of extortion, and wealth decrees quality of service.
    A very bad policy in my book.

  • Sam H.

    Pretty disappointed by how Robin handled the “sex toys” anecdote on the air. Not sure why the guest should have “walked away” from his property. Are sex toys something to be ashamed of? Talk about sex-negativity!

  • J__o__h__n

    He’s no Basil Fawlty. 

  • MyThoughts

    This guy is horrible.   I feel ill.

  • Hannah

    I have zero sympathy for this guy and he sounds like a complete a-hole.
    I’ve worked in the restaurant industry in various capacities for years and have never seen a single person take revenge on a guest through tampering with food or their bill.
    The thought that the bellboy would mess with your toothbrush because you didn’t tip them enough is disgusting and speaks volumes to the poor work ethic Jacob has surrounded himself with.

    Please, no one else give book deals to self-righteous douchebags – there’s enough of them in the world.


    • Robin Young is Da Bomb Diggity

      Yeah I have no idea how Robin could stand being so nice to this guy. Robin Young is SO much nicer than I am!

  • Maggie

    Despicable!  More reasons (in addition to a NBC’s  Dateline Investigation years ago involving 4 and 5 star hotels and bodily fluids all over “clean” guest rooms) to avoid traveling. Great work ethics; I must have missed part of the story because I couldn’t find the amusing part of it…

  • WBC_in_MA

    This guy is sleazy.    I can see why his new employer wanted to fire him. 

  • J__o__h__n

    Any book store clerks have tips on how to steal this book? 

    • Jellyd27

      Since the author is so adept at stealing from the hotel owners with scams…great comment!

  • JB

    To the producer: please tell Robin that the little girl pose she takes on at times is wearing thin. Yesterday she went on-and-on about how scary The Rite of Spring music was, even to the extent of apologizing to her listeners (sheesh), then today as this her  of a hotel clerk goes on about doing disgusting things to guests toothbrushes there is Robin all giggly. Please, she can be an extremely good interviewer (one of the best actually) but this girly pose has got to go — she should just act her age. Also, please keep sleaze bag of the air; Tomsky does not deserve the air-time, in fact, he might qualify for some jail time.

    • jefe68

      I missed the Rite of Spring show but that’s absurd. She actually said the music was scary? Sad and dumb. I think it’s time for her to drop the act as well. The giggly thing is obnoxious. I can’t believe BUR has the nerve to promote this idiots book.

      I hope his former employees are on the phone to their lawyers today, this man should be sued into tomorrow.

    • rick evans

       JB you took the words out of my mouth. I was totally disgusted with Robin’s snickering and giddiness over this little POS. This isn’t middle school, Robin. There’s a time to grow up and show disgust where disgust is due. If this guy was disgusted by the behavior of his colleagues he would be due some sympathy.

  • CRL in NC

    Just think about it if a hotel employee has a blood borne disease and they “get back at your toothbrush” by spitting on it. Getting revenge by this method, stealing change out of a car, or any other method is at best high school mentality but at worst potentially criminal behavior perpetrated upon an unknowing and defenseless public. He had better be very careful if he wants to stay in the hospitality management system and not the criminal justice system. If someone acts like a jerk, here is a novel approach – do your JOB and move on instead of wasting your employer’s valuable time and money by plotting revenge.  UGH!! 

    • Grossed out!

      I agree completely…the possible spread of disease because the person has “bad karma” due to lack of tip or rudeness is unethical and this man is obviously motivated by 1 thing…$$$$$.

  • Michael

    Sounds like even if I’m generous but get on somebody’s bad side somehow all kinds of stuff might happen to me.   I’ve worked in the service industry and I’m pretty sensitive when I interact with service people.  I don’t like you and would never want to stay in a hotel where you work.

  • Aki

    I work as a service provider within the travel industry and I find this guest disturbing and had to turn off the radio.

  • Michael

    @JB — I agree — Robin’s reaction to this guy is obnoxious.   I feel sorry for all the hard working service people he is smearing.  

  • Michael

    Will think twice about listening to your show from here on.

  • Doglvr113

    This man is extremely unethical! I am shocked he is receiving positive attention for his scams…he mentioned not offering drugs or helping provide immoral requests for guests… Please! If he was tipped properly he would have…

  • observersucks00

    This guy is a huge d-bag.  The problem with folks like him is they feel entitled.  I tip at a hotel if I get good or better than expected service.  Do you tip bank tellers, fast food workers, flight attendants?  There are a lot of tough jobs out there that aren’t expecting tips.  I do agree that rude people suck, but I don’t want to get revenge on them…geez.  Can’t believe Robin didn’t grill this guy as there wasn’t anything funny about what he was saying.  I think some of it is also called illegal.

  • Claudia

    I have worked in hotels (in many capacities) for more than 15 years and have never been so disgusted and embarrassed by a fellow member of the industry. If this book is a tell-all of his PERSONAL experience, he is by far the most unethical, cheating, lying and unprofessional hotel employee I’ve ever heard of and deserves to be fired and prosecuted!

    The vast majority of hotel employees, work very hard, everyday, to service guests and create positive experiences for visitors. Most of us in this industry, are passionate about it and spend long hours on our hotels ensuring that we are providing our guests with quality accommodations, courteous service, honest business practices and impeccable staff behavior. The case of Mr. Tomsky is obviously a bad example of what the hospitality industry is all about, and a clear indication of his moral compass and lack of commitment. I guess by writing this book, he expects to make a living… 

    Very disappointed on Robin and WBUR for giving this book that much attention. 

  • Jellyd27

    Shame on this show for airing this joker. My family is in the hotel business, we are property owners and operators. Our staff livelihood depends on our business mgmt skills. This is the case in any business! Sounds like he thinks he can be an operator just because he knows a few tricks. Son, if you want to call the shots, you need to put your own money on the line. Then you will know why policies are in place. When you pocket cash for favors (i.e. upgrades), you hurt everyone, especially the staff. Trust me, the proprietor will reduce the staffing if going under is the other option. The part about overcharging the guest is the guest talking out of his a**. this is illegal and GM or supervisor would catch it. this is just an effort to promote his book. Stop bringing guests with no real credibility. The host was also a disappointment for laughing along. Very amateur interviewing.

    • Tbearsangel

       I have to agree with you. I too work in the hotel industry. All I can say, is customer satisfaction comes first hand. Screwing the customer, screws everyone from the owners to the staff. Though it is a much un-appreciated position from the house keeping to the front desk, many do still appreciate you. With a great comment to your owners or corp office, to me, that is the best kind of tip a hotel owner or staff  can get…it’s not about the money. It’s called a service industry for a reason, if you can’t do it responsibly, then get out of the industry.

  • Leggett406

    I am disgusted that Robin Young would glorify this blatant extortionist. According to this smug, egotistical pan-handler, all hotel guests should bribe hotel staff if they want to have a decent stay. Failure to pay up is likely to result in theft, disgusting abuse of personal items, and harassment. Hotel management need to revisit their codes of conduct and ensure compliance. I hope victims of this guy, and like-minded individuals, sue.

  • J__o__h__n

    Robin, do we have to tip you so you book better guests?

  • Matti_R

     Eew. What an odious little creep: unethical, dishonest, and devoid of character.

    I’ve worked in a number of hotels over a ten-year period. I’m happy to say, I’ve never worked with anyone like this weasel.

    Employers and guests alike are well-rid of this guy. And here’s a “tip” for him: watch your karma, buddy.

  • allswellhere

    I found myself so disturbed listening to this man/thug. This was not tipping but extortion and at his discretion of how he can play a customer and for how much. The final straw was his talking about his distaste for the new management  (who should properly supervise the staff for management’s benefit as well as the staff and customers so that transactions are fair, ethical and honest on all sides) because he resented it upsetting the scheme that the staff had among themselves which was no more than a third world type economy built on bribery and graft.
    I think that the idea of tipping is completely out of hand – it has become an expectation just for doing a job that they have been hired on to do.  i do think that hotels need to pay their staff decently and that the hard work of housekeeping and others should compensated fairly and decently, rather than relying on tips. 

  • Debra Jordan

    This Jacob person is obviously a scam artist, con man and, hence, a liar. I don’t believe he observed any of this behavior, although he sounds capable of having done (or fantasized about doing) some of these puerile things himself. Like professionals in every business, hotel staff have to put up with irritating guests/customers sometimes — they handle it. But not by going “psycho,” as this low-life would have you believe.

    And “Industry Insider?” Hardly. More like a disgruntled college grad who barely made it past line-employee, for all his years in an industry he thought was really beneath him. That would be the “hospitality” industry — a concept with which he seems utterly unfamiliar. As for the infelicitous comparison to the urbane “Kitchen Confidential,” the witty, talented and accomplished Anthony Bourdain would be spinning in his grave, if he weren’t still alive.

    Was this really on NPR? Sad.

  • DougieZ

    This is disgraceful. Its horrifying to me that you can glorify something like this and try to pass it off as literary excellence. This guy- Jacob Tomsky- should be drawn and quatered in the front courtyard of his favorite hotel. He needs a course in ethics- as do you for publicizing this shameful book.

    • J__o__h__n

      I’d tip the draw and quarter person.

  • Tpo4444

    There are creeps in every segment of the work force.  You gave an audience to one that wrote a book.

  • http://www.facebook.com/russ.olson Russ Olson

    I have no intention of reading Jacob Tomsky’s book as a result of listening to your interview
    with him.  I thought he displayed arrogance and deceit in presenting his guidance on how to game the system.   His advice on how to avoid a cancellation penalty on same day cancellations was dishonest and duplicitous.  He gives an undeserved bad name to the thousands of hard-working, honest, and upright employees in the hospitality industry.  Quite
    frankly, I was shocked by the inclusion of such rubbish on “Here & Now” and the apparent approbation by the host of Tomsky’s tips.

  • Zagallo

    Oh yes, The giggling! I was listening to “Heads in Beds” and felt my blood pressure soring. I found the story vulgar and appalling.  People work really hard and spend a lot of money just to escape a few days to enjoy a little rest and pampering. This could be a single mom, a graduate student, a teacher, or waiter, and you Robin were laughing right along with this petty criminal’s  stories about sabotaging peoples private possession and violating their presonal space unless every last hand is greased.  Maybe this guy’s been at it a little too long because is whole persona came across as very very greasy.  Hope no one supports his book. It’s a disgrace to all the hard working women and men who truly honor their profession. I too was once a maid and waitress in a hotel and I didn’t meet any spitters.

  • Susie

    If my employees used these tactics, they would very quickly be looking for a new job. I hope they are not typical of hotel staff generally, as your guest seems to be saying. 

  • http://www.cardauthorizer.com/ credit card services

    I am shocked he is receiving positive attention for his scams…he mentioned not offering drugs or helping provide immoral requests for guests… Please! 

  • Using_common_sense

    This guy is a real D-bag, and is absolutely the antithesis of a good employee. I would never hire him for my front desk, and would immediately fire anyone showing or implying an interest to engage in such petty, selfish actions against the guests.

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