Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Sorry Sir, I didn't quite catch that..

When the phone rings at the front desk you never know what it might be. It could be the mundane; such as housekeeping needing a check out time for a room they have allocated for deep cleaning. Fascinating you think... yes quite. So when the phone rang this particular time, I had no hesitation in answering it. Unfortunately for the caller - I wasn't fast enough so when he called to complain about the noise, this is what he got from a receptionist... 'Good afternoon Reception, how may I help you?' Pause 'Sorry sir, I didn't quite catch that..' Pause 'No, I didn't quite get all of that sir, there is a dreadful drilling noise in the back ground' Pause 'I said drilling noise' Pause 'Oh, you know...' Pause '...loud voices?' Pause 'Sorry, loud noises. Yes I understand. When did you hear these noises?' Pause 'I didn't get all of that sir. All I heard was 'now...'' At this point I went over and grabbed the phone, told the caller I would be straight up and went straight up. The guest was room changed, upgraded and given a complimentary limo back to the airport... why? Not because engineering decided to rewire the electrics in the room next to him and forgot to let reception know, but because of the complete and utter plonker who couldn't work out the guest just might have been calling about that dreadful drilling noise in the back ground.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Quiet night I thought. However….

All was calm in the front desk. The lighting had been dimmed hours before and nothing stirred. The slight hum of the air conditioning fan was all I could hear. It was interspersed with typing from my colleague, Richard who was behind me in the back office. I stood at the reception eying the flickering screen in front of me as the computer closed the day's business.
I hesitated, then decided to take his word for it.

‘Ding.’ The elevator went. The doors opened and a gentleman approached the desk. He asked for a new room key. ‘I have been locked out I’m afraid’. The guest was calm through out and never blinked.
I, contrastingly, was blinking like a madman. I would have been calm too if it was not for the small fact that the guest was completely naked and stood full frontal before me.

He offered his name. The procedure for duplicating a room key demanded some form of identification from the guest. I hesitated, then decided to take his word for it. Not only because this was all he had on him but he had the support of the obvious notion that no one in their right mind would try to get into some else’s room in the buff.

I showed him to the room, offering my jacket as we approached the lift. He declined politely and as calm as ever, we both stood side by side as we went up in the elevator. I could not think of anything to say as I watched the digital display change floor by floor frustratingly slowly.
‘Cold tonight isn’t it?’, I grimaced at such a terrible attempt.
Erm, yes’ He replied in a tone denoting a true gentleman.

I preferred silence. And so it was all the way to his room. He never disclosed how he came to be out in the corridor with out a stitch on at 3:20 in the morning and I did not ask. But I am sure he had needed a pee and blindly fumbled through the wrong door He had found himself in the corridor desperately looking for the toilet but instead saw elevators and corridors then heard the main door shut behind him with a ‘click’, sealing his fate.

It was not the first time and certainly was not to be the last, I thought as I returned to the desk.

Quiet night indeed, but interesting.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The perfect apology letter Vs What I actually thought.

The apology letter. Mr Patterson was upset about his arrival experience.

Dear Mr Patterson,

I was distraught when I heard of your suffering during your stay with us. Please accept my deepest apologies. I find that the experience your were put through on your arrival was unacceptable. Please rest assured that I will be addressing these points with the utmost seriousness and concern.

As a five star establishment we are proud to be able to consider ourselves as setting the bar for service standards. It is regretful that you were a victim of a rare lapse in those standards. Thank you for bringing these issues to my attention. I can assure you that service of this standard is not the norm and that your next visit with us will be perfect. I would like to offer you an upgrade to a suite.

Please contact me personally for your future reservation and let me know if there is anything further I can do for you.

Sincerely,

Mr A. Kissarse
Duty Manager

And what I actually thought...

Dear Mr Patterson,

I believe you are mistaking me for someone who cares. Retrospectively, I cannot understand how you could have possibly expected a complimentary room night for your own stupidity.
This leads me further into my conviction that you go far beyond naivety.....Idiocy springs to mind. When I said I was distraught I was actually lying. I just really love the word. The mere thought of your suffering only feeds my yearning for retribution. This is effectively delivered through my complacency.
And you can go stick my deepest apologies up your in-box. My utmost seriousness will be duly paid to more pressing matters such as aiming correctly into the toilet bowl to minimise splashing.

Rest assured that you will find your next visit a living hell. If there is anything further I can assist you with, you will find I am busy re-arranging my pants draw. Please take my advice and use hotels more apply suited to your persona – ones yet to score on the star grading system should suffice.

Sincerely,

Mr R. E. Ality.
Duty Manager

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More Alcohol

We re-breach the subject with another histoire involving copious amounts of that wonderful substance that makes you sound as if you know what you are talking about, makes everyone look attractive and turns you into a complete tit.
We may have seen numerous documentaries on the increase in reaction time following a good few jars of the amber. The exploits you are about to read touch on the change of the reaction itself. It is amazing to see how one person’s stupidity can be replicated and magnified by the reaction from his or her friends. Popular opinion manifests itself. Then it becomes a complete conviction with each member thriving on the next person’s support and optimism. Soon enough every one of them has the unwavering belief that the idea in question is the best and only course of action and they are all in the presence of genius. After all we are human – implying that we are ultimately followers scratching at our nomadic roots in our desperate search for acceptance. A sober person’s thoughts will be processed. They develop and evolve. What results is a logical and beneficial conclusion. Drunken people’s thoughts are different. They don’t evolve they transmogrify. They hate something, they love it. Oh, and then they hate it again. Basically nobody knows until a few of their group offer approval, then they all love it.
Exiting the bar, someone will have the great idea of putting the nearest traffic cone on one’s head or enjoying a ride in a handy shopping trolley. A few alcohol-soaked bodies out for a good night on the town, there will be one with the dumbest idea on earth and the others will unanimously agree it is the best they ever heard. That person feels like a god purely due to others reaction. The others are humbled just to be part of it. The vicious circle of idiocy starts with a milligram of momentum. A snowball develops. Grip on logic is lost and an overwhelming urge pops into their heads. Their evening was smooth and uneventful until they jolted awake with a thought that required their immediate attention.
Let’s go to a hotel. And they did.


The first I heard of it was when my pager went. It was our fine dining restaurant; the Maitre-D, Ben, needed a little help with a party of three who had been refused a table and had rudely declined to leave. They were drunk. I saw the three ‘guests’ in question from across the lobby inside the restaurant. One tenacious lady was stabbing at the air with her finger towards Ben. I could not make out what she was saying but took a wild guess that it was of a negative nature. I arrived on the scene and Ben explained to them in no uncertain terms that they were in no condition to enjoy or allow other diners to enjoy such a fine meal and were politely declined entry. Hearing this they got upset and started shouting. Then they were asked to leave but (Shock, horror!) they then become even more upset and aggressive.

They stormed out of the restaurant. We were pleased as we thought that was the end of it. There was some heated debate between them as they stood outside the hotel at the main entrance. One of the ladies rummaged for their mobile phone. Security arrived and we stepped outside to openly monitor them. The lady was just finishing the conversation on her mobile phone. ‘Come as quickly as you can’ I heard her say. I assumed she was calling a taxi but I was soon to be horribly corrected.
They each smoked a cigarette. Ben, security and I eagle-eyed them to ensure calm, control and order was prevalent. Ironically, as soon as the police car arrived, all three went out the window. The tenacious lady waved to the police – they were expecting them. The car pulled up and a tall constable got out and we moved in closer. ‘What seems to be the trouble ma’am?’

‘They wouldn’t serve us dinner’ the lady exclaimed. My jaw dropped. Immediately a wrinkle developed in the policeman’s brow. She re-iterated her accusation. 'We were asked to leave the restaurant! 'The constable spoke, ‘Yes, but can I help you ma’am? – are you injured?’ Obviously very perplexed and irritated by his initial understanding of the situation – she raised her voice. ‘They did not even offer us a glass of water!' She shouted.
'Ma'am, have you or your companions been a victim of any wrongful doing?' The constable questioned. In doing so, a discrete grin grew out of the corner of my mouth.The entertainment and loss of face ensued. 'Yes' the lady said. 'This hotel threw us out of their restaurant.' As she spoke she swayed gently but managed to correct herself with the discretion of a hippo. The policeman rolled his eyes. Ben, Security and I began to recede back into the hotel. We did not want to gloat and risk causing more violence. Our ‘guests’ (Yes they were, albeit for a brief moment) were not charged with wasting police time. They received a short explanation from the policeman during which he raised a finger. They left and walked melancholy back onto the main street. The police car then departed. Later I wrote my report ready to be read out in the general managers briefing first thing the next day. I had just one thought.

No one is going to believe this.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

This sucks, I want a complimentary room night!

Many guests were challenging when they complained. I enjoyed talking to most of them and saw it as a personal objective to turn them into happy guests.
Every once in a while, however, I would see the ultimate guest; someone who was capable of giving a particularly brutal challenge, delivered with little or no effort as to indicate a veteran moaner. A guest that gave staff such a torrid time that fear festered come the pre-arrival of a return visit.
Mr Richards was a small man and ran a successful business in Chicago. Each check-in was, for him, a business deal waiting to be brokered. The reservation had been made well before with the room rate confirmed, the room type allocated and all details pre-arranged, priced and agreed. This played no importance on his arrival. He wanted a cheaper rate for a better room. If he did not get it, his strategy would go up a notch.
Once, he had a housekeeping supervisor in his room for 30 minutes straight lecturing him about a 6 inch square patch of condensation in the top left corner of his window and how it partially blocked the view of the building opposite. He demanded compensation.

He got nothing.
The next day Mr Richards called for the manager.

'This one was quite amusing'

I went to the room. It was 9am. This was an early start for him. ‘Howard!’ – he knew my name. ‘What do think of this racket uh?’ I could hear nothing but a faint rustling of the trees down below on the large terraced gardens at least forty metres away... from the room has always stays in. I considered it quite soothing.
‘Those f$*%&*g trees woke me up last night. I got no sleep. You owe me a complimentary room for this. Those trees drive me nuts. This hotel really sucks ya know.’ Mr Richards ranted. I found this one quite amusing. But knowing him and knowing the situation, I pasted on one of my best concerned faces I had and exuded the highest levels of seriousness. Then, with carefully chosen words I delivered the vaguest of promises for absolutely no compensation whatsoever. He bought it. Unfortunately, it was bought for only another twenty four hours. The following day, on departure, it grew exponentially worse. He called for the GM.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A motivational speech from hell.

It is frequently said in the hospitality industry that it is the people of a hotel that set the standards. They achieve that feeling of warmth extended to each and every guest who walks through the front door. It is the people who deliver that smile, that friendly tone of voice and that caring gesture which could never be replicated by a machine... and never will be. I am, after all, talking about the human touch.
I strongly believe that there are no happy guests without happy staff. This means that those members of staff need to be energised, ready to please and highly motivated at all times.
Cue the director of training. Maxine. She was our ultimate asset in keeping everyone on their toes and eager to please. It was a training session on work-life balance and I expected it to be much like any other motivational talk. But Maxine was new to the hotel so I envisaged the possibility of a difference. And oh, was there ever a difference…

'Good morning,' Maxine said as she greeted me at the door. 'Please sign in.' She gestured towards the list of names on the table.
She had started at the hotel a couple of weeks prior amid fanfare of being a pioneer in methods for getting the best out of staff and maximising the talent of the work force. I was curious to find out more.
The room was set up in classic theatre style with everyone sat at their seats. A small table stood at the front with a laptop computer on top showing the projection of the title page onto the white roll out screen.
I took a lemon tea from the coffee and tea station and sat down at the back. There were lots of people from all departments in the audience. I sat with mostly housekeeping room attendants. They were a polite, hard working bunch. Some of them were from Nepal and many others were from Philippines.
There was a heavy 'click' sound and a thud in stereo as our host approached the front and took hold of the microphone.
'Right good morning everyone,' Maxine announced. 'Welcome to today’s talk which is about work life balance. It is a talk on what we do presently and what we can do better to enjoy life inside and outside of work.'
Maxine went on to describe how working over-time is sometimes necessary but must never be considered as a daily requirement. After some minutes spent on how important it is to have time at home and with our families, I was spending some time thinking about how nice it would be to be home right now. Maxine then went on to ask for examples of hobbies from the crowd. People were reluctant to volunteer to begin with but Maxine continued and more people soon joined in.
'Yes you.' She said, pointing to a person in the front row with her hand up. 'What's your hobby?'
'I like to play cricket,' the girl said.
'Good. That is a game where team work plays a big part. What else do you all do.... anybody?' Maxine persisted. She was struggling for volunteers so asked directly to a rather large chamber maid sitting close to me. 'Do you have a hobby?' She demanded.
'The girl seemed hesitant, and then timidly spoke. 'I like cooking'.
'Good.... Yes, I can tell by your size,' replied Maxine.
My jaw dropped. I watched the chamber maid exchange looks with her immediate colleagues beside her. A frown came over her face, followed closely by a polite embarrassed smile. She bowed her head and looked at her feet.
Maxine quickly continued and did not seem to realise the affect of her words.
'Who else has a hobby that they would like to share with the rest of us?
Two room service waiters put their hands up. Maxine's finger pointed over to them. 'We play golf,' they said simultaneously.
'That is excellent,' Maxine praised. 'Golf is a very relaxing sport and good for the mind and concentration. So you see everyone. Golf used to be a sport just for the rich. Now it is not. Anyone can play.'
Was Maxine aware of what she was saying? I thought as I witnessed a wave of disappointment envelope the two gentlemen from room service.

Maxine progressed, or rather continued. She gestured to her assistant to change the slide on the lap top. He placed a hand on the key board as Maxine spoke. 'We shall now move to the final few screens, but you have to be a little patient. This laptop has a software problem and is very slow.' The assistant pressed a button and nothing seemed to happen. Maxine spoke again, trying to fill in the gaps. 'It must have been made in the Philippines, ha ha.'
I nearly swallowed my lemon slice as I recovered from mid-sip. The audience mumbled incoherently. There was no laughter.
'Just kidding,' Maxine added.
I felt utter embarrassment for all these staff and sheer amazement for the audacity, or stupidity, of this director's oratory technique.

Maxine concluded the talk and asked the whole audience if we had any questions. There were none. With that, the talk was over and we all got up to leave. Everyone was a buzz of conversation. Intense dialogue could be heard and seen with frequent animated gestures as staff walked into the corridor.
Maxine had succeeded in grabbing people’s attention right from the start. She had kept the audience interested throughout the presentation through the delivery of rash, in-your-face abuse, and had proved herself more than capable in leaving people motivated and giving them something to talk about for a long long time. Unfortunately she had also succeeded in attacking the audience' dietary habits, their financial status and nationality. The offense they had received would be something to talk about for some time to come.
I had been effectively motivated to attend the next talk Maxine had scheduled. I couldn't wait.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Alcohol

It is an integral part of an hotel. Imagine one without it. No. I can’t either.

You have it in the lounge, the cocktail bar, restaurants, room service and don’t forget those all familiar little fridges in every room – the mini bar. Alcohol is all around us. Thinking about it, I cannot understand why I did not see half of our departing guests incapable of signing their bills and needing stretchers and wheel chairs to take them to their waiting limousines; such was alcohol’s abundance in our establishment.
But I am happy to report only slim pickings of incidences that occurred as a direct result of the substance. They are, however, top quality episodes I have thought about quietly on numerous occasions which never failed to bring a broad grin to my face.
I was approached once by an elderly gentleman in the opulent marbled lobby whom I immediately suspected of being a chronic alcoholic. This thought was brought on by the sight of a face like a large extra wrinkly walnut with two red holes for blood shot eyes. He politely asked for an orange juice….with some vodka. Okay. I thought. The guy wants a drink. No problem. But there was a couple of small details that bothered me. Firstly, it was seven o’clock in the morning. Secondly, he requested to have the proportions reversed.
‘A treble,’ he asked. ‘With just a touch of orange’
I let him have one. I informed the barman, who was initially very reluctant – having just given the gentleman a glance struggling across the room towards a table and concluding he may not survive until lunch time. He did not want a death in his bar or on his shift. I told him confidently that if he didn’t serve him, he would not even make it to his chair.

On another occasion I was paged to attend an incident which had begun in the male washroom in the ballroom. Or rather, ended in the ballroom washroom. I walked in and was confronted with a couple of feet sticking out from under the cubicle door. There was no movement.
The security supervisor and I pushed the door open. A smartly dressed gentleman was lying on his side, mouth wide open and dribble coming from it. Out like a light, totally wasted having collapsed in a cubicle dressed in a suit that probably cost more than I made in a month. Have I left anything out? Oh yes, his winkle was hanging out.
We tried to wake him up and after 3 minutes, we succeeded. Luckily for him, otherwise an ambulance would have been called and then his endeavours would have been made a little more public. (As apposed to having it printed on a screen and exposed internationally like this)
Unfortunately, it took a little longer to get him to speak any actual words in place of all of the grunts and moans we had had the pleasure of hearing up until this moment. So, in order to find out who he was, we delved into his wallet. This was after assisting him in zipping up and preserving his dignity. Infact, there was such little of his dignity left; there was only one thing smaller. But regardless of its size, we still had to zip it up.
Anyway, back to his wallet. We found a credit card, and a business card. These two items confirmed a worrying amount of information. He managed an equity fund for a rather prestigious investment bank.
I would like to think that what I saw that night was a result of a great celebration and indicated equally great returns for his business, but reality dictated that if the fund tanked half as much as this manager, I wanted no business whatsoever with his company.

We escorted/carried him back to the foyer where he began to talk decipherable words and once he was with his friends they insisted he was fine and that they would see him home safely.
They must have been really good friends.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Talented jerks, amiable fools… then there is Tony, the dislikable idiot.

This will be the last issue concerning our favourite manager - Tony. At least for while. I meant it when I said small doses. I am trying to avoid a lawsuit when you check out of the psychiatric wing and sue me for stress and torment due to a Tony over-dose.

Tony was not a fool he was the fool. He was also a small fool but he tried to compensate for his lack of height by keeping his head angled 30 degrees above the horizontal, therefore elevating his chin above the level of his ears.

Briefing would sometimes be entertaining too - If a thought hit him while I was updating him on a guest complaint, his tiny mind would engage a 9 second time-out limit forcing him to rush to get the thought out before it was lost forever in his abyss of nothingness.
He would tense his lips together and begin to stutter. If I carried on and did not let him talk, he would splutter and spurt his noises into a foamy mess trying to interrupt me. During this time he'd be quite incapable of listening. I would keep a safe distance so as to remain out of range of his projectiles.

Tony once ranted for half an hour about the environment and wasting paper after he discovered the photocopier was able to copy on both sides of a piece of paper.
He always managed to excel himself however, and one horrific way he did this was by always picking at scabs when I was briefing him. He was constantly tending his harvest of fascinating skin growth searching for the next crop.
It was nice though, to share the workload of having to suffer his mental madness on occasion when I would witness him telling a joke to someone else. His loud words were interspersed with laughter grunts breaking every line. Most people could hear him clearly but if they knew him; they chose not to. One afternoon, he focused his attention firmly on a new receptionist who, two levels his junior and fresh to the job, she paid such anxious attention as to indicate fear for her life. He increased velocity of the words in the build up to the punch line. Then it came – and was met with brutal silence. Turning to me, he longed for a reaction. I did after a short delay, let out a whimper in pity, he bellowed with laughter at the relief of a reaction and in an attempt to sustain it to its max. I pretended there was a phone call, desperate to divert attention, and answered it. Tony left the room. I replaced the hand set and looked over to the girl. She was utterly bewildered. I tried my best to reassure her telling her quickly that his occupancy was not quite up to par in the IQ department and that he was a floor or two short of an inventory. She soon perked up, welcoming the realisation that the method of his thought processing (if any) was the exception rather than the norm. She was fine by the end of the day and avoided the need for therapy.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Tony's bizarre mind.

Continuing our in-depth investigation into the workings of Tony's bizarre mind, I thought I would touch on what else got his tail wagging. There was always a perverted streak in Tony, but this went to the stratosphere and back and would leave anyone with the filthiest websites filling their favourite’s column with a sense of bewilderment as to what the hell he was on and on about.
One such episode left me speechless with perplexity when he returned from his room inspection laughing uncontrollably. I was overly polite and patiently exhibited my fake interest as to the source of his hilarity. I expected his yarn to be something along the lines of having over heard two men checking in and asking for a king bed. This would be brand new to Tony.
But no. I was surprised to hear of another encounter which was way beyond the boundaries of my imagination.
He had just inspected a guest room, as was required by any manager. He giggled and clearly loved the attention and the smile I gave him while asking him repeatedly to tell me what had just happened. The scenario looked like a child begging his father to give him his first Christmas present. I felt like a whore, such was my pretence.
His guffaws slowed and what little of his composure gradually returned. He began his eagerly anticipated story.
'I just came down from room inspection. I checked the room 302 - the disabled room.....and...' more laughter ensued. My smile returned but was getting weaker by the second as my acting capabilities abruptly began shrinking faster than grape with noble-rot.
'The disabled room.... oh my god.... it has a spy hole......' off he went again.
'The spy hole is at this level....' He said chuckling again while pointing to his groin.
So that's the punchline ey, Tony? I thought. This time, the corners of my mouth went up a fraction. This was all I could muster. Tony continued, 'so when someone is at the door, the person in the wheel chair inside the room can only see their..... their....' and again, he broke down, even louder than before. My corners remained up and this time I managed a squint to my eyes. But anyone with a gram of brain matter would have noticed that my mood was far from up-beat and was currently showing potential for thoughts of a life-threatening nature. Tony, being the catalyst of the situation and the only human within throttling distance should well have been taking notice.
Instead he was unrelenting. The sniggering remained apparent. I did not and left the room, thus saving Tony's life.

He never knew.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Tony: Dependably unreliable.

Today we shall take a look into the world of one of my colleagues. It is a world very foreign to me and I am sure you aswell. He was by far the most interesting person I had ever met. Tony was not too far off 40 and had what seemed like an IQ to match. He was, like me, a manager and I had the misfortune to have worked with him for several challenging years. Surprisingly, I survived. More shocking, however, is the fact that he did too.

Tony had an unbearable sense of humour. He found time and undue relevance in any conversation to interrupt what anyone was saying and make sure all listening would focus on his impending punch line. A case in question; we were discussing inventory for the first aid kit he was responsible for. There were several of us involved in this small but necessary conversation including two other managers and security. And rather than pay attention to the subject in hand, our Tony preferred to digress.

'We need two more slings and a face mask,' security concluded.
Tony's eyes widened as he zoomed in on something that brought him some amusement. He picked it up and held it out at arm’s length. All this time, Tony had an inane grin from ear to ear. He held in his hand one of those tiny condom-like things for placing over a finger injury. Tony acted as if he had never seen one before and carried on as if we hadn't either.
'Look! Who does this fit?'
He then let out such a guttural laugh that I thought I had missed an integral part of the mysterious non-existent build-up. Apparently I had not. I found myself exchanging puzzled looks with the others. Those shared glances turned to glares of concern as Tony dropped the miniature prophylactic to his groin and thrust forward with a loud grunt merging into yet more roars of laughter of an atomic volume. This, in stark contrast to our anxiety bordering on fear. I was weak, however, and released a whimper of a chuckle in polite agreement to the amusement. Tony took this as a full blown approval for his comedic adventures and commenced to pour out line after unbearable line of drivel culminating in him putting this small rubber sock up to his mouth and gyrating his tongue around it. It was a sickening performance and one that will be forever burned on my brain.
You would expect managers to have brains and a reasonable amount of common sense that had been tested at interviews. It is quite clear not all the idiots were filtered out. I lost a lot of faith in upper management due to this. Tony stretched the limits of tolerance to such a level that you would think he must have been related to a member of the board or hired for the soul purpose of showing the hotel is a company that does not discriminate on the basis of mental capacity.
I shall post more about Tony very soon. I feel he should be taken in small doses for fear of making dribbling wrecks of all of us.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Raining...in the restaurant...but raining what?!!

Raining....in the restaurant....but raining what?!!!

Can you imagine a scene where a fine dining restaurant is embarking on a busy weekend lunch time? The first few tables have arrived and the hustle and bustle has begun. Guests; some hotel residents impressing potential business partners interspersed with a few local rich were occupied with the menus having been settled in by the maitre-d and well into the first few sips of their cocktails and Chardonnay. Upstairs a few floors away, some other guests were also busy, but with entirely different tasks. Several, by chance completed their 'tasks' at about the same time and pressed down simultaneously on the flush handle. The effluence passed out of the guest rooms and through separate drainage pipes. These in turn brought the waste straight down a few floors with considerable momentum and into a junction system where many individual waste pipes consolidated and the hotels waste passed through and out. Only this time, it did not go out. It passed through and over the fine dining restaurant. Here there was a pressure build up. The first shriek came from table 42. She stood up as the 'tap tap' sound came down on her main course plate. The droplets were a tainted grey/brown colour. Both guests were not around long enough to study further details of the substance and were abruptly escorted to the lounge by the observant waitress. Other staff soon noticed an increase in flow and soon droplets turned to trickles. These were lined with strands of tissue paper and initial fears did not bode well. Those initial fears were very soon proved right as a pungent odour filled the room. Other guests were very quickly shown to the ground floor coffee shop to continue their dining and hopefully seal the deal on that partnership. As for the deal of paying for their lunch, that was firmly thrown out of the window. Comps were being given out quicker than poor old housekeeping staff could put on their face masks and swing their mops.
Engineering were also called and before that menacing corner waste pipe was successfully replaced, the floor of the fine dining establishment was a large puddle of raw human waste. All areas and equipment were sterilised.... as too were most of the staff.

Next time you are eating in a restaurant, look up.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

There’s nowt so queer as ‘otel folk.

You may expect to be embarking on a post that is about the rowdy, the violent or the overzealous type. Well, you’d be wrong. The above list has adjectives that describe the in-your-face kind of individual. Those kinds of people that would just make your average manager go ‘Oh god, another utter plonker.’ They deal with them every day.
But what surprises me in this job is literally just that; the frequency that I am in total shock and awe at the behavior of some guests. My last post described the effluence that can be tempted in though those fragile front doors of such high-end establishments. After reading that, this next one really needs no introduction.

I ventured into the elevator to go up to a room on the 8th floor. It was such a mundane task that the actual reason escapes me. As I entered the elevator, I was overcome by the pungent sickly smell of urine. People had been sick in elevators and that odour was bad enough. This not only stank but felt decidedly out of place. I called housekeeping; the department victimized by oh so many grim tasks. Vomit? Call housekeeping. Blood on the carpet? Call housekeeping. A guest checked out leaving a nasty accident in the toilet after having the runs? Call housekeeping. Yep, they get it all. The lift was switched off temporarily while they cleaned it. Meanwhile, my curiosity was getting the better of me. I called Security and described my discovery. They then set to work watching the CCTV. All it took was 5 minutes. ‘Yeah, we found her,’ came the crackly reply on the mobile phone.
‘Her!?’ I exclaimed.
‘You’d better come over and see this’
I did. I joined security at his office desk a couple of minutes walk through the back corridor. As I got comfortable, he hit the play button. I watched the empty elevator standing calm and dormant. The doors opened on ground floor. A couple entered. They were dressed immaculately and had obviously returned from an official party. They stood in the elevator with their heads slightly lowered, the epitome of decorum. The doors closed. The gentleman then reached to her head and stroked her hair. He was grinning and started to get closer to her. She was having none of it though and pushed him away. He was persistent and placed a large hand on her waist. She pushed him harder. The lift stopped and he went to the door. He extended a hand as if to say this is your last chance. She seemed to say something but we could not make it out. The play-back, unfortunately, did not come with sound. She mouthed the words that were unmistakably an expletive. His hand then disappeared out of view and the doors closed. The elevator continued.
‘Keep watching,’ security said. I did. The shock and awe began. The lady, in her best dinner party dress immediately reached down to the hem of her skirt. She hitched it up and at the same time, squatted in the corner. She stayed still for a moment with the only change about her being her facial expression. Her mouth opened slightly and she seemed to exhale with the relaxation that accompanied the loss of pressure she was obviously experiencing. A moment later she wiggled her not so petite derriere, as if to shake off the excess and stood up in a proud manner as if to announce her triumphant achievement.
With skillful timing, or more accurately, lucky as hell timing, the doors opened and as innocent as anything, walked out without a care in the world.
I made sure this episode was well documented. On hearing about it the next morning, top management wanted this urine menace found. The security director was placed in charge and dug deep in his investigative duties. They lead him nowhere. The lady proved elusive and was never traced.
Housekeeping, unfortunately, worked hard that evening. They gave that smell everything they had and came up trumps. The elevator was released back into service with a clean carpet and the freshest smell ever. Hard to imagine what had just before smeared the name and spotlessness of one of the most snobbish establishment in the city.

The next time you venture out to the top hotel of your quarter and enter the elevator, it would do you good to take notice and consider for a moment that potentially minutes before, someone had used it as a lavatory.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Establishments of opulence attract guests of effluence.

A good manager needs to lie well when facing the guest. This, I can do. But over the years I have accomplished something else, something just as useful. Tact has become my friend and asset and has proved to be quite a useful weapon on many occasions. This tact has prevented me from saying things that seemed, at the time, monstrously obvious but if pointed out, would have ensured a furor at the guests’ behest. I for one try to keep things as quiet as possible. That is after all, my job. It is Incredible to think that everything written here occurred with this in mind. My adventures would have no doubt made far more interesting reading had tact not played a part, though at such a sacrifice to the hotel’s comfort level that I would have been unemployed within a month.
What comes to mind are my most memorable attempts to abstain from pointing out the blatantly obvious.
I was in the executive lounge, a place where only the discerning guests resided. This haven provided all qualifying guests (I.e. – the ones who paid a considerable sum on top of their hefty room rate) with a quiet privacy, extra attentive service and the epitome of luxury surroundings and gourmet cuisine. It was morning time when I ventured through the special key access doors. A very fat lady immediately attracted my attention. Not because she was fat but because she was beginning to raise her voice in the ever recognizable prelude to an outburst. She stood at her table holding a plate pointing at things on it as she spoke to the waiter. I discretely intervened.
“Good morning Ms Robinson, may I help in any way?”
She turned towards me wobbling in several places as she did so. “Yes. Look at this,” she demanded and pressed the hash brown nestled closely to two fried eggs, three sausages and some bacon. The light coating of oil on the hash brown shimmered as her fork weighed down. “How can I diet if you serve me such fatty things?”
I almost chuckled at what clearly seemed to be a joke. One look at her expression informed me efficiently that humour was last thing on her mind. After a pause, I took the plate from her hand and promised to replace the offending hash brown.
In the kitchen I spoke to the waiter, “Cook her another one in very hot oil, dry it off then serve it to her. What a fat tart.”
Leaving the lounge, I had such an urge to have stepped back in time and replay the scene to my preference rather than hers.
“Look at this. How can I diet if you serve me such fatty things?”
“Are you being ironic madam? Or was that code for take this away and bring me some grated carrot, a lettuce leaf and a glass of skimmed soya? Or did you want me to tell you that you don’t in any way resemble a cow in labour? Or would you like me to call engineering to widen the doors or would you prefer to be air lifted?” The listed was infinite.

Another episode involved a gentleman who had purchased a tall latte in a paper cup from one of those ubiquitous coffee shops and brought it into our plush cocktail bar to drink it. The waiter approached and somewhat upset the guest by asking him to refrain from drinking an outside product and purchase one of our coffees. He called for the manager. I arrived.
“Your staff has just informed me that I cannot drink this coffee in your bar,” he cursed.
“Yes,” I concurred. “I am afraid so sir. It is because the beverage has been purchased from outside.”
“That’s obnoxious, totally obnoxious,” he said as he stormed off.
I was tempted to urge him to try drinking one of our coffees in that coffee shop to see what they said. But again, my tact prevailed.
This brings me nicely onto another situation involving another gentleman. He Clutched his card board cup of coffee purchased from outside and managed to take a few sips in the lobby without being discovered. Now, Ms Robinson was fat but this gentleman out-did her with ease. If they stood next to each other, Ms Robinson would look decidedly anorexic. The gentleman waddled towards me.
“This coffee has spilt onto my shirt. I need someone to take care of it as I have a meeting in an hour,”
I could immediately ascertain why he had spilt his coffee. Normal people – i.e. slim – had a vertical chest. His was horizontal which prevented clear access for the cup to his mouth. This was also a challenge to locate being hidden between two fat buttock-sized cheeks and many more chins.
“Certainly, sir – if you change in your room I shall send someone up to collect it and we can have it laundered express for you. It will be ready. May I take your room number and we can charge it directly.”
“Oh no,” he insisted. “This is your entire fault; I’m not paying a cent. I was drinking this coffee in your lobby on your seating. Do you think I should pay?”
My lips quivered on trying to pronounce a resounding “Yes”, but again I kept utterly quiet in lieu of any words. After all there was nothing I could say without any hint of disdain. “Send someone up straight away to room 1450,” he bellowed.
“Certainly sir,”
I called housekeeping, told them not to get his signature when they take the shirt with the cleaning form and to go and charge him the full price with extra for express. This was done. The next day on departure, he had either reconsidered his standing and accepted the charge or never saw it. Either way anyone who spills outside coffee on a shirt through no one’s negligence but their own should pay. If they think otherwise, I would assume they are attempting to re-establish the boundaries of common sense itself.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Never say that to a guy.

The adventures of a 5 star hotel come thick and fast. My repertoire continues with gusto as I make a subtle transition with this following post. Today we will delve into the state of mind of an emotional member of staff. We have heard in detail of many guests utterly losing it, some with good reason, some without. This time you will read about a colleague who broke down. The guest was calm and polite, albeit direct. But with his few, effective, carefully chosen words, he had the reception supervisor in tears…and me in stitches.
Jenny was a lovely girl, a veteran of hospitality and a natural with guests. She had already spent several years of her working life at the reception desk. She was attractive and quite well endowed. Jenny was also however, a little naive and sometimes asked a question or two that made her inexperience demonstrably clear.
The first inkling I got of the calamity was hearing her heaving sobs as she rushed into the back office while I was on the phone with a guest. She drew an extra Kleenex from the box in front of her as she turned her back to me and hunched over, gently convulsing.
“Let me see what I can do for you Madame. I will get back to you within an hour.” Luckily the guest accepted this proposal and I hung up the phone and immediately went over to Jenny. “Hey, what’s wrong? What happened?” I touched her on the shoulder behind her.
“He is still out there, waiting for me. What should I do?” Jenny’s eyes confirmed her urgency as she spoke.
“Okay. Who is out there and why are they waiting for you Jenny?”
“This afternoon he came up to me and said how grateful he was for the warm welcome I gave him on his arrival yesterday. I told him that it was no problem and that it was our normal standard of service. He then said he would like to get to know more of that service. I was not sure what he meant so I just carried on talking to him. Then he asked me out for a drink. I said I was in a relationship and he said that it was fine and asked me where I wanted to go. Is he crazy? Normally a guy would understand that that meant ‘no’ right? What is wrong with him?”
“He is a man, that’s what’s wrong with him,’ I quipped. “What happened then?”
“Then he started suggesting bars to go to so I just said directly that I could not go. He then kept asking me why. I did not know what to say. He was getting really pushy,” Jenny continued. Her crying subsided a little. I stood up and got a couple of glasses of water for us from the dispenser and sat back down.
“And what happened next?” I probed, thinking the situation was improving and Jenny was feeling better getting it all off her ample chest.
“I kept telling him I could not go out with him and he carried on asking why so I told him I was a lesbian.”
I choked on my water. Sat up and paid more attention. I repeated the question. “And what happened next?” I started to feel quite excited.
“He then started getting really excited, and told me his best friend could join us, I could not carry on talking to him after that so I left the reception and came to the back office,” Jenny concluded. She got up and peaked through the crack in the door. “He has gone now, thank goodness.”
I stood up and pressed her shoulder. “So are you okay now?”
“Yes,” she said confidently.
“A word of advice though Jenny. If you have a guy who pays a little interest towards you and you don’t want to know him, never ever tell him you are a lesbian. That drives me wild. I mean that drives men wild. They get all sorts of images in their heads. Then it starts to become dangerous.
“Really” Jenny muttered.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

What if the manager can't handle it?

If you have ever had the privilege of staying at a luxury five star hotel, I wonder if you ever have the misfortune to witness a complaint or problem. Did you ever over hear a heated berate from another guest? No, I did not think so. It is extremely rare. But it can happen and just such a situation can be a catalyst in strengthening or damning a hotels reputation. It all depends on how the manager handles it.
Now, there is large void that separates manager’s capabilities in handling such a complaint. Some will be so confident that they can endure a good shouting from a guest in a public place and not be menaced by any perceived besmirched image. A good manager will stand still, pay attention to the shouter, take everything they give and never, ever interrupt them. The biggest challenge faced in these situations is to focus on the person shouting. The 30 other people who have by now gathered around you and looking intently in your direction must be omitted from your mind. Ignore them completely.


By contrast another method involves the manager trying to save face by flitting about as the guest bellows at them. They seem excessively concerned with their surroundings, which a few moments before had been a tranquil lobby full of top rate furnishings. Now, it had become populated with the crowd from an unlicensed boxing match. This is not a good start and it is why a shouting guest is an exponentially higher threat than a quiet timid Mr Shy who would like some compensation for the fact that there was no bed in his room but is too damned introvert to shout for it. What the hotel does not know about they don’t care about.
80% of the complaint is successfully handled by you, the manager doing absolutely nothing. You say nothing, you listen, actively and let the complainant shout his lungs out. You have 30 (maybe 60 by now) people eye-balling you. That’s right; they are looking at you not the person shouting. Your devoted audience is interested in the source of all the noise of course. But they will be focused firmly on your reaction to it. They are only interested in one question… can you handle it?
To succeed you need to balance a level of concentration with confidence just right so as not to give the impression to the shouter that he is full of it but also not to give an impression of weakness. Do this badly and three disastrous things will occur. First, the audience will see you as weak and not up to it, second, the complainant will see you as weak and will therefore go for it – compensation – and feel totally justified receiving a complimentary night or more. Third and worst of all, after thinking you are weak the audience will then develop thoughts along the lines of: That must have been a genuine complaint. This hotel may be a bit dodgy. Let’s check out right now and change hotels. That ploy seemed to work – the manager just crumbled, let’s try complaining and see what we can get.

Ultimately, the barkers get the results.

Case in point: I had the pleasure of watching a business man checking out who noticed an anomaly on his bill. He had been charged for a long distance call to Taiwan. The case was handled by my colleague the reception manager who, up until then, I thought was quite capable. He arrived on the scene full of confidence. On hearing that the gentleman had made no such call and requested the charge of US$246 be rebated; the reception manager looked at the bill, then the computer screen, pressed some buttons and concluded, “I’m sorry sir, all the charges are made by the computer and we have never had a mistake.”
Mr Businessman went a little pale on hearing this. He paused with lips clenched, “Your computer has now made a mistake. This charge is wrong and I will not pay it” He said decisively. Heads began turning at this point. Other guests at the front desk found this performance more interesting to look at and stopped what they were doing.
The manager then went into the back office as I looked on growing more and more concerned. He then re-emerged with an expression of poise indicative that a happy conclusion was eminent. “I can offer you a 50% discount on that charge, would that be satisfactory?” He smiled as if to say, “I’ve done it, pretty good eh?”
I had just one thought. Oh dear.
The guest went ballistic. An erroneous charge cut in half does not solve the problem. Our sweet innocent manager then went into panic mode. He extended his angled up hands to his chest and pushed them down repeatedly with the words “please sir, calm down”. Now I could quite clearly make out the throbbing veins in the gentleman’s neck as he increased his decibels to three figures.
I intervened. I waived the whole charge and promised a full investigation with a follow up call within 24 hours. I apologized profusely and saw him safely into his car. As I held the door for him he exclaimed in his own special way how he disliked ‘that receptionist’. Such colourful and eclectic language was used that no accurate replication could be made on such a public page.
It was found that a quick call to the telephone operator would have exposed the useful fact that the charge had been manually posted….to the wrong room.

Statistics show that the normal guest (I‘m using the term ‘normal’ in the widest possible meaning of the word) will tell five people about a good experience and ten people about a bad one. Sorry. The stats are stacked against us I’m afraid. So imagine the normal guest see’s this, they tell ten people and those ten tell ten more and so on. Soon you have the population of a medium sized town knowledgeable of the fact that you had a bowel movement in the lobby.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

I’m sorry sir? What did you say was dangling in the water?

You could be forgiven for thinking that your average beautiful award winning five star hotel would run as perfectly on the inside as it appeared on the outside.
However, I am not the forgiving type and if you did so it would denote utter naivety. No, a hotel of any grade endures the bad with the good and deals with many problems.
Problems differ though. Every hotel gets the classics: The leak in the room, the missed wake up call, the erroneous pay-TV charge. But occasionally I received some complaints that you could consider to be out of this world. I found the following account warranted no exaggeration.


The operator called me. She had received a call from a guest who had asked that the water level in the toilet bowl be lowered. Perplexed, I called back the guest. ‘Good morning Mr Stein, this is the manager. I understand your toilet water level is not to your satisfaction. Is there anything I can do for you?’
Mr Stein then went into detail about how the level was too high for him and that when he sat down to relieve himself, he would receive a shock when the cold water enveloped his lower scrotum.
I found myself quite speechless. Then instinctively extended my sincerest apologies. Why I did this I am not quite sure. I was not in any way taking responsibility for the problem. Nor was I feigning guilt for his elongated sack.

Engineering were called and confirmed the water level in any toilet was a big job to adjust. It involved changing the entire toilet. I had to call back Mr Stein and inform him of the bad news. I apologized again but this time I felt guilty about not being capable of suggesting any alternative follow up. I considered offering a small pouch or a plastic bag but dismissed them as more of an insult than a solution. Mr Stein, luckily, was not too upset.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Would the faint of heart please go out of the room.

I have had the misfortune to witness some fowl almost evil habits of some luxury hotel guests in my experience. Being able to put it on paper, now furnishes me with some kind of cleansing, or retribution.

So nauseating they are that on serving that particular individual afterwards would bring about an astute rebuke by the most standard of hotel personnel. Others of a normal disposition may adhere to their requests through gritted teeth and a wrinkled brow. But I am not normal. I am a manager. I am a pristine rock on the outside with teeth gleaming ready to receive this 'guests' slightest request. On the inside I am harassed - struggling to remain unsoiled in such a fetid environment.

It is also in such a contrast that these sickening sights appear with a back drop of polished marble floors, fabric lined walls and classical art work hanging from every side of the majestic lobby.

To a hotel, its lobby is its first impression, the main entrance to offer every arriving guest the first of what will hopefully be many ‘wow’ factors. I have spent a lot of time in these lobbies watching guests walk from the main doors to the front desk and offer any assistance they might need.

On one particular day I observed one such guest enter. He saw the eloquent bone china ashtrays standing on the floor waist-high at each end of the reception's beautiful mahogany surface a short distance away. Then he began preparations.

Timing here was imperative. He commenced hacking and scraping the contents of his throat 20 metres off. As he advanced, this rasping process continued resembling a hybrid between a manual gear shift without using the clutch and a cat with industrial-scale fur balls. The guest zeroed in on his target. The grinding was maintained while developing a bubbly essence as it reached its final stages. The spotless bone china ornament with immaculate fine sand imprinted with the hotel logo stood proud. The guest approached and with one final oral heave, leaned right over. With a noise not dissimilar to a muzzled gun shot, the package was delivered and landed with a dull thud producing a small sandy crater with droplets splayed in all directions. The guest clearly felt relieved as he exhaled audibly and turned to me at the reception. He wanted to book a hotel car.
“Certainly sir, what time would you like that?” I reply through gritted teeth, with a squeezed smile and wrinkled brow.

Soon after, I walk passed and saw the resulting destruction to the ornamental ashtray and all the hard work that was evident in it's preparation by the cleaner. I felt deep sorrow. But this was nothing compared to what this guest had done to the ambience. Three minutes before, this royal lobby had been bestowed with the highest opulence resulting in a rich luxurious space. Now it was now a cattle market.
I called housekeeping.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Proof read. It's essential.

I would like to re-visit the subject of language. A little while ago we spoke about hotel language and the danger of abbreviations and potential embarrassment if used carelessly. Today I shall dedicate to spelling or grammar mistakes that I have had the fortune to witness. Some were just embarrassing; some were beyond belief and purely bizarre. But all were genuine mistakes made on emails to guests or official reports.

Official reports, such as our incident action report, were always necessary reading for all managers from middle right up to the higher echelons of the hotel. This report contained information, mostly bad news, about incidents that occurred throughout the hotel on any one day. Complaints, problems, repairs, reactions, guests that were feeling sick etc, everything was in this report.
One such guest was feeling ill one day. A colleague of mine had written the text and he had sent the report out to all management once his shift was over as normal procedure required. One entry caught my eye. A guest had felt ill and requested medical attention. I and was fascinated to learn that the guest had gone to the clinic suffering from ‘Gastro Interesting’.
I thought that it was very ‘Enteritis’ to read about.

Another guest (On another day) was described as having suffered from a ‘migrant’.

The malapropisms continued. This same report also documented the guest complaints. One day I had the pleasure of reading about the previous evenings’ activities. A guest had complained of all the lights going out in her bathroom. An engineer had gone to the room, fixed the problem and had duly reported back to the manager about the update. That manager had written a beautiful piece describing the situation:
‘The engineering staff fixed the problem and confirmed that it was caused by a short circus’.
Now, after I read this, I asked a question or two to relieve myself of a perplexity. Were any other lights affected by this mysterious dwarf clown? Or was it a vertically challenged marquee?

So, we have looked at the log report which is dangerous enough. But they can be changed and re-printed with ease. Emails, however, can prove deadly due to that simple but often pivotal, click on the 'send' button. One such email was sent from a manager to a guest who had checked out the day before. Housekeeping had cleaned the room and had found a shirt in the room. Our normal procedure demanded the guest be informed and an email was subsequently sent by a manager. This particular manager, however, had a reputation for a very bad habit. She never proof read her emails. A mistake was just waiting to happen. But this time coincidence, bad typing and a bad habit were waiting and all culminated to produce the mother of literary errors…. twice.


'Subject - Item left in room.

Dear Mr. Green,

I hope you enjoyed your stay with us and that you had a safe trip home. Please be informed that after your check out yesterday we found a shit in your room. We are presently keeping it safely for you in our lost property department. Please advise us what you would like us to do. Please provide an address if you would like us to send your shit back to you.

Thank you very much. I look forward to hearing from you.


Sincerely...'
etc.

I read it. Then I read it again having disbelieved the wording the first time round. After I recovered, my only question was whether Mr. Green had replied. He had not, apparently.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Some things we were not trained for.

All guests expect a high standard of service and care from hotel staff. This belief is shared by the staff who pride themselves on being a professional and people-orientated team with the conviction that they are capable of taking care of all guests; their every request, their every whim and in every way.
This is true and applicable across the board, and quite rightly so. In all my working experience, there was only one time when this did not apply.

Eyes widened during the afternoon briefing when the reception supervisor highlighted the comments written in the arrival diary and read them out to the fresh incoming evening shift.
‘Mr and Mrs Chan will be arriving tonight and will be travelling with their son who is mentally disabled.’ Anne the supervisor exclaimed. Anne looked around in search of a reaction – and there were quite a few of them. It was followed swiftly by a couple of ‘oohs’.
The comments in Mr and Mrs Chan’s reservation mentioned their son was fine under the family's supervision and that there was to be no need for any extra attention. It was merely for the hotel’s awareness.
So that was that. No problem then. But I put a request in with the reception team to call me on their arrival. I would greet them anyway and make sure they had a warm welcome. That way I could have a look for myself.

Later that evening, I got the call and made my way to the front desk. Mr and Mrs Chan stood there filling in the arrival card. There son, Luke, looked a young man, just out of his teens. He stood tall against his mother and clung onto her with his hand firmly around her arm. She continued to conduct check in proceedings as if nothing were amiss and obviously quite used to the situation. Luke remained fixed in his position and seemingly quite content with it. He also remained fixed with an inane smile and a stare firmly on the bellboy standing next to them patiently waiting for the room number. The bellboy fidgeted uncomfortably and was clearly quite new to such behaviour. I greeted them warmly, introduced myself and had a quick chat. Then I left them to be shown up to their room.
I thought nothing further of it and was very comfortable leaving Mr and Mrs Chan in charge.

The next day I was in the lobby. Guests were coming and going and I was talking to many of them as any manager would. All was going swimmingly when I suddenly heard a yelp, then a scream emanate from the other side of the lobby seating area. I ventured closer to see two ladies clasping their faces and walking away from someone. They came towards me.
‘Filthy pervert,’ one exclaimed.
‘You should have better security,’ the other said. She raised her finger to me at the same time as she passed.
I began an apology while I looked over to the third person the ladies had walked away from. ‘I am so sorry for….’ I trailed off as my tongue hung from my mouth. The man stood facing me. He had one hand on his hips and the other hand was pleasuring himself immoderately. His trousers rolled down to just above his knees. I lunged towards him, grabbed his arm and turned him around to face the other way. I sat him down on the lobby seating and snatched a cushion from the neighbouring seat and placed it on his lap. It was Luke. He sniggered throughout and was grinning again. He looked up to the ceiling and rocked his head from side to side blissfully unaware of the situation.
Then, Mrs Chan appeared from the lobby entrance.
‘Hello Mrs Chan,’ I said.
‘Hello there. What’s going on, everything alright?’
‘Luke has been demonstrating his manhood to some other guests. Could you ask him to stop?’ I asked politely.
‘Oh no,’ Mrs Chan replied with obvious embarrassment. ‘I only left him for a minute’. Lobby security approached to see what was happening.
Mrs Chan saw his trousers, now around his ankles and went for them. 'Come on Luke darling, let's get you dressed. You've been naughty' She advised. Luke ignored her. Mrs Chan took him towards the lifts and looked back to me. 'I'll get him upstairs. So sorry for the trouble,’ she said. The cushion remained firmly embedded in Luke’s grip. I had no intention of trying to retrieve it.
I went immediately to the two ladies and attempted damage recovery. They were understanding and forgiving after my explanation. I then called Housekeeping.
‘You will find an extra cushion in Mr and Mrs Chan’s room. It belongs in the lobby. Please ensure you wash it thoroughly before putting it back. Thank you.’

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Be careful what you say.

Language is under-rated in my opinion. It is so well employed and so effective that we should pause for a moment to think about just how important a part it plays in our lives. We use it when we speak, when we write and undeniably, when we think. Language is continually changing. Dictionaries continually add new words that are ‘invented’ by society. Look at text messaging as another example. This has evolved with vigor since the appearance of the mobile phone and could be considered a different language altogether.

Now, think about every business sector, company or department with people talking about the same subject every day. Abbreviations and short cuts pop up. Soon, they become ubiquitous. Before you know it, you have a work force speaking a unique and local language which is quite unintelligible to anyone outside the establishment. A hotel is no different. Codes that only individual departments would know are used excessively and rapidly become a normal part of the conversation. Receptionists make a perfect example. Their talk of abbreviations and codes is prolific. However, a worrying and dangerous situation may derive from the combination of two simple criteria;

1) If the abbreviation in question resembles a term more suited to the confidential confines of a doctor’s clinic and...

2) A receptionist’s assumption that Mr Joe Public will understand that abbreviation as intended.

Combine these two circumstances, and it can spell a disastrous first impression for a guest.

The case in question took place on a busy afternoon. The hotel was full the night before and the whole team was ready at the reception desk to help with the mass of expected traffic.
Mr Brown arrived. He exited the taxi and entered the lobby. Immediately he was relieved of his bags and he continued to the reception to check in. A receptionist took Mr Brown’s passport and began to write down his details on the arrival card while his supervisor worked next to him on a computer to find him an available room. I was also nearby helping to check out another guest. Mr Brown stood directly infront of the receptionist and was now signing his arrival card. The receptionist leaned towards his colleague and asked for an update on the status of the guest's room.
‘Is Mr Brown's ready yet?’
‘He's VD!’ The supervisor said firmly.
‘I’ll call housekeeping to…’
I reacted instantly and quickly glanced over to see Mr Browns eyes perk up from the arrival card at the shock of what he had just heard. He looked inquisitively and sternly at the receptionist, who had not yet noticed the guests’ reaction. I hurriedly concluded my check out.
‘Thank you and have a safe trip home,’ I said to the outbound guest and simultaneously turned towards Mr Brown whose temperature was visibly rising. I intervened, ‘Good day Mr Brown, my apologies for the delay. May I offer you a coffee while you wait for your room? It will only take a little while longer to prepare. Your room is Vacant but still Dirty.’ I assured him, politely trying to tell him what the ‘VD’ actually meant without repeating the abbreviation itself. The slight pause after my words felt eternal. I was desperate to know whether I had a full blown explosion on my hands or did the guest fully comprehend my explanation.
‘Oh, I see,’ he acknowledged finally with understanding, and appreciation. Once Mr Brown was comfortable, I left him and exhaled audibly at the relief of my success in diffusing a potential time bomb.

Back at the reception, my tone of voice changed markedly as the guilty receptionist was taken to one side, informed and suitably reprimanded for his over zealous use of the English language. Unfortunately, as English was not this receptionist’s mother-tongue, I was left with the task of enlightening him as to the meaning of the other anagram VD. With the assistance of a dictionary he learned two very new and useful words that day.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

You found what in the toilet!?

There are some things that occur in a hotel of stature that would make anyone cringe. Reactions could be along the lines of 'How could someone do something like that?' or 'Ooh, that's just disgusting.'
But the main reason these kinds of things happen, goes right back to the premise of anonymity. The simple fact that when a member of the public enters a hotel they feel themselves transmogrify into a guest. They feel like someone distinguished who can do anything and unfortunately, think they can get away with it.

Some of the time it is true. Guests will do revolting things, but if they must do so, they should have the respect to keep themselves to themselves when they do it. Then, their saudidness would not affect the lives of others, the innocent parties. However, once their acts spill over, scenario changes into something that begins to qualify for an entry into the managers log book.

There was an event in the ballroom. 400 people squeezed inside for a company's annual party. All was going swimmingly well until..

I was paged. One of the toilets had flooded in the foyer to the ballroom. This was one of the main washrooms for all the guests and the female toilets had flooded. I went straight away. The carpet outside the toilet entrance was already a little wet. I peered inside, engineering staff arrived and went in with a splish splash. An inch of water covered the washroom floor. The guests were now congregating outside and watching this unusual spectacle of a lake emerging in the middle of the ballroom foyer. I spoke to event staff and asked them to control the guests, get them back to their seats and re-direct them to the restaurant toilets just next door.
Engineering staff soon got to the bottom of the situation. They found it was caused by a blockage in one of the flush pipes. They had zeroed in on a right angle section of pipe. This part is especially designed to catch any item accidentally flushed that might cause a blockage. If it did cause a blockage, the cause would be right there at that right angle. And at this right angle, there is a conveniently placed access hole bolted on. The engineers went to work. Water supply had been switched off. The flooding had subsided. Now all that remained was to find the cause, the catalyst that set off this series of events which culminated in a flooded toilet and part of the carpeted foyer, not to mention a possible necessity for discount on the final bill of the event.
Distinguished ballroom guests had gone back to the banquet and, so far, none had complained about the small water feature that had developed in the foyer, nor about having to walk a few more steps over to the other female washrooms outside and across from the foyer. Also, not a mention of having to mix with the clientele of the Michelin starred restaurant. So far so good. I thought and went back to the lobby and about my other business and waited for an update.

Engineering called me. 'We have found the cause. The pipe is now back to normal and the water switched back on.'
'Great, what did you find in the pipe?'
You had better come over here,' came the reply
I went intrepidly to ground zero - the pipe under the floor of the washroom and saw two engineers hunched over with torches aimed at what they were holding in their hands. They were excited at something, or atleast that is what their tones of voice conveyed.
'What have you found?'
'Look!'
I approached closer as he held up a stained white ball of something. He began to unroll it with his gloved hands and, very quickly, the dirty shape and appearance of a pair of underwear materialized.
'Yes, a pair of ladies underwear.' He assured me.
My face went into an involuntary grimace as I imagined a set of circumstances that could lead up to this result. An accident was abruptly ruled out. However, someone may have suffered an accident and rather than continue wearing them, or placing them in a bag to take home to launder, they flushed them down the toilet. Were they thinking - rather naively - that they would just dissolve into oblivion and disappear?

How could someone do something like that, ooh it's just disgusting!?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Help! Does anyone speak Japanese?

Hotels are truly international places. What I mean is that each hotel literally contains its own world at any one time. America, Europe, Middle-east, Russia, Asia, Australia, the list is endless. But you will see them all freely and openly mingling in all the spaces.
Now most of the time a hotel will be staffed with people from those respective countries in order to deal with their respective guests requests. Of course this is according to the numbers. Like any red blooded establishment, money talks. A lot of Russians means plenty of Russian speaking staff. Japanese, Koreans; they travel a lot too and there are always staff blessed with the appropriate linguistic skills eager to help out.
However, sometimes those all important members of staff take the day off, or they go home to sleep after a hard days work. A good hotel may not want to have a Japanese speaker on duty 24 hours a day. That would be a waste of money. So when a Japanese guest hits the roof in the middle of the night because of a problem that shows no sign of abating, who should he call? What's left?
What's left is a humble western manager who is still struggling with his mother tongue - English.

I was paged. The operator told me that a guest had called down and she could just make out he was having trouble with the bath tub. That was about all she could understand. She could also make out that he was a very annoyed.
Usually I would call back first, but under the circumstances, it would have been futile. If the operator was unable to understand everything on the phone then I certainly wouldn't. Face to face would be the only possibility. I went up to the room straight away. Knocked on the door and took a deep breath in preparation to indulge a lot of effort in expression, tone, body language and eye contact so that my Japanese guest knew I was deeply concerned about his bathtub.
The door opened. It was immediately followed by a grunt and a gesture to follow him. I did. To the bathroom where he pointed silently to the ceiling above the bathtub and waited, as if listening. I did the same, and then it came; the gargling sound. I made a sound that was universally understood as an acknowledgement to what we could hear, which was 'ooohhh.' He then spoke his first words to me. 'Fith... if fie thtar therfith?' He stuttered with unmistakable anger. (this is five star service)
I grimaced and blurted an apology as I bit my lip hard. Mr Tanaka mistook my trying to suppress a laugh as extra effort of genuine concern for his terrible circumstances. I sustained my 'concern'. He became calmer. I spoke slowly, loudly and clearly to him, 'I WILL ARRANGE A ROOM CHANGE FOR YOU SIR. I WILL ALSO UPGRADE YOUR ROOM FOR YOU. WOULD THAT BE ALRIGHT FOR YOU?'
'Yeth, yeth,' he nodded in agreement.
I was relieved he had understood. I was ready with a rough translation should it have been needed; 'I rill allange a loom change for you thir...' I was happy that he did not require it.

The room change was done straight away and he was made very comfortable. The following day VIP amenities were sent with a note from our Japanese manager who also called him to ensure satisfaction.
'Is he happy with our follow up?' I asked our Japanese manager.
'Yeth,' came the reply.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

May I suggest a cold shower instead sir?

When the night makes that invisible transition from very late to very early morning, the machinations of a hotel slow right down to a snail's pace. All is quiet.
Paradoxically, it is also the time when incidents become increasingly prevalent. At the same time, they become more and more priceless....

It was late and the last hard core cocktail drinkers had just left the bar. I was at the reception keeping my colleagues awake and on the ball. A guest arrived with out a reservation. A standard room was found and he was shown up to the room by the receptionist. At that same time, two conspicuous looking ladies entered the lobby and came across to the reception. They were dressed as prostitutes, but as a hotel we would never declare or confront such a suspicion. This would go against the grain of discretion in the business of hospitality. I was, however, doubtful of their authenticity as they seemed a little on the mature side.
'We are looking for Mr John Peterson's room,' the older one asked the reception supervisor in a Philippine accent. The reception supervisor checked the computer and found Mr Peterson in Rm 1829. 'Is Mr Peterson expecting you?' The supervisor asked.
'Yes, he is.'
'Thank you, I am afraid we have to announce visitors and register them,' the supervisor informed the lady. She then picked up the phone and called to the room. 'Good evening, Mr Peterson, I have some guests at the reception desk who are asking for you, what would you like me to do?'
'Oh, yeah, send 'em up straight away, thanks,' Mr Peterson replied impatiently.
'Certainly sir.'
The ladies were then registered and provided their ID’s. I peered over the supervisors shoulder and glanced at their credentials; Elizabeth and Nora. Their years of birth were 1955 and 1951 respectively. I gasped and immediately disguised it into a cough as I stood right in front of them. I looked up at the lovely ladies and gave them a smile full of teeth.
Good god, I thought. Has Mr Peterson got two for one here?

'Mr Peterson is in Rm 1829,' the ladies were informed. They walked towards the elevator. Security eyed them constantly across the lobby. They went up. We then gossiped and chortled about the situation. We came to the conclusion that they must be the cheapest available or maybe they had been specially trained in some kinky techniques like those girls in the back street bars in Bangkok you hear about who can give you change for a 50 Baht note in their own special way.
Ten minutes passed and the ladies reappeared in the lobby. That was quick, I pondered.
'Is everything alright? The supervisor asked.
'No one answered the door so we are leaving,' said one of them.
'You went to the room 1829 is that correct?'
'Yes, 1829,' they confirmed. They then went towards the main door and walked away.
'What happened there?' I wondered out loud. The phone rang. I answered. It was Mr Peterson.
'Could you block all phone calls to my room please?'
'Certainly, Mr Peterson. I understand you were expecting visitors but I have just seen them leave. I wondered if everything was alright.' I asked.
Well, they came up to the room alright, but they sure as hell weren't what I expected.' Mr Peterson said.
'Really?’
'Let me put it another way. If you were expecting a good time and you saw that through your spy hole, would you open the door??!' Mr Peterson retorted.
'Ah, I see sir. So is everything alright, or can I offer any further assistance? Would you like a room change?' I said.
'No need,' he replied. 'There is absolutely nothing you can assist me with. But thank you for asking. Good night.'

Mr Peterson had chosen the bargain basement after all, but it had cost him a cold shower and a security concern.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

but it was too late.....

Circumstances caused by some guests can be revolting sometimes. But what can be more entertaining, is, in retrospect, to mix in a little coincidence with the revolting. On these occasions you get two victims for the price of one.

I was called to the restaurant late one night as a patron had been feeling unwell. Yes, she had drunk a little bit during her meal with her friends but it was all in the name of socialising.
I spoke first to the restaurant manager to get some more details, then we both went to the table to talk to the guest. As the conversation developed, she clutched a little more at her stomach. She turned down the offer of a doctor and said she just wanted to rest with the glass of water she had.
Her hand then moved abruptly from her stomach to her mouth. Her eyes widened and she was off. Her chair ground back against the ceramic floor as she stood up and leapt towards the washrooms. The restaurant manager and I followed as quickly and calmly as we could so as not to induce panic amongst other diners who may question the food quality if they saw us in pursuit of a woman hacking into her palm. She quickly turned the corner to the washrooms and was out of sight for a second. At the same time, we heard a loud wretch. Then we heard the door go.
We appeared at the washroom entrance and almost stepped in it. A fresh pile of vomit, not dissimilar to the linguini dish she had ordered two hours before. We asked a female member of staff to follow her into the washroom to check she was alright. The restaurant manager needed to attend to other happenings on the floor and he left the scene. I called housekeeping department to have someone come to clean up the area. It was now beginning to smell a bit.
The washroom door opened. I heard a second wretch come from deep with in the cubicles and tried to communicate with the waitress inside. A woman exiting turned back wondering what the noise was and continued to walk out while focused on the action behind her.
'Be Careful madam!' I warned her, but she did not see the major obstacle in front of her.
She stepped, slipped and went over fully onto her generous rear leaving a long streak mark right through the pile of vomit as she shrieked at her sudden loss of balance. This followed by a groan of disgust having realised what she had just gone through.

'Madam, are you alright?' I asked in a concerned tone. I winced at the irony of it all while I helped her up from the floor. Luckily she had avoided landing in the pile and was more concerned with her rapidly decreasing self respect rather than any risk of injury.
She groaned again after noticing the heaviness of her foot was due to a full half kilo of vomit that had neatly enveloped her exposed toes and deposited itself on top of them. She kept looking up as if to see if any of her friends had noticed. She then scuttled into the washroom to repair her composure. She gave her leg a slight shake which sent pieces in all directions-similar to a wet dog trying to dry itself. There was still no sign of Mrs Vomit yet. But atleast there was no more retching to be heard.
Housekeeping staff had arrived with a bucket, a scoop and a spray they use to cancel out that rancid odour. They set to work immediately. They had the area well wiped and smelling pleasant again within minutes.
Then Mrs Vomit came out and, although looking pale, seemed better. She said she was fine and, with pressed lips and a gulp, went straight up to her room. Possibly to vomit some more.

It was interesting to reflect on. That the one or two glasses of excess had set off a chain of events that culminated in another guest’s unexpected and most unfortunate slip up. A victim in every sense of the word.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A taster of what you should not see.

What we shall look at today is a lesson in complaining. When you stay at a luxury hotel and something, for what ever reason, is, heaven forbid, wrong. You, the guest, may feel the uncontrolable urge to complain. There is a certain approach required when complaining. Now, before you mouth off to the first person you see (it will probably be a cleaner or a bellboy who may not even speak English) you need to hold your tongue. Yes, I agree, it is difficult when fuming but you need to rationalise yourself. Here's what you need to do:

Always talk directly to the manager. Never talk to anyone else about the complaint. And never complain to a humble receptionist about a problem then ask them to talk to the manager about it. If you give them this opportunity you will get nowhere. What may happen is this....


The guest wanted to complain at check in about the room type he was given. He wanted a king bed. He was booked a twin.
'Unacceptable' He chanted. "My secretary booked well inadvance. You cannot tell me now that you have not got a king bed'
'I am sorry sir, but the hotel is full and we only have a twin bedded room for you, as that is what we have requested in the booking'
'That's impossible.' The guest continued in a higher tone. 'I clearly instructed a king bed. You had better run off and speak to your manager because this is a serious problem'
'Certainly sir just one moment' the receptionist complied and went into the back office. Once he entered the relative safety of the office enclosure behind the front desk, he saw a couple of colleagues chomping on cookies and helped himself.
'Hey what's up?' one said to him.
'This idiot wants a king bed but we are full. He says he booked one but there is nothing in his reservation about it. He thinks I'm talking to the manager now so I'll give it a minute or so, then go back out.'
The receptionist licked his lips and swallowed hard before straightening up to attention. He put on a solemn face, opened the door to go back out to the guest and began to speak.
'Yes sir, I'm afraid my manager says that due to the tight situation, we only have twin beds available.' The receptionist stood still. He wore a well practiced expression. A vague, resigned look smoothered his face. He had a wringled forehead showing concern with the impression that he had tried all he could to remedy the situation. He hoped this would inform the gentleman that he was doomed to stay in a twin bedded room.

'I would like to know exactly what you did for the last three minutes and to whom you were actually talking too. I would also like to know why you have biscuit crumbs around your mouth. Oh and by the way.... I want to see the manager right now!!!'
With that the reception wiped his mouth, the manager came and the guest was escorted promptly to a king bedded suite and treated like a VIP for the rest of his visit. A stark contrast to the treatment received by the receptionist.

So heed to the moral of this story and, if you have a gripe, always speak to the manager and no one else.