Confessions Of... A Front-Desk Clerk

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Anne Szeker was a front-desk clerk at a hotel in Shelton, Conn., from 2002 to 2004.

Nod and sympathize

The front desk is where everyone comes to complain. Sometimes, there's good reason: The pool is closed; someone threw up in the elevator; your room key card has deactivated; your room hasn't been cleaned; or you've been checked in to a room that already has guests in it. And then there are instances when guests are less reasonable, like the man who cursed at me for telling him he had to pay his entire bill--including the in-room movies his children had "accidentally" ordered. No matter what the situation, my approach always remains the same. I apologize sympathetically and calmly explain things from the hotel's perspective, even when what I really want to do is drop-kick the guest out to the curb.

Better than TV

The employees enjoy watching--and discussing--everything that goes on in the hotel. It's like an addictive soap opera that we love to chat about. Chances are we know why you're staying with us, whether it's for a vacation, wedding, or funeral. One weekend a guest is here with his wife; the next week he's back with his mistress. Then there are the guests who come in after too many cocktails and test out pick-up lines on whoever is behind the front desk. (And no, I'm not interested in your extra room key when my shift ends.)

Third-party reservations

Hotel managers can't stand it when guests reserve rooms through Expedia, Priceline, or any other booking engine, because after the Internet site takes its cut, the hotel barely makes a profit on the booking. As a result, guests who reserve directly with the hotel receive far better service. When things go wrong--we've run out of rooms with king-size beds, or the hotel is overbooked because some guests extended their stay--the manager's first question is, "Do we have any Internet reservations?" The folks who reserve through discount sites are at the bottom of the food chain. What you want to do is contact us directly and request the best price. I'm shocked when guests agree to the rack rate without a peep. The hotel is usually willing to give the discounted AAA or AARP membership price, even for guests who aren't members--so long as they book through the hotel, that is.

The logbook

Front-desk clerks keep a log to record all the noteworthy events that happen during their shifts. If a guest gets out of line, it goes in the book. Staffers stick together--wrong one of us, wrong all of us--so you can't expect to insult one employee and receive good treatment from another. One day our pool was closed, and a guest checking in decided to rip into one of the front-desk clerks. Later, the same guest called the front desk and reported that the Internet wasn't working in his room and that there was no refrigerator. "How weird," I replied, without looking into the situation further. "I'm terribly sorry. We don't have any other rooms." The truth is I want nothing more than to make my guests' stay pleasant--as long as they're willing to make my shift pleasant. We even have the ability to discount your room rate if things really go awry. So remember to smile as you walk by the front desk. It could be helpful if you need extra pillows at 2 A.M. If you're patient and have good manners, the hotel might even be able to find the room type you reserved through a booking engine.

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