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Jacob Tomsky – Heads in Beds

March 31, 2014

18. Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky (2012)

Length: 247 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir

Started: 05 March 2014
Finished: 06 March 2014

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I first remember hearing about it on Savage Love, although I may have spotted it elsewhere before that.

Crazy stuff happens
at hotels, both in the rooms
and behind the scenes.

Summary: Jacob Tomsky didn’t plan on a career in hospitality, but as an aimless recent graduate, it was the life he fell into, and as he found out, it’s a hard one to leave. He started on valet service at a newly-opened luxury hotel in New Orleans, and eventually rose up through the ranks, from supervising the housekeeping department, to working the front desk of a luxury hotel in New York City. In this book, he tells his story while simultaneously cluing the public in to what goes behind the scenes of the hospitality industry – what’s really happening in the parking garage, the laundry, the service department, and the minds of the various staff members whose job it is to make guests’ stays comfortable, even when those guests are behaving badly (as they are wont to do). He also tosses out tips about how to get an upgraded room, a late check-out, free pay-per-view or items from the minibar, why not to use the provided drinking glasses, and to generally get the best treatment from everyone at the hotel (Short version: tip generously and frequently.)

Review: This type of book is like candy for me. Is it of high literary merit? Of course not. But I devour it anyways.

The best description of this book is “Kitchen Confidental for hotels”; and while I imagine Anthony Bourdain must be tired of that type of description (or maybe not, maybe he loves it?), it’s the best touchstone I have for this kind of behind-the-scenes work-a-day service-provider memoir. (Hence, I’ve used it before, for waiter memoirs like Service Included and Waiter Rant.) I love this kind of book because it allows me into a world I will never see on my own, makes me feel like an insider, one of the cool kids. Of course, I’m not an insider, at all, and even the secret tips aren’t all that relevant: I stay at luxury hotels about as often as I eat at high-end restaurants, i.e. never, and it’s not like the motels I usually wind up in even have a minibar or bellboys for me to tip. But I still find it fascinating to know about the way that hotels schedule reservations, and flip rooms, and deal with guest issues, and what the lives of people that work there might be like on a daily basis. Actually, the one tip that is maybe most useful is that bookings made through discount sites tend to get the worst rooms, since people picking a hotel based on the price aren’t going to be repeat customers whose loyalty will be improved by perks.

Tomsky’s writing is not flawless, nor is it fancy and literary and polished, but it is hella funny, and with a natural storytelling rhythm. Like Kitchen Confidential, this book definitely has the tone of sitting down for beers with the author and shooting the shit and then he starts telling crazy stories about his job (also similar to Whatever You Do, Don’t Run in that way). It is crass in places, sure, and appalling in others, but there are also some interesting insights. For example, Tomsky points out that people tend to treat hotel rooms like they’re their homes, when of course, your room is always only semi-private, since hotel staff will almost always be in and out of there if you’re staying for more than a night, and that a lot of conflicts between staff and guests arise from this disparity. It’s maybe not the deepest revelation ever, but (as I was reading this while staying in a hotel in Baltimore) it did ring rather true. So, much like Kitchen Confidential and Service Included made me more conscientious about dining out, Heads in Beds made me more conscientious about sleeping out, while simultaneously being a ton of fun to read. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Definitely recommended for frequent travelers, as well as those who like grown-up, job-centric, behind-the-scenes memoirs.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Devourer of Books, A Good Stopping Point and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: I’ve worked in hotels for more than a decade.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2014 3:33 pm

    I had planned to read this when I first heard of it, but never did get to it. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. March 31, 2014 7:43 pm

    Oh, I do remember hearing about this on Savage Love! I was worried he would tell stories about bedbugs so I avoided it. Any bedbugs? Any at all? One single story about a bedbug incident will mean I simply can’t read it. :p

    • April 11, 2014 12:25 pm

      Jenny – Nope. I think he is working in fancy enough places that bedbugs don’t really come into it.

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