So most books are reviewed right around the time of publication, but I never intended to read Heads in Beds, just as the author, Jacob Tomsky, claims he never intended to work in the hospitality industry. And just as Tomsky finds that he can’t seem to shake the career path, I couldn’t shake his book and ended up reading the entire thing.
The reason I decided to review it for this blog is because it’s a book that anyone who works around hospitality should be aware of. As a professional event and meeting planner, my path crosses the hospitality world quite frequently. I spend a fair amount of time in hotels, working with hotels, and relying on hotel staff to help make my events a success. I had been vaguely aware of Tomsky’s book – the full title of which is Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality when it was published in June 2013 but didn’t seem too interested. Only when my library offered it as a “Book You Might Enjoy” that was also conveniently available for instant download when I was in need of a new audiobook for my commute, did I decide to take the plunge along with Tomsky.
Without going into too much detail, the basis of the memoir is this: Tomsky finds himself working at a luxury hotel in New Orleans as a twenty-something, quite by accident, and immediately starts working his way up the ranks. Then he decides he hates his life, quits his job and ends up spending all his money in Europe and can’t find another job outside of hospitality when he returns to the states, so back to hotels he goes, this time at a past-its-prime midtown Manhattan hotel, where he has to start from the ground up again. The majority of the book charts his time at this NYC hotel, which is a much rougher workplace than the genteel New Orleans luxury market.
If you don’t know much about hotels, Tomsky will enlighten you – more than you probably want to know. You’ll learn how hotels make money, the different departments that make the hotel run, just how lucrative a career as a bellman can be (six figures in high end markets, if you’re wondering), as well as “secrets” on how to get better service, upgrades, free mini bar items, etc. But he also talks about the seedy underbelly of hospitality, such as where corners are cut, what service personnel do to you when they don’t like you (or you treat them poorly), just how much of a jerk you are if you don’t tip, etc. The example that was quoted the most when the memoir was first published was that housekeepers use furniture polish to clean the glasses in rooms so that they really sparkle – gross, right?
The book is intriguing for someone with an interest in hospitality like me, but I felt myself constantly struggling to sympathize with the author, who seemed to have internal struggles of his own. Tomsky seems to understand what hospitality is really all about (hence his early rise through the ranks in New Orleans) but then he easily succumbs to “hustles” in NYC and seems to care less and less about doing a good job.
I’ve worked with a lot of different hotel personnel over the years at all levels within a hotel. I have always done my best to be kind and courteous in my interactions and never demanding (I can’t say the same for all other meeting planners – some have a bad rap). I have been lucky to work with some individuals who have gone above and beyond for me or a client and have truly embodied a sense of hospitality. It’s naïve of me to think that everyone working at a hotel feels the same way, but it was still a bit disconcerting to read the book and know for a fact how little some people care.
Overall, I’d say the book is a C+. Not exceptionally well-written, it relies too much on the shocking tabloid, reality-TV style that its full title implies. But it’s interesting enough if you’ve ever wanted to learn more about the behind-the-scenes of hotel life.