My First Day at the Hotel

So the big day’s come and I’ve started my job at the front desk at the L******. Mr. Balsam called me last Thursday and told me to report for work on Monday. He told me I didn’t need to dress up, since they were going to fit me for a uniform as soon as I got there. That was pretty thoughtful of him, since I’d otherwise have worn my Christmas suit and felt totally lameass when the first thing I’d of had to do was take it off. The one thing he did tell me to bring was black leather oxfords, comfortable ones, since I could expect to be on my feet all day. (I’ve worked in retail for 3 years. I’ve built up my feet and back so I can stand all day without any trouble…although I still remember how sore I was after I got back from my first day at the Gap in Knoxville. If y’all haven’t worked retail, you don’t know what sore feet feel like…unless, I guess, if you’ve waited tables. That must be worse. And don’t think that standing around on a baseball field waiting for ground balls prepares you for that kind of standing on hard floors. It doesn’t.)

Mr. Balsam even told me that I could park with the hotel valet on the first day and that they’d reimburse me and fit me out with employee parking once I reported for work. I thought that was super nice. I checked with Adam about that, and he said that Mr. Balsam was generally a nice guy, and they’ve known him for a long time. He probably has a bad side, Adam warned me, and I should try and stay away from that…but I’m going into this planning to be a model employee. I mean, I know I’m gonna screw up some, since everything is gonna be so new to me, but I’m definitely planning to be a success at my new job. First of all, I need the work. Second of all, this job is one that could really matter as far as my future was concerned.

I figured that Mr. Balsam wasn’t going to hold my hand my whole first day, and I was right. I did report to his office first, where he welcomed me, and then he had someone from human resources come and take me to their office to fill out a whole bunch of forms. I also got an employee handbook and some more papers to read, along with a hang tag for the shitbox and instructions on where the employee parking lot was.

Then I got turned over to a woman who was described as ‘one of the assistant managers’, Holly Robson. She never told me what I should call her, so I decided to play it safe and call her ‘Ms. Robson’, even after she called me ‘Hunter. I reckon she was around 35, with short dark brown hair and eyes. (Joyce is always after me about writing down what people’s eyes are like. I wish I could give a better description of Ms. Robson’s eyes…but they’re pretty much just brown.) She definitely looked nice, but she was also definitely not my type.

That was good, since both Dad and Adam scared the bejeezus out of me last week with long speeches about sexual harassment in the workplace and about how I had to be super careful of even the way I looked at women. It was different at the Gap, where the girls I worked with were all young and not real serious and I reckon you can say we all flirted with each other. I know those days are over, but Dad and Adam warned me about it and about what do if someone at work hit on me, which Adam said would probably happen sooner or later. Dad told me how to handle women and to be super careful how I looked at them, and Adam told me how to handle men and to be super careful of how they looked at me. So far at least, it wasn’t much of a challenge. Ms. Robson was totally professional. If she noticed my looks, she wasn’t letting on, which was fine with me. I didn’t want to get in trouble for sexual harassment on my first morning.

Ms. Robson was wearing what I was about to find out was the front desk uniform, so it was the first time I got to see it. It consists of a grey jacket with the hotel emblem on the pocket and black piping, a straight skirt that didn’t show a whole lot of leg (Joyce said it’s called a ‘pencil skirt’) and a white blouse buttoned to the neck with a white tie kind of thing (Joyce: “it’s called a ‘jabot’, darling”.) I thought it looked sharp, and super businesslike. An elegant hotel needs to have an elegant-looking staff.

“We need to get a uniform for you,” she said, taking me downstairs to the basement and down a hall to a room that contained racks and racks of all kinds of uniforms. She took me over to a rack that had grey jackets like the one she had on. “Once we know you’re going to work out we’ll have one tailored for you. In the meantime, we’ll have to use something off the rack. You look…” she took a step back to look at me, which was a little uncomfortable, although it wasn’t a checking me out look at all “…like a 42.”

“I’m a 44 on top and a 40 in the middle,” I explained. “I’m afraid I’m kind of a hard fit.”

“We’ll have to manage,” she said. “Try this one on for size.”

I did, and I could tell it was a 42. It was very tight across the shoulders.

“Hmmmm…,” she said. “I guess we have to go up a size. Try this.”

That was the 44, and, of course, it was just right across the shoulders and way too big across the middle.

“That’s going to have to do,” she said. “Maybe we can have the tailor do something about it sooner than usual. Since practically every employee has a uniform, we keep a full-time tailor on staff.”

That sounded impressive.

“You’ll be shadowing people for the first week, so the clients won’t be looking too closely at how your jacket fits. First rule: the guests aren’t called ‘guests’ and they’re not called ‘customers’…we call them ‘clients’. The corporate people came up with it: if we called them ‘guests’ that would imply that they’re here at our expense.”

(Maybe I need to explain to y’all that the L****** is owned by a larger chain of luxury hotels. That’s where the corporate people come in, although it seems like everybody’s talking about what ‘corporate’ says these days.)

I was soon fitted out with grey trousers to match the jacket, along with a white shirt and a black, green and gold tie, which I was told had to be tied into a big, fat knot I didn’t know how to tie. Ms. Robson had to call for a dude from the front desk to help me out. He was introduced to me as Chris, so I figured I was supposed to call him by his first name. It’s not easy teaching someone how to tie a tie, since you can’t do it when you’re facing them. The only real way to do it is to get behind the person you’re showing while they’re facing a mirror…but that would have meant Chris having his arms around me…and that’s a sexual harassment suit waiting to happen. So Chris showed me while he stood next to me, and we had a few laughs before I had a knot that passed Ms. Robson’s inspection.

(Telling Dad this story that night, he maintained that he definitely taught me how to tie a ‘windsor’ knot, like we wear at the hotel. He’s probably right…but I’ve always tied my ties the usual way, so I probably forgot the other one.)

The way the front desk works at the L****** is that there are two people assigned to it at all times, although sometimes one of the two people gets to go into an staff only area behind the desk is to work on the computer. (Just as the ‘guests’ are clients, we’re’ ‘staff’ and not ‘employees’.) That’s how it was set up my first day, with Chris from my tie-tying lesson and a woman introduced as Jeannette making up the team.

I reckon Adam was right about ugly people not working at hotel front desks. Both Chris and Jeannette were definitely good looking. Chris is 5’10” and 170, with dark brown hair, bright blue eyes and a very neat beard: he reminded me a lot of Chris Taylor from the Dodgers (with straight teeth lol.) I’d say he was a few years older than me. Jeannette’s probably a couple years younger than me, and graduated from hotel management school last year…and I’m afraid she’s pretty dang hot. Like 9 hot.

I say ‘afraid’ because of all the warnings I got about sexual harassment. That includes the pink sheets in the employee handbook that explain the hotel’s sexual harassment policy. That, I have to add, refers to guests…sorry, clients as well as to other employees…I mean staff members. Thing is, I I’m kind of a flirty guy, especially around hot chicks, even if I’m not serious about them…and let’s not forget that I have a girlfriend already. I’m a friendly southerner, what can I say? And I was already worried that my being a friendly southerner would get me in a whole mess of trouble on my first day. So I started telling myself ‘she’s not hot…she’s not hot’ about Jeanette. Fortunately the women’s uniforms have those jabots…so Jeannette didn’t have a shirt to look down. I’m afraid I’m not used to being responsible for where my eyes go lol.

Although I studied hotel management in college, I gotta admit I was clueless when it came to front desk procedure. I mean, yeah, it’s look up a reservation, assign a room and get a credit card number, but that meant figuring out a new computer, and Jeannette told me that the system wasn’t the newest or the most efficient. Chris told me it could be totally illogical as well and to try hard not to get mad at it. After the Gap, where the software was state of the art, that was gonna take some getting used to.

There was a lot to learn. I watched Jeannette and Chris carefully for a few days (that’s what ‘shadowing’ means…duh…you’re the shadow of the person who’s training you) until Chris told me it was my turn to check a guest in. Although I knew the system, I got flustered and had to apologize to the client that I was new…but he seemed patient enough and I finally got him his room. Twice. He got to the room I assigned him and he didn’t like the direction it was facing, so I had to go up and take him to his new room on the other side of the hotel. (We don’t make clients come back downstairs when that happens, which I think is pretty cool of us.)

We don’t usually make reservations – the chain has a central reservations office – so we don’t have to take a lot of outside calls. On the other hand, we take all kinds of calls from clients who are in the hotel. Some of them are pretty dumbass…but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have to learn the answers to them. Most often it’s something like when does the restaurant or room service close, and sometimes it’s something ridiculous like where’s the soap (it’s in the very nice box of bath products next to the sink.) Mostly, it was explained to me, the front desk is the front line between the clients and the hotel…so we need to be ready for anything. We’re also in charge of checking out the clients who want to do that in person (usually check out is done automatically when we have a credit card number), and we’re the ones who handle the money. We even do foreign exchange, although only one person asked us for that during my training week. Jeannette took care of it, but I think I get how it goes. We also arrange for transportation to the airport, but all the other requests a client may have during their stay in the Los Angeles area are usually the concierge’s job. He has a desk across from ours, and his job looks pretty interesting. I get to shadow him for a few days once I’ve gotten my bearings at the front desk, which is gonna be my home base.

So it’s a lot more than just looking good and smiling at the new clients. We have to be efficient and make them feel welcome: the hotel is their home for however many nights they’re with us, and we want them to feel at home. Or better than at home, since we pride ourselves on service…and most of our clients probably don’t have a whole staff of housekeepers (never say ‘maid’!), waiters, concierges and desk clerks at home. I reckon some might, since the L****** ain’t cheap. We’ve got some super nice suites for the people used to having staff members in their houses, and I’ve already discovered that it’s usually the people who spend the most money who can be the most demanding and the least pleasant.

Speaking of suites, the front desk is also in charge of ‘upgrades’ – that’s giving someone a nicer room than they’re paying for, usually a ‘junior suite’ (large room with a couch and a sitting area) or a full suite (which means two separate rooms.) We have a Presidential Suite as well, with two bedrooms, a living room and a dining room, but, from what I understand, that doesn’t get used all that often. You’re not gonna get upgraded to it. At least I haven’t seen that done yet. In any case, y’all might want to know that the upgrade is usually entered at the time of the reservation, but the people who get the final say are us at the front desk, since we have control over the inventory of available rooms. So, next time you want an upgrade, be sure to be nice to the front desk staff.

So much for my first day, and so far, so good. I’ll keep y’all posted on what the next days bring.

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