Part of an ongoing series exploring the (sometimes) lighter side of a life spent working in a hotel. Read the first installment here.
by DEVEN MATTHEWS
“I coach a kid’s soccer team that’s playing in the regional playoffs near your hotel, and we’re going to need about 20 rooms the weekend of the 23rd.”
Hotels welcome group business with extended arms. Groups bring large numbers of guests to the hotel, which results in greater revenue as opposed to the individual guest. Often, the single traveler will arrive at the hotel and remain isolated in their room, while the group traveler is more likely to socialize with their fellow traveling companions, which translates into restaurant charges, bar charges, spa charges, and even gift shop charges.
Groups also guarantee occupied rooms at a hotel. An occupied room means the need for more employees in the hotel from valets to housekeepers. Salary hours are plentiful when occupancy is high, and everybody has the opportunity to work. Ultimately, a hotel filled with guests is also filled with happy employees.
“Super. Congratulations on your team making the playoffs.” The soccer coach’s phone call had been transferred to me by the front desk. He had asked to speak to a manager about blocking a group of rooms for his team. Maintaining my hospitality, I asked him about the game.
“Is this the tournament that’s being held over at Regional Park?”
“Yes,” he answered. “Isn’t the park just about five miles from your hotel?”
I confirmed that it was, and that we would be honored to host his team, who I discovered were called the Warriors and consisted of 10-year-old children. Having had sales experience in the hotel, I was able to discuss a negotiated rate with him where his team would receive approximately 25% off the rack rate for the dates of his team’s stay. I would also arrange for a private meeting room to set up our complimentary breakfast for just his group members.
After discussing these details and receiving his verbal agreement, we hung up and I created a contract for the coach to sign.
DIGGING INTO THE DETAILS
Group contracts are crucial for the successful execution of a group stay at a hotel. Both parties – guest and hotel – must be aware of services to be rendered for an agreed price in return. The guest then knows what to expect and the hotel knows exactly what to deliver. Total transparency is the key ingredient for a successful group contract.
In the case of the Warriors, the contract included the negotiated rate for the party, method of payment of services, the dates that their special rates would be offered to the guest, and even the detail that breakfast would be included in the rate and served in a private meeting room each morning for the Warriors.
There are clauses that should be spelled out on each contract for any group staying at a hotel.
One such clause is the method of reservation. Some groups, mostly corporate events, will send a rooming list. This allows the hotel to simply make the reservations themselves using the names provided by the corporate event planner. This list may change up until the day of the arrival, but it leaves the hotel sure that the correct names are in the system in specified rooms.
In the case of the Warriors, their method of reservation was that the parents would each make their own reservation either through the phone or online. They would be given a personalized link to make reservations online or told to ask for the Warriors rate during the dates of their stay if calling the reservation line. This puts the responsibility on the individual guests and not on the signer of the contract.
POINT OF NO RETURN
Generally, there’s a cut-off date, or a deadline by which all reservations need to be booked, usually about two weeks before the date of arrival. Once the cut-off date has passed, the contracted rooms that weren’t picked up are released back into the general inventory, allowing the hotel time to sell those rooms at full price. Additionally, the cut-off date is when the special rate that the group has negotiated disappears.
An additional clause to include on a group contract is the method of payment. Many corporate events will flip the bill for the company. They will provide a credit card for all charges or put a clause in the contract stating that they will send a check to the hotel for the full amount, usually a minimum of two weeks prior to check in.
Most social events, such as the Warriors’ stay, are classified as “each pays own.” Simply stated, the individual guest who books within the block of rooms is responsible for their own charges. When the parents of the team members reserve their individual guest room, they must provide a credit card number to hold the room. At check-in, they must provide a credit card to pay for their room. This releases the coach of the Warriors from any and all financial obligations for any guest room except his own – unless attrition isn’t met, which brings us to the final clause.
Attrition should always be included in a group contract, regardless of the size of the block. A hotel will generously offer a discounted rate to a party with multiple guest rooms. For most hotels, the minimum is 10 room nights. That could be five rooms for two nights, or 10 rooms for one night. The minimum number of rooms varies between hotels based on size and amenities.
Because the hotel is offering discounts to a party, they limit the number of rooms discounted. The hotel must likewise get some kind of guarantee from the guest that those rooms will be filled. A hotel doesn’t want to block out 10, 20, or even 50 rooms and only have a small portion of the room block fill, leaving empty rooms that go unsold. Attrition is a clause included in most group contracts to protect the hotel from lost revenue.
An example of an attrition clause would read something like the following:
The hotel will block 20 room nights for the XYZ party during said dates. The guest guarantees that 75% – or 15 of the 20 room nights will actualize. The negotiated rate for any room nights that do not actualize below 15 will be paid for by the contract signer.
In this example, if only 10 room nights in the block are occupied, the responsible party will be paying for five additional room nights himself.
If a guest wants to block out an entire hotel for one night, that’s possible. But, the contract signer must be willing to put their money on the line if the rooms don’t fill.
I’ve discovered that some guests (mostly brides) anticipate more attendees to their event than actually attend. They’re quick to ask for 50 or 60 rooms, but come the day of the event, only about 15% of those rooms actualize, leaving the bride to foot the bill for those who didn’t attend her wedding.
The Warriors’ coach had no problem with the attrition clause, for he knew the number of players on his team, and the number of rooms they would need to occupy.
I drew up the contract, including all appropriate clauses on the document, and sent it to the coach, who quickly signed and returned it to me and we were in business. It was approximately eight weeks prior to the tournament, and he’d contracted 20 rooms for three nights – 60 room night with 45-room attrition. Not bad.
I built his block in the system and sent the guest a link to make reservations at his discounted rate, which he could then forward to the Warrior parents. The block filled within the first week, leaving plenty of time prior to the cut-off date. With 58 room nights booked, attrition was clearly going to be met!
About three days prior to a group arriving, the front desk will start the process of blocking, which is pre-assigning rooms to the team. Commonly, social groups like to all be in the same area of the hotel. This benefits the desk because noise can be kept in one location and the chances of the group disturbing other guests is minimal.
There are techniques the front desk can utilize to get the team as close to one another as possible. Chances are, 20 guests all staying in the same hallway aren’t going to be checking out on the same morning of the Warriors arrival. So about three days before their arrival, an area in the hotel room is selected, and the front desk starts blocking one-nighters in that area. The results won’t be perfect. Guests extend their stay all the time. But, at least the majority of the hallway will be checking out the morning of the group’s arrival.
For the Warriors, the third-floor east wing was selected, rooms 301 through 326, clearly more than the 20 rooms in their block, but it’s always wise to leave a little wiggle room for unexpected stayovers.
I’d already made arrangements with the kitchen staff to set up their complimentary breakfast in the meeting room. We weren’t going to alter our menu by any means, but simply set up their own private dining area in a separate location of the hotel. This proves beneficial to the group and the hotel. For the group, they feel special because they get to eat in a private room. The hotel benefits because the noisy group is safely tucked away, the main buffet does not run out of food, and there aren’t a bunch of 10-year-old kids running around the restaurant disturbing those who are trying to eat their breakfast in peace.
The morning of the Warriors’ arrival finally arrived. Between room 301 and 326, there were approximately 22 people who were scheduled to check out that day. We would indeed be able to block the team all together in the same area of the hotel, keeping the noise contained from the other guests and allowing the group to all be housed near one another.
Whenever a sports team arrives at my hotel, I always concentrate on creating a positive arrival experience, unique and individualized to the team members. The Warriors’ arrival was no exception. I’d called the coach the day before to ask about the colors of the team’s uniform. He told me the Warriors’ colors were green and yellow. My team had bought a bunch of green and yellow balloons, and I had one of my artistic front desk agents make a large banner which said, “Go Warriors!” We hung the banner over the desk with crêpe paper and ribbons and completed the display with balloons. Welcomes like this are always very successful, especially with the parents of the team players. They generally have the children line-up and shoot a few pictures to memorialize the moment. A small investment for a great return.
With our banner hung, and our wing on the 3rd floor of vacant ready rooms, my team was completely prepared for the Warriors’ arrival.
One by one that afternoon, the Warriors arrived and were surprised and elated to see their welcome banner. The parents snapped pictures and then checked-in using their individual credit cards. There were the common questions such as, “Are Mike and Linda Peterson here yet?” “Are our rooms all near each other?” “What time is breakfast?” “What are the pool hours?”
Each family arrived individually. Some of the kids stayed in the lobby to meet up with their friends as they arrived. There was laughing and screaming, and overall a good time being had by both the teammates and their parents.
I happened to be at the desk when the coach checked in. I introduced myself and welcomed him to the hotel.
“Wow, this banner is really something,” he told me. “Is it OK if tomorrow I get a picture of the team under the banner once they are all in their uniforms?”
“Absolutely,” I responded. “In fact, you can take the sign with you when you check out, if you’d like.”
The coach responded to this positively, and I completed his check-in, and handed him the keys to his room.
The following morning was the Warriors’ first game, so they planned to meet early in their private breakfast room. I had my staff re-hang the banner and balloons in their meeting room prior to the beginning of breakfast. They ate, got a quick pep-talk from the coach, snapped a quick team picture under the banner, and then left for their first game.
They returned at about noon and I was at the desk with my coworker Natalie. As one of the parents entered the lobby, Natalie asked, “so how’d they play?”
The parent’s face lit up and responded excitedly. “The kids won their first game, so now we have to return to the field to play two more games this afternoon.”
“That’s great!” I responded, and the guest headed past the desk and towards the elevator.
In my experience, children in the hotel can be both a blessing and a curse. As long as there are attentive parents chaperoning, the children will be well behaved and respectful.
Unfortunately, many parents see these types of trips as a vacation where they can socialize with their friends, leaving their children unattended, while they “play” in the hotel.
The Warriors had a great start to their stay, but having to kill a few hours in a hotel became problematic and things went downhill quickly. After all, when 10-year-olds are left to their own devices, they often find trouble.
Suddenly, a soccer ball rolled swiftly into the lobby, followed by four 10-year-old soccer players laughing and shouting. They ran between chairs and kicked the ball to each other around tables and fixtures. One of them moved two tables to create a makeshift goal and called to the other boys, “Hey guys, I made a goal out of these two tables. Kick it here.”
Another of the boys ran down the hall and called to his friends, “Hey, guys, I have an idea! The elevator can be the goal. When it opens, try and kick the ball in!”
I quickly headed toward the elevator to put an end to this game. Using my most polite, yet authoritative, voice, I stated, “I need you guys to please take the ball outside. We have a grassy area that you can kick the ball in. You cannot kick the ball around the lobby, and especially into an opening elevator – you may hit a guest.”
One of the kids picked up the ball and defiantly looked at me, saying, “This sucks!” Another responded, “Yeah, come on, guys. This blows!” The group of four boys ran outside, one of them bumping into a guest entering through the automatic doors to the lobby.
The guest rudely called after the kids, “Excuse me, little soccer jerk!”
Natalie just hung up the phone as I returned behind the desk. “Little punks.”
“What’s up?”, I asked.
“That’s the fourth time 310 has called me.” She was obviously annoyed. “I hear them laughing and then they just hang up.”
“Call them back and ask for a parent”, I suggested.
Natalie picked up the phone and dialed room 310. She looked at me and rolled her eyes. The guest in room 310 answered the phone and Natalie said, “Hi, this is Natalie at the front desk. Did you need something?” There was a brief pause, then she continued. “Are there kids in your room?” Another brief pause. “Well, some kids called me four times in the last 10 minutes. They giggle then hang up. I was just calling to make sure everything was alright and that you didn’t need anything.”
Natalie was great at faking concern, when in reality she was tattling on the kids. She looked at me again surprised, then without saying a word set the phone in its cradle.
“She hung up on me!”
“What!?” I exclaimed in surprise.
“Yeah, she said, ‘it couldn’t have been my kids’ and just hung up!” Natalie was as surprised as I. “The nerve!”
The phone rang again. I saw that it was a call from room 341. I picked it up, and gave my scripted “Front desk, how may I assist you” line.
The voice on the other end of the line was not happy. “Yes, there are a bunch of children up here that are running up and down the halls, knocking on the doors. They are making all sorts of noise!”
I silently cursed the members of the soccer team and responded to the guest. “I’m terribly sorry, ma’am. I’m sending security up there right now to find the kids. We’ll put a stop to it.”
The woman sounded satisfied. “OK, thank you”, was her reply and she hung up.
“What was that all about?” Natalie asked before I had even hung up.
“The soccer team is knocking on all the doors up on the third floor. I’m sending security.” As I reached for the walkie-talkie I asked, “where are these kids’ parents?”
Natalie pointed towards the window. “Out there.”
IT’S 5 O’CLOCK SOMEWHERE
Out by the pool, there were approximately 25 people sitting in small clusters talking and boisterously laughing. Most members of the group were holding beer bottles.
“It’s only 12:30; they’re already drinking?” asked Natalie. I could tell she’d had enough of the Warriors.
Mingling in the crowd was the coach, bouncing from group to group making sure everyone was happy, upending a beer bottle to his lips every so often. I decided to go speak to him.
“Hey, Natalie, will you call Jorge to go check the third floor? I’m going to go have a chat with these parents.”
I left Natalie to call security and walked out the door towards the pool. I approached the group and when I was close enough to address the crowd said, “excuse me, can I have your attention please. I hope you’re all enjoying your stay and congratulations on the Warriors first win.”
With that, a half-dozen parents cheered and threw their hands into the air.
I continued. “For all of our guests to have a comfortable stay at the hotel, there’s a policy that states that any guest under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult whenever they are not in their guest room. Unfortunately, I have had kids who are not being supervised playing soccer in the lobby. They ran into a guest who was entering the building. A few of your children keep calling the front desk, laughing, and then hanging up on my front desk staff. I’ve also gotten complaints from the third floor that children are running up and down the hallway knocking on all the doors. This behavior needs to stop immediately. Your children need to be supervised by an adult at all times. They can’t be roaming the hotel alone.” I decided to add an element of concern. “This is ultimately for their safety. I appreciate your assistance with this.”
My comments were met with absolute silence. My audience stared at me as if I had just given my speech in a foreign language. Finally, the coach broke the silence and made the announcement for the rest of his team.
“Doesn’t sound like our kids. They must be with another group.”
Another group? There was no other group in-house. The four kids playing soccer in the lobby were wearing the Warrior uniforms. The caller ID on our phone informed us that the crank-callers were calling from room 320 – a Warrior room. Granted, we didn’t have proof the knocking on the 3rd floor were Warrior teammates, but if I were a betting man, I’d put my next paycheck that the culprits were members of the soccer team.
“Well,” I continued, “if I could just get you all to keep an eye on your kids, please.”
I turned to go, and someone made an inaudible comment, followed by a bellow of laughter. I’m sure it was directed towards me, but I just kept walking away from the group, and back to the desk.
Jorge, our security guard, was at the desk conversing with Natalie. He looked at me and said, “Kick ‘em all out! The whole team!”
“I wish. What happened?” I asked.
“Well,” Jorge started, “I found the kids knocking on the 3rd floor doors. I made them take me to their parents, it was room 311. She told me ‘kids will be kids’ and to stop harassing her son!”
I rolled my eyes so hard I thought they would fall out of their sockets.
“Can you believe that?” Natalie asked.
“I don’t know who’s worse, the kids or the parents. The coach just informed me that no one on his team did anything wrong. ‘It must be some other kids in the hotel’ he said. Ugh!” I spoke cautiously, in case little ears were in listening range.
Natalie then offered a comment in consultation. “At least they should be leaving soon to go to the afternoon game?”
“Not soon enough,” Jorge said.
“And they’ll be back,” I added.
SECOND VERSE, SAME AS THE FIRST
Just then, the phone rang. Natalie answered it using her scripted line: “Front desk, this is Natalie, how may I help you?”
She paused and suddenly shot me a look which said, ‘What are these kids doing?’ She then responded, “Certainly. I’ll send them right up.”
“It’s 314 asking for towels,” Natalie said.
“So?” Jorge innocently asked.
“That’s the second time!” she cried.
“Was it an adult or a kid?” I asked.
“A kid, of course.”
I walked over and picked up the phone to call housekeeping. Lisa, the housekeeping supervisor, answered.
“Hi, Lisa. It’s Deven at the front desk. Hey, did you have somebody take some towels up to room 314?”
“Yeah,” she said, “I just took them there myself.”
“They just called requesting more. I’m gonna call them and see what’s going on. Thanks, Lisa!”
I hung up the phone and dialed in room 314. A child answered the phone.
“Hi, this is Deven at the front desk. Did you just call down and request more towels?”
The child was hesitant, but finally said, “yes, can I please have four towels please?”
“Didn’t you just get four towels?” I inquired.
There was a pause on 314’s end. He covered the phone and asked someone in the room, “Did we already get the towels?” There was another pause, then the boy’s mother got on the phone.
“Hi, this is Mrs. Wood. The boys in a different room took our towels, so we do need some more.”
I thanked Mrs. Wood and told her the towels would be there shortly. I then called Lisa, explained the situation to her, and asked her to deliver four more towels.
WE’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN
The team finally left for the second round of soccer games at about 3:30. The hotel seemed very deserted and peaceful once they left. The solitude lasted about four hours, and then the Warriors returned at 7:30. Natalie had gone home for the evening, and Scot was working the desk. I was planning to go home at approximately 9 o’clock but my night was just beginning.
The coach walked into the lobby first holding a case of Gatorade, trailed by two additional parents carrying about two dozen pizzas. The coach approached me at the desk and asked, “Could we use our breakfast room to have dinner?”
“Absolutely!” I replied. The thought of confining the Warriors in one location for the evening was appealing! The rest of the group trickled in, and I notified them that the rest of their party was in the breakfast room.
During the next half hour, I would see a player or two walk through the lobby. Every kid in a green and yellow uniform seemed to be carrying or eating a banana. I assumed they were brought in with the pizzas, although I couldn’t recall a parent transporting that many bananas.
Scot must have noticed it as well, for out of the blue he asked, “What’s with all the bananas?”
After about the eighth or ninth soccer player passed through the lobby with the fruit, I went to investigate. I walked in the Warrior’s breakfast room where dinner was clearly over. There was a stack of empty pizza boxes stacked on top of the trash cans and a few boxes containing pieces of pizza scattered on the tables. I saw paper plates and napkins (of course, provided by the hotel) tossed here and there all over the room. There were about a dozen adults sitting at tables conversing, each with the familiar beer bottles securely in hand. I noticed the coach and asked him how the games went.
“Oooh, they were rough. We managed to win but barely. I didn’t think we’d make it. These teams are good!”
“What time do you play in the morning?” I had ulterior motives behind my question. I wished they had an early game and have to go to bed soon, and then be gone first thing in the morning.
My wish was granted.
“Early,” he replied, “we have to be on the field at 7:30 tomorrow morning! We have to win that one, or we won’t move forward.”
Yes! They’ll be gone early tomorrow! And with any luck, be in bed early tonight! Good idea. Warriors, we gotta get some shut-eye. Early game tomorrow! Off to your rooms, and I don’t want to see ANY of you until morning. My thoughts remained in my mind, safely hidden from the guest.
Just then, two players walked into the meeting room each holding two bananas.
“Did you provide bananas for the kids with the pizza?” I asked the coach. “I see your entire team eating them.”
The coach looked confused. “No, I didn’t buy them. I’m not sure where they got those from.”
Suddenly, I did.
I excused myself from the coach and immediately headed to the kitchen. We had just received a shipment of bananas earlier that afternoon. I had the driver place the boxes in the kitchen. I hoped that the delivery of the fruit was not what the soccer team was devouring.
To my dismay, I found the door to the kitchen unlocked. I walked in and flipped on the light. There stood two Warriors in their uniform with their hands in the cookie jar. One had a half-eaten, peeled banana in his hand. The other had just flung an empty banana peel over his shoulder when the lights came on. His cheeks looked like a chipmunk, bulging with what I assumed was an entire banana. they froze and looked at me, their eyes were both as big as dinner plates. I had had enough.
“What are you doing?” I demanded.
The one with the empty mouth said, “nothing.”
I barked back, “You’re stealing, that’s what you’re doing! Get out of here!”
They both bolted out of the kitchen. The case of fruit had been torn open and half of the top box was empty!
THE BEAT GOES ON
Frustrated and angry, I cleaned up the mess and left the kitchen, remembering to lock the door as it closed. I crossed the lobby and saw a group of Warriors parked in front of the lobby’s TV. One of the kids suddenly yelled out, “Turn it up. I can’t hear it.”
The Warrior that was holding the remote control must have thought it was a good idea to turn the sound up to maximum volume. The commercial currently airing became intolerably loud. The other children started trying to speak over the noise and arguing over the sound. I walked to the TV and shut it off.
“What are you doing?” moaned one of the kids.
“We were watching that!” came the nasally cry of another.
The team members all began lamenting at once, complaining and whining in unison. I took the remote from the child who had turned up the volume and marched back to join Scot at the front desk.
Just then, a woman in a one-piece, purple swimsuit with a towel wrapped around her waist, entered the lobby doors and approached the front desk. Scot asked her, “Is there something we can do for you?”
She was clearly frustrated. “Yes, you can tell the kids in the soccer uniforms to stop kicking the ball around the pool. The ball just hit my daughter in the head!”
In the hospitality field, you’re trained to keep your cool in every situation. However, it’s important to remember that people are still humans. Hotel employees are prone to anger, frustration, and irritability, just like everybody else. Eventually, employees reach their individual breaking point. But, in customer service jobs, you’re trained to suppress these feelings and paste a smile on your face.
I wasn’t at my breaking point yet, but I could feel it approaching quickly. As such, I decided to let Scot handle the guest, who remained incredibly calm.
“Ma’am, I am terribly sorry. I’ll send security out to shut down the soccer game at the pool. Is your daughter OK?”
The guest seemed relieved and said, “She’s fine. I know that kids will be kids, but I told them they should be playing on the grassy area, not by the pool.”
I spoke up. “I agree. That’s exactly the message we will have the security guard relay to the players. I apologize and thank you for notifying us.”
“Please let us know if there are any further issues,” Scot added.
The guest in the purple swimsuit walked away as Scot picked up the walkie-talkie. “Jorge, there are kids kicking a soccer ball out at the pool. Could you tell them to move to the grass field?”
“Got it,” came Jorge’s reply over the radio.
The phone rang again. Scot answered while I went to find the coach. He was still in the meeting room, which was deserted, except for a handful of adults. He looked at me and immediately said, “What can I do for you?”
“Could I speak with you for a moment please?”
I led him over to the corner of the room. “Well, quite frankly, we seem to be having a problem with the behavior of your players. I caught some of them in the kitchen stealing our bananas. And, another guest just reported that her daughter was struck in the head by a soccer ball which was being kicked around in the swimming pool area by one of your team members. Your team is great, but they are 10-year-olds and need to be supervised by an adult at all times.”
“I’m sorry to tell you this, Deven, but you are sorely mistaken. None of these incidents that you were describing sound like my kids. They must belong to another group.”
I smiled, and with all professionality responded. “There is no other group in-house. Your team is the only team of children I have in my hotel. Besides, the reported kids are wearing uniforms which clearly tell they are with your team. I need you to ask your parents to take their children and kindly return to their rooms.”
The coach got very stern. “I told you, they’re not my kids. My teammates do not behave that way. You are obviously mistaken. Perhaps you should do a little more investigating before accusing me that my kids are misbehaving!” He turned and exited the meeting room.
I was stunned. I had planned on notifying him that if there were any further complaints, I had the right to kick him and his group out of my hotel. The coach did not give me the chance to explain this and I wasn’t about to chase him down in his state of mind, so I let it fly.
When I returned to the desk, Scot informed me that room 314 had called down three additional times this evening and requested towels. In my angry state because of what had just transpired with the coach, I dismissed what Scot had said.
There were a couple more incidents that evening involving the soccer team. One guest called the front desk to say that they were up to their old game. I’m knocking on the doors on the third floor while running down the hallway.
Another guest came in from the pool and said that she got into an argument with one of the soccer players, when the woman confiscated a ball that had almost hit her while she was swimming. Scot and I both agreed that it would result in nothing to inform the coach, so we just asked Jorge to patrol the third floor and the swimming pool area to keep things peaceful.
IS IT OVER?
At 8:45, I emerged from my office. I let Scot know I was going home and that I had complete confidence that he could handle the soccer team.
“But, if you need me,” I added, “You have my number.”
We hadn’t heard from them in about a half hour, so I hoped they were in their rooms and preparing for the early game tomorrow by going to bed.
Just as I was saying goodbye, room 314 called again and requested more towels.
“What are they doing up there with all those towels?” Scot asked.
Curious, I decided to find out. “I don’t know,” I said, “But, before I leave, I’m going to find out.”
As I rode the elevator to the third floor, I thought about the events of the day and the unruly Warriors who were involved. I’m sure there had been several other instances that weren’t reported to the front desk, and I hoped the Warriors’ behavior hadn’t negatively impacted too many of our guests.
I thought of the Warrior parents. Surely, these adults who let their unsupervised children wreak havoc on the hotel would be the same guests to complain if other children were disturbing their own stay. I wondered why these parents didn’t take more responsibility for their children’s behavior. Then, just as the soft BING of the elevator notified me I had reached the third floor, a horrible thought crossed my mind:
Two more days to go.
The elevator stopped, the door slowly opened, and what I saw was unbelievable. I saw instantly why room 314 had been requesting multiple towels throughout the day.
The entire third floor hallway, from room 301 to room 342, appeared like it had been re-carpeted. Our white hotel bath towels were laid out end to end from one edge of the hallway to the other, completely covering the east and west wings of the third floor. There were at least 100 towels strewn out on the floor. The kids had performed the task with extreme precision as there was not one towel out of place.
I was shocked, instantly taking out my phone to snap some pictures to capture exactly what the team had done.
I called Scot at the front desk from my cell phone.
“Scot, you should see the number these kids pulled up here. What room is the Warriors coach in?”
There was a quick pause while Scot searched the computer. “303,” was the reply.
“Thanks. I’ll be right down.” I quickly added something else. “Oh, Scot, one more thing. Could you send Jorge up to the third floor with a rolling laundry cart?”
“Sure,” came the enthusiastic response and I hung up the phone.
I went to room 303, walking lightly so as not to disrupt the towels, and knocked on the door. The coach opened the door, and with a look of surprise said, “Deven, to what do I owe this pleasure?”
I smiled and said, “I’m aware that you don’t believe your players have caused any turmoil at the hotel today, however I thought you’d like to see their latest stunt.”
I stepped back, gesturing to the floor. He looked out his room and down the hall both ways in disbelief. For a moment, I thought he would fess-up and admit his players’ responsibility.
He shook his head. “Wow”, he said. “This is really something. This will be a nightmare for the laundry department, I’m sure.”
“Yes,” I agreed.
“But, Deven, I’m telling you for the last time. My kids would not have done this. They never behave badly when we go on the road. I have never had a hotel complain about the kids until you, which tells me they are not the problem; maybe you are.”
I was astounded.
“Now, good night. I have an early game in the morning.”
He closed the door, just as Jorge came out of the elevator pushing a laundry cart. The look on my face must have been telling.
“You alright, boss?” He then noticed the floor. “What is this?!”
“I know, right? I’m fine – let’s clean up these towels.” Jorge and I started cleaning up the mess. We collectively picked up all the towels and rolled the cart down to the laundry for housekeeping to deal with the following day.
I arrived at work the next morning after the Warriors had already left for their 7:30 game. I feared their return to the hotel and dreaded another day of refereeing the team at the hotel. After the towel incident on the third floor, I couldn’t imagine what else they could do to ruin the day at the hotel.
LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
At about 10:15 I was sitting at my desk when Natalie came into my office to inform me the coach of the Warriors was at the front desk asking for me.
“Ugh, what now?” I complained as I stood up. “Does he want to tell me how wonderful his kids are and that they do nothing wrong when unsupervised in a hotel? How he’s considering changing the team name to ‘Angels?’”
I followed Natalie out to the desk and saw the coach standing with his hands folded on the desk. I faked a pleasant smile and turned on the hospitality.
“How’d they do at this morning’s game?”
“Not good, I’m afraid.” He looked upset. I noticed there were no kids in green and yellow uniforms loitering in the lobby. “We lost, so it’s the end of the line for the Warriors.”
More fake pleasantries, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.”
A wave of realization came over me. This means his team is going to be here at the hotel all day. They don’t have any more games to play or anywhere else to be. So they’ll just be here, causing trouble, disturbing other guests, stealing my bananas, and re-carpeting the third floor again with the towels! Oh, no, please, don’t let this be the case!
These thoughts weighed on me, the way a heavy vest feels when the technician lays it on your chest while taking an X-ray. But, the sun suddenly peeked through the gray clouds and the entire mood shifted.
“So, if it’s okay with you, we’re just going to pack-up and check out early.”
I tried to hide my true feelings and I suppressed the smile that was uncontrollably taking over my face. This was by far the greatest news I had ever received at the front desk in the course of my career.
“Well, I’m sorry your team lost, and I’m sorry to see you go.” This was a bald-faced lie. I wasn’t sorry about the team’s loss and was ecstatic to see them leave. We would certainly have 20 rooms that would need to be cleaned as vacant-dirty, rather than occupied stay-over, but housekeeping could handle that.
Suddenly, my thoughts came to a screeching halt, and in large, red, neon lights, one word flashed over and over: Attrition.
There was that clause I included in his agreement, which contracted him to pay for any unused rooms under 45. After their one night in the hotel, they were only 20 rooms into their 45 room attrition clause. I had a feeling that the coach would not be willing to pay for 25 more room nights out of his pocket regardless of his legal obligation.
“But, we have a small problem,” the coach continued. “The contract says that we’d use at least 45 room nights and, well, we’re going to be short that number.”
Trying to conceal my eagerness, I paused for a moment and then looked right at the Warrior’s coach.
“Waived. I’ll waive the attrition fee for you with no further obligation.” I understood I was throwing away thousands of dollars in revenue, but that was a small price to pay for the relief of not having to deal with the Warriors in my hotel any longer.
There was a sigh of relief from the coach as he offered his hand. I reached over the desk and shook his hand while he profusely thanked me over and over again.
“Would you like me to have my staff take down the banner in your breakfast room so you can take it with you?” I offered.
“That would be great, thank you,” he responded.
“It will be here waiting for you when you check out.” It was then that my genuine smile took over my face.
Over the course of the next hour, the only thing I heard from the Warriors were the parents checking out and returning their keys to the front desk. One by one, the parents thanked us and asked for receipts and let us know what a lovely hotel we had. The final team member finally checked out, and the hotel was forever in the Warriors’ rearview mirrors.
As I watched the last guest pull out of the parking lot from my office window, I was reminded of a former general manager who lamented a profound statement regarding groups. He said: “Sales dreams the dream, and operations lives the nightmare.”
Reflective words, indeed.
Deven Matthews is a hotelier who has worked in the hotel industry for more than 23 years. A professor of hotel management at the College of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas, Deven enjoys instructing the future managers of Las Vegas hotels. He holds a master’s degree in business management and is fascinated by all things hospitality. When not immersed in hotels, Deven enjoys playing the piano and spending time with his wife and their six children.