PART OF AN ONGOING SERIES EXPLORING THE (SOMETIMES) LIGHTER SIDE OF A LIFE SPENT WORKING IN A HOTEL. READ EARLIER INSTALLMENTS HERE.
by DEVEN MATTHEWS
“Excuse me, are you a guest of the hotel?”
The chain of hotels that employed me always offered a complimentary hot breakfast to their guests 365 days a year. The hotel always included the same spread: eggs, two types of breakfast meats, hot and cold cereal, a variety of pastries and muffins, juices, milk, yogurt, and the famous make-your-own-waffles. Breakfast is “complimentary,” but, like most free items in retail, the cost of breakfast is built into the cost of your room.
The lobbies of such hotels often are designed so the restaurant area can be clearly seen from the front desk. An additional feature is guests must pass right by the front desk to enter the breakfast area to enjoy their meal. It’s the role of the front desk agents to verify those arriving to enjoy their complementary meal are indeed guests of the hotel.
Many guests are recognized. But for those with whom the front desk agents aren’t familiar, there are ways to verify that they are guests while maintaining the spirit of hospitality.
To combat outside parties from coming in to enjoy the free meal, many hotels require the guest to show their room key before helping themselves to the buffet. My experience has proven that most people are honest. But, there are a few who try to sneak in for a free meal.
NOT SO FAST
My hotel was located one block down the street from the local high school. Many of the high school students would walk right past our hotel on their way to school each morning. Every once in a while, a student would discover our free offering and would try to stop by for a hot breakfast before beginning their school day.
This particular morning, I was questioning a teenage boy who was wearing a backpack passing by the desk. My first clue that he wasn’t a guest, but rather a high school student, was the backpack.
My question startled him, but he looked at me very solemnly and said, “Yes, I am.”
I looked at him and said, “Great, I just need to see your room key before you head in and enjoy breakfast.”
There were about a dozen guests already in the restaurant enjoying the spread. None of them could hear our interaction, so the sounds of clinking dishes and morning conversations continued to ring throughout the lobby. Those sounds accompanied by the fragrance of freshly brewed coffee created an inviting, hospitable atmosphere.
“Oh,” the boy said while patting his pockets, “I don’t have my key with me.”
This isn’t that far-fetched of a reply. Many teenagers – and adults, as well – don’t think to take a key with them when exiting their hotel room. Continuing my investigation, I moved onto my next question to determine the validity of this boy’s story.
“That’s no problem. What’s your room number?” I questioned.
Again, he looked at me startled and after a short hesitation said, “I don’t remember.”
Another answer that isn’t too uncommon. Many teenagers – and again, adults too– don’t keep track of their guest room number when staying at the hotel. Without a key card sleeve to reference, they simply don’t recall. I then asked him a clarifying question to which I was certain he would know the answer.
“What’s your last name?”
There was a pause. The answer to a question of this caliber should be instant however this boy thought for a second before looking at me and saying “Jones.”
I typed the name into my computer, and sure enough, there was a guest in-house with that last name. I felt uneasy about his answer and the boy’s behavior. And that backpack? Why would a guest be wearing a large school backpack just to come up to eat breakfast? Jones is a pretty common last name. Did he just take an incredibly lucky guess? I decided to delve deeper.
The first name on the room was Julie, so I asked the boy, “Are you traveling with your mom or your dad?”
Again, with some hesitation, he said, “My mom.”
It wasn’t until after I asked my question that I realized there was a 50% chance of him getting that answer correct, and that maybe luck was smiling upon him this morning. He happened to choose a common last name that happened to be in-house, and now he happened to select the right parent to say he was traveling with.
Unsatisfied with his answers, and still feeling very uneasy about the whole situation, I went in for the kill.
“What’s your mom’s first name?” I asked.
His answer would reveal the truth. I still was unsure if he was indeed a legitimate guest at the hotel or some high school kid trying to score a free meal. I silently gave him props for his endurance. Many kids would crack under the interrogating questions and just leave, but something told me this was one clever kid.
He looked down at the ground, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, looked back at me and said, “I don’t know.”
Finally! I had stumped him. A sweeping feeling of satisfaction overcame me, like the warmth of the sun as you step out from a cold shadow. I looked at him and asked, “You don’t know your mom’s first name?”
Situations like this are always entertaining. It’s a battle of wits where both parties feel they have one-upped the other party until one who conquers watches the other fall.
This was that moment – I had won, and he would fall.
The boy knew he was defeated, so in his defense he looked me square in the eye, and with a large smile replied, “Well, I’ve only ever called her mom.”
I smiled, and even let out a laugh. My diagnosis of this boy’s clever mind was accurate. I decided that his quick-witted answer deserved a reward. I looked at him and said, “Okay, why don’t you go ahead and enjoy breakfast on me today. But in the future, you can’t stop here on your way to school, OK? This breakfast is for our paying guests.”
He smiled and said, “Deal. Thanks.”
I smiled as he walked into the restaurant with excitement. This was a smart kid who had the ability to think quickly on his feet. A bright future was definitely in store for him. Last I saw, he was helping himself to our famous make-your-own-waffle station.
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.