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
Hotels come in a variety of shapes and sizes, each with exclusive operational needs. While they all generally share the same mission – to house guests overnight – each is uniquely individual. They each offer amenities based on their target market which requires a variety of associate roles to meet the needs of the individual guests. A resort operates differently than a convention hotel just as a bed and breakfast won’t function in the same manner as a budget property.
Long-term stay hotels are no exception. This classification is designed to run more distinctively than other hotels. The guest rooms are larger and are generally set up like small studio apartments suited for the traveler who requires a more “home-like” home away from home. The rooms also contain a full kitchen, filled with appliances and all necessary components to prepare complete meals.
Despite the ability to cook in the room, these hotels often offer a gratuitous hot breakfast, 365 days a year. Some hotels in this classification also offer a complimentary light dinner a few nights each week as part of their offerings.
Because of these additional amenities, the hotel’s rates are commonly higher than their counterparts.
LICENSE TO GRILL
I once worked a summer at a long-term stay property which hosted a weekly complimentary barbecue dinner on the poolside patio. Every Wednesday evening from 6 to 7:30, the grill would be fired up, and staff would serve hamburgers and hot dogs to the guests, complete with baked beans, macaroni salad, and fruit. It was a great amenity, which provided a social outlet for the guests, and an opportunity for the staff to interact with the patrons.
On this particular Wednesday evening, the air was filled white smoke billowing out of the grill, permeating the air with that unmistakable smell of cooking burgers and hot dogs, reminiscent of countless summer nights. The sun had disappeared behind the buildings, casting a cool, blue shadow over the patio, slowly triggering the sensors of the outdoor lighting. There were doo-wop sounds of a 1950s jukebox clamoring out of the exterior speakers, and Betty Everett was informing the listener that his true feelings cannot be expressed in his face or his warm embrace but rather in his kiss. The music floated above the sound of guests who were conversing, laughing, and generally enjoying the barbecue.
I, however, was in the building manning the front desk. The sounds and smells of the barbecue occasionally wafted into the deserted lobby each time the door to the patio opened, creating a sense of nostalgia for summers of old, not to mention a longing to be part of the excitement. As guests entered the lobby, I would ask if they were looking for the barbecue and direct them to the patio. The guests were flowing in regularly, and there were about 30 minutes left of the festivities.
Just then, Jenny walked into the lobby and headed to the kitchen. She was accompanied by the sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival, with lead singer John Fogerty warning us of the earthquakes and lightning he saw encroaching on the horizon. Jenny was part of the restaurant staff and was playing the role of grill master tonight. She had come inside twice earlier that evening to retrieve more hamburger patties and hot dogs which she took out to grill for the guests. I’d watched through the large windows as she kept the masses supplied with the main course while other staff members kept the side dishes flowing, the ketchup bottles filled, and the tables bussed. Jenny came out of the swinging kitchen door carrying a stainless-steel pan of burgers and dogs.
“Full house tonight?” I asked.
“Oh, brother,” Jenny said, not stopping to talk. “It’s a madhouse out there.”
She disappeared out onto the patio to take her place as the meat-cooking maestro. I could see a line forming in front of the grill of guests holding plates, resembling begging dogs awaiting a treat from their master.
THE MORE THE MERRIER
Just then, a man and woman entered the lobby from the main entrance.
“Is there a barbecue going on tonight?” The man asked.
“Yes, which room are you in?” I asked as it was second nature for me to confirm that they were guests at the hotel prior to sending them out for the free meal.
“Room 902”, the woman responded. “Gatlin.”
With a few clicks on my keyboard, I confirmed the name of room 902’s occupants and sent them on their way.
“Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Gatlin. Just out that door by the pool.”
They went out to the patio and joined the party, where the sounds of Martha and the Vandellas were inviting everyone to dance in the streets. I watched them through the window as they each picked up a plate and made their way down the food table filling them up. I noticed my general manager welcoming them as she restocked the napkins and poured on the hospitality. All in a day’s work.
I went back to my work but was distracted about 10 minutes later when the Gatlin’s rushed into the lobby headed towards the front entrance.
“How was dinner?” I asked cheerfully.
They were clearly in a rush. Mrs. Gatlin shook her head at me, an obvious look of disappointment written on her face. Her husband spoke while they continued walking.
“There’s something strange about the burgers. Too spicy or something,” he said.
“Oh no, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said, empathetically.
“Just not our taste,” Mrs. Gatlin said covering her mouth, her worried husband in tow directly behind her.
“Hon, are you going to be alright?” He asked as they exited the lobby together.
I wondered what had happened. I couldn’t recall ever hearing guests complain about the dinner – especially on barbecue night. After all, free meals usually leave little room to gripe.
CAUSE FOR ALARM
Just then, the door to the patio opened and the nostalgic scent of summer entered the lobby along with the unmistaken sounds of the Tokens telling us that the lion was sleeping tonight. Jenny entered the lobby and marched towards the desk.
“Jeez, what got into those two?” complained Jenny.
“Who?” I asked.
“The couple that just left.” Jenny pointed out the lobby door.
“902?” I questioned. “Why? What happened?”
“I don’t know,” she said, shrugging. “I guess they didn’t like the hamburgers. They got all huffy
and just left. I heard her say ‘gross’ after taking a bite of her burger. Talk about rude!” Jenny had said “gross” with a high-pitched sneer.
I tried to offer a calming voice. “They told me the burgers just weren’t their style.”
“Well, they just got up and left their trash behind, hardly touched their food.” Jenny was obviously offended. “Completely rude if you ask me.”
She disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with a package of hamburger buns and headed back out to resume her grilling duties. She opened the door as a roar of laughter bolted through the lobby from a group of friends who were sitting around a table. The lion was still sleeping tonight.
I wondered what made the Gatlins leave so quickly. Their premature exit must have been caused by the hamburger. Perhaps the meat had spoiled, or maybe Mrs. Gatlin just got a bad burger? Or was it the flavor? Whatever the reason, I hoped this was a one-time incident.
I continued my work behind the desk until approximately 10 minutes later when the patio door opened. This time, the sounds of Marty Wilde expressing his desire for a dream lover rang through the lobby. Jenny entered, walking directly towards me with determination, a plate in her hands. Sitting in the middle of that plate was a freshly grilled hamburger.
“Here,” she offered it to me. “Try this.”
“Why?” I asked suspiciously.
“Tell me what’s wrong with it,” she ordered.
My suspicion grew. “Huh?”
“I overheard three more guests complaining about the meat. Just try it and tell me your opinion.” She sat the plate on the desk.
I suddenly had no desire to try the burger. I wasn’t willing to bite into something that was receiving bad reviews from the guests. I concluded that it was a bad batch of beef. Perhaps the meat had spoiled. Whatever the reason, any desire I might have had to take a bite was null.
“Nah, that’s OK,” I said, pushing the plate back towards Jenny.
“Come on,” she repeated, sliding the plate towards me again. “Just try it and tell me if it’s gross,” Jenny insisted.
“You try it,” I suggested.
“I don’t eat red meat,” Jenny proclaimed. “Here, please, just try it.”
I could tell Jenny wasn’t going to let up, so to appease her, I decided to comply. I picked up the top bun of the hamburger and looked it over. It didn’t appear to be spoiled or rotten, so I thought I’d give it a go and I took a small bite of the hamburger.
HOUSTON, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
My taste buds immediately told me something was wrong. The meat wasn’t spoiled, but something was clearly wrong. There was a zing to the beef patty I’d never tasted in a hamburger before. The taste of unique spices was obvious, and my mind raced to place the distinct flavor. As I chewed the burger, I found the texture of the meat was foreign as well. It was rubbery, not at all like beef. It was more like pork – spicy pork. And then it hit me like a flash. The combined flavor and texture of what I was chewing became instantly recognizable and it dawned on me what Jenny was serving. It wasn’t hamburger. She was grilling the sausage patties from breakfast.
I quickly grabbed a tissue and spit out the food from my mouth. “Jenny!” I exclaimed. “This is sausage, not hamburger!”
“You’re barbecuing the breakfast sausage patties and serving them as hamburgers!” I exclaimed. A combination of disbelief and levity overcame me, and I began to laugh.
Jenny stood in disbelief. I tossed the remainder of my sandwich into the garbage, and quickly took a sip from my water bottle to chase the flavor away. I now understood the Gatlin’s surprise disgust earlier that evening. Breakfast sausage is delicious when served in the right context. However, when served grilled on a bun with cheese, tomato, onion, lettuce, mustard, and ketchup, it becomes an unappetizing surprise to any guest.
Jenny’s eyes opened wide and without saying a word, she suddenly made a bee line to the patio door. She thrusted it open and shouted, “No, wait!” as she sprinted to her place behind the grill to correct her error.
A smile came over my face as I heard the music once again. Ironically, Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1973 classic “Meatman” chimed out into the summer night.
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.