Room 1114 – Déjà vu




“This may seem weird, but don’t I know you from somewhere?”

A hotel doesn’t operate on bankers’ hours. A front desk functions 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. As such, scheduling needs are specific and require associates who can be individually available to work shifts that span around the clock.

Generally, the day at a front desk is divided into three shifts.

  1. An AM shift from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
  2. A PM shift, which runs from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.
  3. An audit shift (also known as the graveyard shift), which runs from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

These schedules may extend 30 minutes either way to allow for overlap between associates where essential information may be passed-on from one shift to the next. No hour is left unaccounted for, and these three shifts guarantee continuous coverage at the desk to meet the needs of the guest.

This tight schedule leaves minimal wiggle room and deviating from these three set shifts poses a problem when scheduling. Common employee inconsistencies and glitches (such as running late or wanting to leave early) create gaps in desk coverage and frustrations to the staff. A manager must use strategies that cater to the demands of their employees while meeting the needs of the hotel.

It was around 8:30 in the evening and I was in the middle of working the PM shift when the probe came from this curious guest. The check-in process was complete, and I had just handed Mr. Carter the keys to his room when he posed his question.

The inquisitive guest was a middle-aged man wearing a suit. His appearance led me to conclude he’d been wearing his suit for at least 12 hours that day. The dark circles under his eyes gave him a ragged and worn-down appearance. His undone tie hung loosely around his unbuttoned collar, which I interpreted as a sign that he just wanted to unwind and maybe have a drink.

I was taken back by his question since it wasn’t the typical inquiry from a guest checking into the hotel.

“Pardon me?” I asked.

“Again, this seems really weird, and maybe I’m just exhausted. But the whole time you’ve been checking me in, I’ve been trying to place you. You seem so familiar to me.”

“I’m sorry,” I replied hesitantly, “But I don’t recognize you.” I unsuccessfully tried to recall his face. I usually never forget a face, but this time I was drawing an absolute blank.

Mr. Carter looked at my name tag. I took his cue and offered some help. “My name is Deven. Deven Matthews. Does the name ring a bell?”

He was clearly frustrated. “I swear I’ve seen you before.” He gave me an uncomfortable stare and he suddenly resembled one of those inanimate porcelain dolls with ceramic eyes. His eyes laid on me for what seemed like an eternity until I offered him an uncomfortable smile, which finally broke his gaze on me, and he looked at the floor.

“Ugh,” he said, “This is making me nuts. I swear I’m going to obsess over this until I can figure it out where I have seen you before.”

Once again, I offered my regret. “I’m sorry, Mr. Carter. I’m sure that’s maddening.”

I did have sympathy for the man. I had been in his shoes before, and it’s frustrating when your mind can’t make a connection you’re certain it should be making.

I offered him a consolation suggestion, “I’m here until 11 tonight, so if it comes to you, you can always come back to the desk.”

He smiled. “I might have to take you up on that.” He looked at his room key and asked, “What’s my room number again?”

“You’re out in room 1114. It’s building 11 on the ground floor.”

“Great. Thanks.” Mr. Carter turned to leave and made it as far as the sliding glass doors when he abruptly stopped in his tracks. With a combination of both surprise and elation, he quickly spun around. The ragged look had disappeared and a look of joy had overcome his countenance as his face was glowing.

“That’s it,” he said, snapping his fingers then pointing it in the air. “That’s it. You checked me out of my hotel this morning in Las Vegas.”

“What?” I asked.

He returned to the desk with rapture. “I stayed at your Green Valley hotel in Vegas last night! You were working the desk this morning and you checked me out! That’s it! That’s how I know you! I never forget a face.” He was unmistakably satisfied that the connection had finally been made and that he could place our previous encounter.

Suddenly, a similar connection occurred in my own mind. This gentleman in front of me wasn’t losing his mind. He HAD seen me at the Green Valley property that morning, although I’d never seen him.

My brother, Ryan, holds an incredible resemblance to me. From about the age of 16, I have been mistaken for him dozens of times and, likewise, he’s often mistaken for me. Although we’re three years apart, it was like having an identical twin. Ryan worked at the front desk of Green Valley property in Las Vegas. It was very likely that Ryan had checked Mr. Carter out that morning, and by a miraculous fluke, I was currently checking him into my hotel in Southern California. I was dumbfounded at the coincidence. The stars must have been aligned just perfectly to create such a scenario.

The luck was astonishing. So astonishing, that I decided to feed into the guest’s assumption.

“Oh, hey… that was me!” I exclaimed with delight. “I remember you now. You weren’t going crazy after all!”

“I knew it!” Mr. Carter boasted snapping his fingers once again in celebration of his realization. “I never forget a face. It took me a second, but I got it.”

I could tell he was proud of himself, and I wasn’t about to rob him of his satisfaction. “I’m glad it came to you,” I said. “You must be relieved.”

“I am. Gosh, that would have driven me nuts the rest of the night.” He smiled and exhaled with a sense of relief. Then with a nod of his head he said, “Well, goodnight,” and headed out the sliding glass doors again.

Although he hadn’t connected the dots just yet, I realized he’d missed a major component in his deduction. I stood there watching him, wondering if it would dawn on him. Would Mr. Carter think of the obvious question he should’ve been asking himself before he made it to his room?

Once the doors were closed behind him, he stopped suddenly. His head jerked towards me and he froze. This time, any look of joy was absent, and an extremely confused expression had overcome his countenance.

Mr. Carter walked back through the sliding doors and returned to the desk for a third time that evening. “Hey, do you work at both of these hotels?”

Ding-ding-ding-ding! Ladies and gentlemen, he’s got it! The $10,000 question has been asked! Deven, tell the contestant what he has won!

The game show announcer in my mind turned the microphone over to me and I decided to keep the ball rolling. What harm would it do if this guest thought I was the same person who checked him out in Green Valley that morning? The prize would be a story he could one day share with his grandchildren.

“Actually, yes, I do.” I fabricated the explanation as I went along. “It’s a new program the company has where you work at two separate properties in two different regions. That way, you can gain an understanding of how the company works as a whole.”

Mr. Carter was both mesmerized and impressed. “Wow. That’s amazing!”

I continued to add to my story. “Yes, I live here, but once a week I fly up to Las Vegas and work at the Green Valley property. Today, I flew home at noon, but they needed my help here tonight, so I came into work here.” If you’re going to make-up a whopper, might as well go big!

“That’s incredible! Such a grueling schedule,” Mr. Carter commented.

“Yeah, but you do what you gotta do, right?”

“You’re right,” he agreed.

Mr. Carter let out a satisfied sigh of relief. “Well,” he stated, “once again, goodnight” and he departed to his guest room. I didn’t see him again during the remainder of my shift. I wondered if my charade had been convincing or if he would deduce that I had made the whole thing up. I concluded he wouldn’t. After all, he had seen me at both properties with his own eyes – and seeing is believing.

Later that evening, I called Ryan. As the phone rang in my ear, I wondered if he would remember Mr. Carter. I didn’t anticipate it as such. After all, at the front desk of the hotel, you see many guests come and go and remembering each one by name is improbable.

My thoughts were interrupted by the answering of the phone. “Hello?”

“Hey, Ryan, it’s Deven.”

“Hey, how are you?”

“I’m doing fine.” Then I asked him, “Hey, did you work this morning at the hotel?”

“I did,” he responded. “Why?”

A smiled washed over my face and I replied, “Man, have I got a story for you.”

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.


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