It couldn’t be avoided – after a year and a half in hotels, my life in hospitality has finally crept into my writing. I beg your pardon, I work in show business, not hospitality!
The hotel group I work for, with its ‘irreverent spirit of fun’, has, at its roots, the same ideology as Studio 54 in New York once did. It’s all about fun. We’re sexy, trendy and original. And we frown upon being called part of hospitality industry. It’s showbiz! Don’t expect anything less from a hotel chain that has made its name by breathing new life into tired listed buildings. The touch of flamboyant French designer Philippe Starck helped transform them into eye-catching hotel extravaganza. Someone who knows how to make a toilet brush or a lemon squeezer sexy, can certainly create a damn sexy urban spa, trendy cocktail bar and a hotel room that isn’t like any other hotel room.
Spicy little details – like paintings on the ceilings, asymmetrically arranged furniture, miniature chairs, giant chess pieces, spotlights and video installations – in spite of being very unpractical, create an atmosphere of theatre. We’re not selling rooms, we’re selling an experience.
Running a hotel operation involves a certain variety of staged actions – you follow the script and predict what’s going to happen in the next act. A lot of the time, however, you have to improvise.
Just like props on stage, things sometimes pretend to be something they aren’t. You can call it fakery, or pretence, or a game, but I believe that it’s just theatre. It’s as fake as a shiny wax apple, but the fakery is in the name of art and entertainment.
As if in a Charlie Kaufman film, apart from just being themselves, everyone plays a certain role. Or wait a minute, is it themselves that they are playing? It can get tricky.
Every department of the hotel has a part to play in creating the magic, and there is a very clear distinction between front-of-house and the ‘backstage’.
There is, of course, a director/hotel manager/manager on duty, hiding in his/her director’s booth and making sure all is well-tuned and running smoothly.
If a crucial element of the show fails to work, such as a lift or a display screen, engineers step in to get it back up and running. Because the show, as we’ve all heard, must go on.
The kitchen creates culinary masterpieces: marshmallow mushrooms, potions of smoothies and cocktails, succulent miniature burgers. Housekeepers are often unnoticed, just like stage workers dressed in black. They move props during the blackout, put things into their places and make the mess magically disappear. And just like costume department, they get your costume ready before you go on stage. In my case, it’s a very slim black pencil dress with a pair of black suede mary jane heels. It’s not too shabby. Playing the same part and wearing the same costume can get boring, but the performance is never quite the same.
Every shift starts with a handover and a review of the journal (aka ‘the Glitch Log’). You have to stay updated on what you’ve missed during your time off. If there was an accident, a crazy party or someone hit their partner with a bottle of champagne – you need to stay on top of the hottest news.
Most of the time, the Glitch Log makes a great morning read, like a celebrity gossip column in a trashy magazine. Other times it makes you sigh with relief that you missed all the drama.
Like all the other front-of-the-house ‘performers’, I occasionally have to work night shifts. The night show is a whole different story…
Between 11 pm and 7 am a hotel is a bizarre place on the dark side. You can call it a monster mash. Especially Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Yes, apparently, Thursday is the new Friday. People are so impatient these days in their search for ultimate pleasure, entertainment and relaxation, that they start going out on Thursday night. Because Friday is just always too far away.
The monsters, in their natural habitat drink, smoke, sniff, swallow and mate. People spend ridiculous amounts of money dumbing themselves down with the finest poisons money can buy. They lose their coats, wallets, credit cards and constantly make fools of themselves without realising it. They break things, they get hurt, and occasionally they die.
While work during the day is often a hectic, but predictable environment; night shifts, in spite of being incredibly entertaining, often make you lose faith in human kind.
The cynical sceptic in me would have triumphed if I had to work nights full-time. And she probably would write much better blog posts.
She would write stories about crazy people and drunk people. People that bring their partners to the same hotel they bring their lovers to. People who watch ‘Anal Debauchery – 5’ and then shyly ask to pay for the film in cash to save their company unnecessary expense.
She would write a story about a special couple, which once almost stayed at the hotel…
They were having drinks at the bar. Their friends had a room booked for the night, and they decided to book one too. It was long past midnight when the man approached reception. He left his credit card to make the booking, and returned to the bar. When it came to fill out and sig the registration card, however, he decided that he needs his wife’s help and brought her over from the bar. The wife stared at the piece of paper for a few minutes, evaluating if she was capable of writing her home address and email, and decided that she was not. Cockeyed from having fun and terrified of the symbols on the paper, she looked at the receptionist and pleaded: ‘I REALLY don’t want to stay here, I’m sorry! Can I please not stay here? I want to go home! I have so much underwear at home! Do you understand? I’m so so sorry!’ The receptionist nodded understandingly and said that there was no need to apologise, she absolutely understands. She cancelled the reservation, and thought to herself: ‘Why would anyone want to stay at a hotel, when they have so much underwear at home?’
Luckily, I don’t work night shifts very often, and I still believe in human kind.
I believe that people can create beautiful original things in every industry. That they can be fun and friendly without being fake and without a name tag. That they can learn their lines very well, but are capable of extraordinary improvisations. That they can turn an everyday object or experience into a spectacle. That they can treat their guests like human beings, not check-in and check-out material. That they can create a fascinating atmosphere of a theatre with experiences and ideas to be discovered and amused at…
With pretty much every hotel in town being slowly but steadily transformed from a place of entertainment and fun into an accommodation for a corporate traveller with a neat laptop bag and a garment carrier, some of us are starting to feel nostalgic about the times when boutique hotels were fun and vibrant. When the hotel employees felt like they were part of something great and original. But what’re you gonna do? Nothing personal, it’s just business.