I read Jacob Tomsky’s Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality during my Christmas ski vacation in Park City, UT. It’s a fun, easy read. Just looking at the cover, you can tell that Tomsky wants to give us the hotel version of Anthony Bourdain‘s Kitchen Confidential — the flawed insider with a heart of gold giving us a snarky behind-the-scenes tour.
Tomsky’s story has two very distinct parts. The first third of the book tells us how Tomsky fell into the hospitality industry and began to make it a career. A degree in philosophy in New Orleans wasn’t generating any meaningful employment, so he took a job as a parking valet. Working hard and being earnest (he cleans up well, doesn’t try to kill his co-workers), he gets promoted to front desk agent and then into management at a new luxury hotel. The second part of the book is set in a gone-to-seed Manhattan hotel where Tomsky reluctantly lands, broke after 9 months touring through Europe and 3 months searching for a publishing job in New York.
The New Orleans story is certainly the sunnier of the two parts; a young man finding his niche in the world and working his way up. It also gives a more interesting behind-the-scenes view if you’re interested in how big hotels really work. Tomsky does a great job of describing the amount of planning and effort it takes for a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons to provide their levels of hospitality. I wished this part lasted longer.
The Manhattan story seems less about the hotel business and more about Tomsky abandoning, bit by bit, the Ritz level of service he was so proud of, becoming more focused on hustling tips than helping guests. As he slides down that slippery slope, the snark level increases… as does a sense of self-loathing. The big confrontation scene with the evil manager is less of a climax and more of a denouement.
Much of the press coverage of Heads in Beds has focused on the insider advice Tomsky dishes in the book’s appendices — “Things a Guest Should Never Say,” “Things a Guest Should Never Do,” “Things Every Guest Must Know”. It’s all pretty common-sense, distilling down to: 1) Don’t be a jerk to the staff; 2) Tip everyone well; 3) Staff can and will screw you over if you don’t follow the first two points.
Heads in Beds is no Kitchen Confidential, but it’s a fun read and a good story told with heart. Recommended.