Travel Tips: Secrets of a Front Desk Agent Part III

September 22, 2015
Christina Nguyen
6 min read

In the next chapter of the Secrets of a Front Desk series, I will be revealing some secrets that most people don’t realize about hotels. People would say, “Oh, you’re so lucky to be working in such a beautiful location!” I would nod and smile and usher them to their luxury suite. On the inside I was dying from knowing I hadn’t actually seen the sun in five days because I was always working the desk. There were many perks to working at a hotel, but sometimes people forget themselves and treat staff like garbage. There are many things I wish I could have said then, but now I can. Here is a list of the tops things I dreaded about being a front desk agent.

Things I Hated about Working at a Hotel 

This is pretty much what it felt like some days.

10. I can’t make everyone happy.

One important thing I always wanted people to know was that I was trying my best to make your stay as great as possible. I will use my training and resources and try to get the best room available. I will make a personal connection with you and make sure to answer all your questions. However, the downfall of the hotel is that there are only so many rooms and so many more different combinations of guest requests. Someone is bound to not get what they wanted. I am very sorry that our property does not have connection rooms with a balcony in the room type you booked. I can’t build it now!

9. Guests who are taking up too much unnecessary time.

Look, I said that I would do my best to ensure you have a great stay. I also said that to the other 150 guests I checked in. I want to help you, but I also want to help you efficiently. Please state what you want and need as quickly as possible. I once had a guest call the front desk saying she needed a few items from the list of complimentary items. No problem. She proceeded to name each one slowly, pausing in-between items as if trying to decide what she should get next, and then asking for descriptions of the items she wasn’t familiar with. It went like this:

Guest: “and uh… what’s… what is a shoe… a shoe horn?”

Me:“It’s a piece of plastic shaped like a spoon to help you slide your shoes on easier.”

Guest: “Okay, that. And uh… what is Woolite”

Me:“It’s a detergent specifically for clothing made of wool”

Guest: “Ah okay, that. And uh….”

It’s okay if you want everything on the list. I won’t judge you for trying to get the most out of your room rate. Alright, I’ll judge a little because I know very well you don’t need a shoe horn! But to save us both time, please just go ahead and say it so I can get on to the rest of the things I need to keep this hotel running, and you can go enjoy your trip.

8. Ridiculous complaints.

Any article you find on the internet with hotel tips will tell you: if there’s a reason, make a complaint. Speaking up to the staff will often do more than just fix the problem. They often will be willing to offer some sort of compensation. The key is it needs to be a legitimate problem, and you have to go about it smartly. The staff can see right through a person just huffing up steam to get something for free. There was a man who came up to me upset because housekeeping had knocked on his door around 8am and it woke him up. No, I didn’t give him anything. They have to start at that time otherwise they will never have all the rooms clean by check-in. That is why you have a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door.

7. Broken things stay broken for months.

Not to say that the staff isn’t doing everything they can to make sure the rooms are up to par. We’ll put a room out of service and make sure no one stays in there if it’s in need of repair. But too often the engineering department will say it’s fixed, and then we open the room and sure enough someone has the same complaint as a previous guest.  

6. Everyone and their mom thinks they have booked an Ocean View.

This is not that they were really hoping for view and I dishonored their family by giving the worst room on the property. They will literally say, “But I booked an Ocean View” Oh, may I see your confirmation please? Here it says a standard King, so, either your confirmation magically also changed on your end too or you didn’t actually book an ocean view.

5. Working terrible hours.

These hotel desks run 24 hours a day, and the majority of visitors stay on holidays. It wasn’t the weekends that were hardest while all your friends are able to hang out together. It was the holidays that hurt the most. I’ve spent the 4th of July, Thanksgiving, and Christmas behind a desk watching happy couples and families stroll by while missing mine. It isn’t just the holidays either. The front desk works on a schedule that changes each week, as long as they are receiving 2 days off per week. So, one can have two days off in the beginning of last week and at the end of the next meaning sometimes they are working 10 days in a row!

4. FIT Travelers

FIT stands for Fully Independent Traveler with some alternative versions of the acronym, such as our front desk just thought of them as Foreign Independent Traveler. This was because most of these guests were from somewhere in Europe. Beware of setting up a trip through these types of tour companies because they often have no knowledge of what the hotel is actually like. They promise a particular level of luxury to these travelers and they arrive to the most basic standard room. The most difficult thing was trying to explain that there were no other rooms better than what we had for them while there was a language barrier.

3. Some chains are all about profit.

Some chains will sacrifice some of the best employees and managers who have been with the hotel for many years in exchange for a fresh young applicant with zero experience in order to pay employees less.

2. People trying to take advantage of me.

As I have said, if you have something to complain about, do it smartly. We can tell when you are trying to be cheap. One Christmas morning, two gentlemen raised their voices and said everything possible to make the hotel sound deplorable. They sort of tag–teamed yelling at me until there was a scene in the lobby. They already had the lowest rates of the entire property by booking online through a third-party, (don’t get me started on those) and wanted even more discounted.  

1. The rewards membership program turns people into monsters.

All hotel chains have their own membership program, which is great for the company, bad for the front desk agents. There was something mysterious about the membership that could condition certain people to treat front desk agents like animals. It is important to the hotel brand to keep loyal members, so they will compensate any official complaint by any means necessary. Smart complainers win, but people turn it into the extreme and become adult tantrums. This is when I wish I could have a giant mirror behind me when guests would yell about “the worst service” they have ever seen. “Don’t you know that I am a Diamond member?” Yes sir, but you are not the only one we have here. If you treat the desk this way, you may get something out of it, but they will try to give you the minimum that will get you to leave them alone. If you treat them with respect, you will get so much more.

In the end, I loved being a front desk agent and will happily go back. It wasn’t all dehumanizing work. When you are on your next trip, remember to see the person behind the desk as a human being. They are working on a Saturday, or a holiday, and just trying to get through the day. They have certainly been screamed at, insulted, and overworked. Be kind.  It’s a tough job being at the desk, but I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything.