Have you seen The Grand Budapest Hotel? Ralph Fiennes in a crisp purple suit, hair slicked elegantly to the side, surrounded by the faded pink of Mendel’s cake boxes. Colorful guests with plot-twisting lives. Through Wes Anderson’s eyes we see the still moments of peace, chaotic turmoil of rush hours, and detailed beauty that comes with working at the front desk of a hotel.
It truly is a romantic vision and I find that I fall in love with the life of the narrator and his mentor as the film progresses, but is this what it’s really like?
I decided that I needed to find out. So, I spoke with Amanda Hogue, the Front Office Supervisor at the Hotel Triton in downtown San Francisco, to find out what working in a hotel is really like. She explains it all here.
Why did she decide to apply to this job?
It was kind of on a whim. Amanda had been working at a restaurant job for a while but was ready for something new. She saw the post for the hotel position online and went for it. Having no prior hotel experience, she was really grateful to get the position.
When she interviewed, she really felt a connection with the front office and the general manager and knew that it would be the right fit. She could also tell that Kimpton really cared about their employees’ well-being and that was something that really stood out to her. Feeling supported was a really important factor when choosing a job.
What is a typical day like?
In charge of anything guest-related, Amanda will spend her day or night checking people in and out, setting up reservations, taking care of the needs of VIPs, and also making sure that all of the agents are performing up to standard. This includes making sure cash and reservation billings are being handled properly, tracking and logging all commissions and incentives, and making sure cancellations are handled properly.
She’s also keeping the lobby and front desk/back office area organized and presentable at all times. Customer service is the name of the game—attending to guests’ needs and concierge requests.
So, there are certain tasks that have to be done every day, but the rest of her day is really dependent upon who is staying at the hotel at that time and what the daily numbers look like (check-ins and check-outs). There’s not really such a thing as a “typical” day.
It also depends on whether she’s working the morning or night shift.
A morning shift will usually start with checking the day’s numbers and reports and setting up all the loyalty members and VIPs (blocking them into rooms, setting up amenities, etc.).
Then, throughout the day, Amanda will be checking people out of their rooms and making sure that everything has been billed properly. She’ll also be answering phones and directing calls, emailing back any incoming guest inquiries, communicating to the team about any groups who are coming in and most importantly, providing customer service and tending to any guests’ needs.
The night shift involves checking all guests in with their reservations and setting up all the reservations for the next day, which includes making sure all the billing information is there and accurate, pre-blocking guests into rooms, etc.
What was the training process like?
The training process was very hands-on. For a day or two, Amanda watched how everything worked and then just jumped in with the other supervisor’s guidance. The front manager, general manager, and the rest of the front office crew helped with the process.
But, besides learning the basic duties of an office supervisor, there really isn’t a way to train for every situation that comes up. You just have to learn as you go. Amanda finds that she is still learning new things every day.
What is her favorite part of her job?
Her favorite part of the job is the fact that she gets to meet really cool people from all over the world. It’s really interesting to observe people’s living habits every day. You are able to build a different kind of relationship with people when you are housing them. Also, there’s no better feeling than when a guest lets her know that their stay was the best hotel experience they’ve ever had because of the service.
What are the challenges?
The main challenge is matching reality with people’s expectations. The hotel is a really old property. The building was built over 100 years ago! Some people come in who have stayed at other hotels owned by the same company and they’re expecting a different type of experience. The Triton’s age is part of its charm, but it can be pretty challenging to keep a guest happy who was expecting a different, newer type of property.
What are some essential skills for students and recent graduates who want a similar position?
First and foremost, you have to be skilled in customer service. That is what the industry is based on. You can’t let your pride get in the way. Meeting customers’ needs no matter what is a HUGE part of the job.
You also have to have a certain amount of business savvy—know what is best for the business of the hotel. The front desk will get chances to sell rooms and understanding what is profitable for the company while also being able to keep the guests happy is an essential skill.
Good writing skills are also really important. About 60% of Amanda’s day involves writing emails to guests and staff, as well as writing reports. Being able to communicate in a professional manner is essential. Basic math and problem-solving skills also come into play. Amanda may not have a hospitality degree, but with these skills she is able to keep up with the everyday workflow.
Amanda may not be riding gondolas up to a grand pink European castle/hotel or meeting Tilda Swinton as an incredibly wealthy widow, but she certainly does get to interact with fun and exciting new people every day. San Francisco has its fair share of characters and working in a hotel is the perfect place to get to know a lot of them.
Homework time! Think this might be the field for you? Customer service is a huge part of the job. See if you can get some experience with this skill. Deirdre Quirk was a Theatre major but got her job working as a customer care representative through her customer service jobs in college. See if there are any positions available at your school that will help you gain these skills.