How to Make a Hotel Reservation

Since I’ve talked to about 416000 people today who seem to need a primer in reservation-making, I’ve decided to make a handy-dandy checklist!

Dates – Decide what dates you will be visiting.  This is the first question we will ask you, and it’s a waste of time if you call us and don’t know.  Even if you are coming to the McGillicuddy/Jingleheimer-Schmidt wedding, you still need to tell us when you are staying.

History – Have you stayed with us before?  In many cases, we can speed up your reservation considerably if we look up your history and see what type of room you most often stay in, and if you qualify for any discounts.

Occupants – Know the size of your party, and be honest with us about it.  It’s a violation of fire laws to stuff 27 people in a room with one bed.  Besides, if the building (heaven forbid) does get blown over in a tornado, we kinda need to know how many people we need to include in our head count.  Also, when we’re planning schedules and supply orders, we need to know how many people (and how many adults vs. kids) we’ll be feeding and cleaning up after.

Room Types – Please have a vague idea of what type of room you’ll need — I’m not saying you need to be familiar with the 13 (true story) different types of rooms I have to offer, but you should know if you’ll need one bed or two, smoking or non, a kitchenette, or a pet-friendly or ADA-accessible room.  Please convey this to the reservationist at the beginning of your conversation.

  • Please do not flip out when I do not have what you need, either because it doesn’t exist on our property or someone else beat you to it.  Simply say something like, ” Oh, I’m sorry to hear that — do you have any recommendations that might work for me?”  Also, it will curry no favor with us if your response to “I’m sorry, but we are fully booked for that date” is a snottily-delivered “Well, I can’t believe you’re sold out — I mean, nothing ever happens in that rinky-dink town.”  Those of us who choose to live here do not consider it rinky-dink (and are insulted by the charge), and chances are, if you have a reason to come here and stay, others do, too.
  • If you wanted a non-smoking room, but all we have available are smoking rooms, this is not the time to treat the desk agent to a diatribe about how smoking is a vile, dirty habit and should be outlawed in all indoor spaces, even private property, and how you just don’t understand why we don’t make all of our rooms smoke-free, and on and on and on.  This only makes me want to take up smoking, and it will not actually gain you anything.  We keep a limited number of smoking rooms for our guests who, you know, smoke.  Smokers travel, too.  Just let us advise you of your options, and if none of those work for you, simply say “no, thank you,” and go on about your business.

Rates – If you are part of a group or corporation that has a special rate with us, or a member of an organization that typically gets you a hotel discount (AAA/CAA, AARP, Sam’s Club, active duty or retired military, etc), please tell us.  We are not mind readers, and it only wastes time if we quote a rate and you then say “but is that the Senior rate?”

  • On a slight tangent, please understand that being a school secretary does not qualify you for the state government rate, unless you are traveling on state government business and some entity connected to the state government is paying for your room.
  • If you find a cheaper competing rate online, make sure you are honestly entering the same dates, rates, and occupancy you have just told us, and also be prepared to give us the exact site information so that we can verify it — if we can’t verify it, we can’t beat it.  And, if you choose to book online through any site other than the hotel-specific brand website, understand that there could be serious restrictions on that booking — often, you do not get to choose the type of room you’re booking, you have no flexibility in dates, and you have no ability to cancel the reservation without penalty.  In addition, if you had called us and asked, I can give you a 99% guarantee we would have beaten that rate, because when you book with one of those third party sites (which shall remain nameless but are often represented by William Shatner, a garden gnome, or claymation office workers), we only get about 50-60% of what you pay them, and then, out of what we do get, we have to turn around and pay commission fees to them and booking fees to the distribution channel.  Half the time, we might as well have paid you to stay here.
  • Remember that, within reason, unless we are dealing with a special event or other sold-out time, rates are usually negotiable.  If the quoted rate does not work for you, don’t be afraid to ask if there are any specials or if a different type of room may be more economical.  Ask politely!  Saying something like “Good God, is that the best you can do?” will not get you anything other than a standard 10% discount (if it gets you anything at all), whereas if you had asked politely, you might find out that we’re willing to compromise if you are (for instance, if you’re trying to book a single room, and I only have a few of them to sell, but I have lots of double rooms to sell, we would be willing to offer a steeper discount on the double room because we have more of them).

Special Requests – If you have severe allergies or sensitivities, please let us know ahead of time so we can appropriately plan your room — if you don’t tell us, you might wind up in a pet room on a floor with smoking rooms, and, depending on how busy we are, we may not be able to rectify that.  The same goes for requests for ground floor, or rooms near an entrance, or if you’re traveling with Betty Jo and cannot bear to be farther away than next door to her, even for the time you’re asleep in bed.  Tell us in advance!

Contact Information – Yes, I really do need your address and phone number.  I promise, I won’t sell it to anyone, or keep it for personal use.  But there are times when I may need to contact you prior to your arrival (for instance, we once had to take a couple of our rooms out of commission for a couple of weeks during a very busy summer season due to a small flood, and we needed to contact the guests who were booked to those rooms to see what types of suites we could offer them as a complimentary upgrade).  No phone number = no upgrade.  Or, if we were to be (again, heaven forbid) blown over by a tornado, we would need to contact those guests expecting to come here and stay to tell them that was no longer an option.

Guarantee Method – Yes, we do require a valid credit or debit card to make a reservation.  We won’t charge it ahead of time.  It’s to protect us from the people who make reservations, don’t show up, and never cancel them.  Again, we won’t sell it or keep it for personal use.

  • On a side note, please understand that if you do not cancel your reservation within the stated cancellation period, and never show up, your card will be charged one night’s room and tax.  This is called a no-show charge.  You can try to dispute the charge with your bank, but in the five years I’ve been in management, I’ve never had a case in which the bank sided with the customer regarding no-show charges.

Recap – At the end of your reservation, we will recap the pertinent details (dates, rate, roomtype, special requests, etc.).  We will also tell you the cancellation policy and the check-in time.  Please pay attention, so that if either one of us made any mistakes, they can be corrected on the spot.  Then, and only then, will you be offered your confirmation number (we will also offer to email it to you).

    • Please keep your confirmation number — we’re very good at our jobs, and 99% of the time, you won’t actually need it, but you are dealing with real human people who may occasionally spell something wrong, or transpose your first and last name.  You are also dealing with a computer-based reservation system that can glitch at any time.  At those times, we will all be very glad you kept your confirmation number.

Side notes that don’t get their own section-

  • Don’t be afraid to ask if you need something specific!  (The key word here is “ask,” not “demand.”)
  • You would be amazed how far simple good manners will take you.
  • Plan ahead!  You knew several months ago that your second cousin was getting married, or your nephew was graduating college: please don’t wait until the week before the event to make your reservation, or you’re not likely to get what you want.
  • Please don’t interrupt — answer our questions in the order in which they’re asked.  Please don’t ask for your confirmation number after giving us your last name and no other information.  Please don’t jump in the second we answer the phone and give us an overload of information we can’t process that quickly.  If you let us do our thing, your call will be over so much faster.
  • Please, please, if you’re asking for directions, tell us what direction you’ll be coming from, because we may give you different directions depending on the starting point.  Keep in mind, though, that we are not mapquest — we’re not responsible from getting you from your house to our hotel, just from the highway to our hotel.
  • During the reservation process, we may ask you what brings you to our area.  We’re not being nosy, we just understand that a lot of people either don’t consider the fact that rates for groups or events or certain corporations may differ from our standard rates, or they expect us to read their minds.  We’re just trying to make sure you get what you need.  Also, if you’re just passing through on a date that we’re going to have thousands of youth soccer players here, we want you to be forewarned.
  • If your group was given a deadline by which to book your rooms, and you call after that date, understand that we may or may not have the type of room you need, at the rate the group was quoted.  There’s a reason it’s called a “booking deadline” or a “cutoff date”.
  • And, most importantly of all, remember your manners!

Despite the relative snarkiness of this post, I really do look forward to having you here.  I’m just trying to make the process of getting you here a little easier on everyone.

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Perspective Needed, Apply Within

Don’t get me wrong, I do think the dispatching of Osama bin Laden was a newsworthy event, though, sadly, one which probably won’t expedite the end of the war on terror (there are too many other global factors at work). We’ve had our fun now, taking to the streets and waving our flags. Heck, even Fox News has changed his name from “Osama” to “Usama;” to what end, I do not know.

The reason all this gets under my skin is because the timely death of one man (ok, one monster and a few human shields) halfway across the world has taken all our attention away from the very real problems we have going on here at home. Tonight, thousands of people across the South will go to bed in temporary shelters because they no longer have homes to sleep in, and they are burying hundreds of their nearest and dearest who were taken at the whim of Mother Nature (that bitch). Communities along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers are facing the worst flooding they’ve seen in decades, flooding which may well eclipse the 1927 floods (and blowing up levees, which does sound like fun, may or may not be the answer).

These are people who need our attention, and our help. Give where your heart tells you — personally, I’m no fan of just blindly giving cash, especially to organizations who funnel a big chunk of that cash to “administrative costs” — but please don’t let these people suffer unnoticed. So many of us don’t have cash to give right now anyway, but we do have roofs (rooves?) over our heads, and I’ll bet we have goods we can share, whether it’s gently-used clothing or toys (toys may seem like a frivolous thing to give, but it could mean the world to a child who has lost everything), or nonperishable food items, or cleaning supplies. If you check in your area, you’re likely to find a church or charitable organization collecting items for transport, and a handy-dandy list of the items they’re collecting. Or, if cash donations are your thing, do a quick google search for “Alabama Tornado Relief” and try to give to the lesser-known organizations that are actually located in the communities they serve.

Please help, not because you want a tax deduction, or because you’re looking to create some karmic balance, but because it’s the right thing to do. And because, if it were your home, your community, your family, you wouldn’t want the public to forget about you as soon as the next story came along.

Vegetarian (or Not) Chili

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It was all cloudy and gloomy today (my favorite kind of day), so I decided I needed a big ol’ pot o’ chili.  Not wanted – needed.  However, I was seriously meat-deficient.  And I don’t like beans in my chili.  And I had no intention of going to the grocery store on a Sunday afternoon to play “dodge-the-after-church-crowd” – I’d rather put my eyes out with a shrimp fork.

So, after consulting several cookbooks, and my own standard chili recipe, and a couple on the web, and my mother, I pulled a bunch of stuff out of the fridge/freezer and set out to create kitchen alchemy.  And, for once, I managed to turn raw ingredients into gold.

Vegetarian (or not) Chili

* 1 T oil
* 1 medium-ish sweet onion, diced finely
* 1 roasted red pepper from a jar, also diced finely
* 3 (or more) chipotle peppers from a can, diced (you guessed it) finely, and maybe some of the adobo, too
* 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped/smashed/crushed, whatever floats your boat
* 1 block tempeh, crumbled (or 1 block of tofu, frozen and thawed, crumbled, or a half-pound or so of ground meat, browned)
* 1 (15-oz) can diced tomatoes, UNdrained (I used fire-roasted because I had them, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if I only had regular)
* 3 small zucchini, diced finely (a scant pound)
* 2 T cumin seeds, toasted and laboriously ground in a mortar-and-pestle because your coffee grinder has been out of commission since your dog chewed on the cord a couple of years ago when she was a teething puppy
* 3 T dried oregano
* 2 T chili powder
* 1/8 t cinnamon
* pepper
* 2 C broth of choice
* 1/4 cup masa harina, dissolved in 1 C water or broth (cornmeal would work here, too)
* 1 short (8-oz) can crushed pineapple
* 1/2 C catsup or chili sauce (not hot sauce)

* In a tallish soup pot over medium-ish heat, heat the oil, and saute the onion fairly slowly, until it begins to brown and stick to the bottom of the pan.
* Add the red pepper, chipotles, garlic, protein of choice, and zucchini, and stir until well mixed.
* Add the tomatoes, broth, and seasonings.  Bring to a boil, then cover, reduce heat, and simmer over very low heat for about half an hour.
* When all the vegetables are suitably softened, and the flavors have mellowed, raise the heat and add the masa-broth mixture and allow everything to thicken.
* When the proper texture is achieved, add the pineapple and the catsup.
* Enjoy, possibly with the addition of a little sharp cheddar.

I would estimate 4 generous servings, maybe with leftovers (I live alone, so its hard to tell).

Update: the leftovers made excellent chili-mac with the addition of some melty cheese on top.  However, if you’re making the chili and don’t plan to have it consumed in one sitting, I would reconsider the pineapple — it still tasted great and gave a nice sweet-tart accent to the background, but it developed kind of a weird texture.  It could have been the cut-rate pineapple I was using, though.

The Fluid Nature of Grief

Sometimes I think there’s a sixth stage of grief, right there after acceptance.  It’s happens when something catches you out of the blue and taps you in the back of the head — not particularly painful, but it causes you to take notice.  That happened to me today.

Let me back up.  Brandi and I were very best friends all through grade school and middle school.  We were inseparable, so much so that on one memorable occasion, we passed a particulary nasty case of head lice back and forth.  She was the first person who ever painted my toenails (we had this foolish idea that my mom, who had a no-nail-polish rule for quite some time, wouldn’t figure it out — she did).  We even broght the house down with our marvelous and nuanced performances as playing cards in a very, very gliterry local production of Alice in Wonderland.

We drifted, eventually, as adolescents do, and didn’t reconnect until adulthood.  I went away (a whole 90 miles) to college, and she went to beauty school and started cutting my mom’s hair (come to think about it, she may have been partially responsible for Brandi’s career choice, because she’d been a hairdresser before I was born, and cut and permed Brandi’s hair when we were younger).  Brandi was a gifted hairdresser, and embraced what she called her “natural electric pearl highlights” (stray silver hairs, which I seem to have inherited from her).  And she loved my mom — she had a tortured relationship with her own mother and I think she appreciated the relative stability my mother tried to give her.

She died (I originally wrote “passed away” but scratched it because “passed away” sounds too peaceful) on December 30, 2007 as a result of complications from an acute asthma attack.  She was 29 years old.

Anyway, I was reminded of her today, when I turned on the TV and found the movie Beetlejuice.  When we were in fourth or fifth grade, Brandi’s stepdad brought home a satellite dish and a projection TV (both of them enormous — it was the ’80’s, after all!).  We quite happily spent that entire summer indoors, watching over and over again Beetlejuice, Dirty Dancing, Hairspray (the original with Ricki Lake), and Spaceballs.  I can’t watch any of these movies today without thinking of her.  A couple of years ago, it would have been painful, but now it’s more of a warm fuzzy.

So, Brandi-Beth, wherever you are, I watched Beetlejuice for you.  And I’m rockin’ some sparkly purple toenails, too!  I know you’d approve.

Loyalty Has a Price

I am an idiot.

I can’t shake this feeling that I’ve shot myself in the foot.  Today (OK, technically yesterday, since we’ve passed midnight and all), I turned down a job with potential for growth — a job in an uber-casual workplace with no customer facetime.

I had originally interviewed for this job on a whim a couple of months ago, back when I thought the solution to my student loan crunch (aka: “The State of Kentucky helps themselves to 15% of my take-home pay because they don’t believe me when I tell them that I need every penny I get to, you know, live”) was to take on a part-time job.  I knew it was not a great idea when I did it, because I currently work in a 24/7 business, and being in management means I’m on call for pretty much all of them.  To complicate matters even more, there’s only two of us right now who are trained to work each shift, which means I never know when I might be called in to work when someone calls in sick.  Then, to further muddy the waters, I picked up some part-time administrative/sales work at one of our other properties, which may or may not be temporary.  Well, I kind of forgot about it since I didn’t hear anything after the interview, but the nice people called me today to offer me a position, and I cringed when I told them I had to turn it down. 

On one hand, not only do I love my job, but I also just passed the five-year mark in a family-owned business and have been promised the general-managership of it when we build our new property.  On the other hand, I was promised this position over two years ago, back when we believed we would be breaking ground on this new property in a few short months (yeah, the lodging industry has not bounced back, no matter what the gu’mmint tries to tell you). 

On one hand, I’m paid reasonably well for what I do (24-hour on-call-ness aside) and am very high up on the food chain (though that’s really been the result of longevity more than ambition — I’m not really that ambitious).  On the other hand, how long should I wait for a promotion I’m about 72% won’t even happen, especially considering that there’s no “up” left for me here, and I gave up my raise this year so that some of my desk staff could have it instead?  

On one hand, we’re heading into our busy season already short-handed and I don’t have it in me to leave my coworkers, many of whom I regard as family, in the lurch.  On the other hand, there is never a good time for a long-term employee to depart, and don’t I owe it to myself to find the best employment situation I can?  I guess what it comes down to is that while I truly believe my loyalty is appreciated at my current location, I’m pretty sure that, in the end, it will remain mostly unrewarded.

AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

Well, anyway, it’s done and now that I’ve gotten it out of my system through a disjointed and probably not-very-grammatically-correct paragraph, I’m going to put it behind me.

But I’m pretty sure it’ll bite me in the ass later, when I least expect it.