A Business Travel Primer

I travel around California a great deal for my job and, along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons about staying in hotels. I offer them up here for your edification and entertainment.

1. If you’ve seen one chain motel, you’ve seen ‘em all. Don’t expect too much of a discount hotel room. It’s a place to lay your head and take a shower. Period.

2. If you get an upgrade to, say, a Hilton, Westin or Marriott, be prepared to pay $20 to $30 (or more) for the privilege of parking your rental car. Um, yes, that’s for one night! If you don’t like it, Motel 6 is thataway.

3. Just because you’re driving a rental car doesn’t excuse you from knowing the license plate number and writing it on the registration form. Yeah, I’m talking to you! Instead of being a lazy butt, walk back out to the parking lot and write down your license plate number. What’s that you say? You can’t be bothered? If you write “black Honda” on the registration form and leave it at that, be prepared to be woken up out of a deep sleep at 2:30 in the morning by your ringing bedside phone, the desk clerk informing you that someone with a black Honda left his or her lights on. That’s right, there are six guests registered as driving black Hondas (no plate number listed), so the desk clerk had to wake up all of them! Now pull on some pants, slip on your shoes and head for the elevator and out to the parking lot to see if you’re today’s grand prize winner. Oh, it’s pouring down rain? Bonus!

4. Parallel parking skills are helpful. No, I’m not talking about the hotel parking lot. For returning the luggage cart! Don’t be the genius who leaves that huge thing in the middle of the lobby for someone who’s not paying attention to trip over.

5. When it comes to breakfast options, learn to translate hotel-speak into English. Complimentary means breakfast is included in the price of the room, so you don’t have to mess with your laughable so-called expense account and end up paying for half the meal out of your own pocket. Breakfast buffet is the gold standard, as in there is likely to be at least one offering that is actually edible. Continental breakfast does not mean chocolate brioche and croque monsieur. It means you’re welcome to a stale donut to go with that stale coffee. Light breakfast means run the other way screaming (unless you’d like a rotten banana with your dry cereal). Grab ‘n Go means keep walking straight past the front desk, out the door and drive to Starbucks. Unless you’re six years old or like surprises, that is. Okay, don’t listen to me. When you open the bag on your break, enjoy an apple that is past its prime, a mini honey-oat bar and a bottle of water. Happy?

6. Whenever possible, snag a room with a mini-fridge and a microwave. Then you can make a stop at the local supermarket and eat what you actually enjoy. (See above.)

7. “Restaurant on premises” means you get the privilege of paying for your own breakfast. If you happen to be in San Francisco or Los Angeles, breakfast can easily run you $30 plus tip. If you’re stuck in LA for a week, well, you do the math.

8. Just because the on-premises restaurant is advertised as opening at 7 am does not necessarily mean that they will actually be prepared to serve you food at that hour. If you have an early meeting, make other arrangements.

9. If you’re not sure if you should eat it, don’t. Just don’t. It doesn’t matter that you’ve already paid for it or that the cost is included. If it smells a little off, looks weird or tastes funny, throw it in the trash. Get something else, or go hungry if you’re in a rush. Otherwise, don’t be surprised when you feel an urgent rumble in your bowels just when you’re hitting your stride on the PowerPoint about half an hour into your presentation. ‘Nuff said.

10. If you conscientiously attempt to save your employer money by staying in the cheapest motel available, be prepared to be richly rewarded by water stains on the ceiling, blood stains on the sheets, broken crack vials in the parking lot, and all-night cussin’ and carryin’ on by the 40-in-a-paper-bag crowd just outside your door. Throw in the occasional cockroach for good measure.

11. Some hotels have nothing but liquid soap available in the shower and at the sink. If you prefer bar soap, have your own supply ready as backup.

12. When staying at a hotel with interior corridors, know the location of the stairs and the emergency exits. I know, no one bothers with that stuff just for a night or two. Do this long enough, however, and you’ll wish you had paid attention when you get to experience a deafening fire alarm go off in the middle of the night. Just sayin’.

13. Regardless of your beliefs regarding immigration and/or speaking English, learn at least a few basic phrases in Spanish. Otherwise, do not complain when you are urgently in need of toilet paper and are unable to communicate this to the woman who cleans the rooms.

14. Generously tip the bell hop and the valet. It won’t kill you to leave a couple of bucks for the chambermaid either. Remember, these folks support their families by doing physically demanding work and being ill-treated by guests for their trouble. Oh, and good karma is priceless.

15. Be polite, like your mama taught you. Say “please” and “thank you” to the hotel staff, even if you’re having a bad day. Smile and say “good morning” or “good evening,” even if you don’t feel like it. Hotel employees are not robots and they are not your slaves to be abused at will. They’re not asking you to be their best friend; just treat them like human beings. Kind of like how you would like to be treated, you know?

The Tipping Point

guest check

RIVERSIDE

We made the three-hour drive over to Riverside for a work meeting again today.  We always enjoy the opportunity to indulge in a good dinner, an amenity for which there is little opportunity in the remote desert outpost we call home.

We ended up at a well-known chain restaurant.  When we sat down with the menu, we were surprised to find the prices to be several dollars higher than they are at locations of this restaurant in the Coachella Valley, Arizona and Nevada.

What annoyed me most of all is that the higher prices meant that we are expected to tip more.  Now, we are good tippers who seldom leave less than 20% for the server.  We understand that restaurant servers are woefully underpaid but still have bills to pay and families to support.  But it galls me that just because a restaurant decides to jack up its prices, we are expected to leave more of a tip to hit that 20% mark.  Customers have the pleasure of taking it on the chin twice:  Once to pay more to the restaurant and again to pay more to the server.

At the risk of being mean and insensitive, I have to ask:  Do higher prices mean that the servers are more deserving?  Does the restaurant’s price increase mean that the financial needs of the staff increase proportionately?  Silly question, but I realize that it’s possible that the answer is “yes.”  Perhaps the restaurant’s increased prices are a result of inflation that also affects the servers’ abilities to support themselves.  As my understanding of economics is relatively weak, I just don’t know.

The website www.stainedapron.com provides a place for restaurant servers to rant about the bad behavior of customers and how the restaurant staff gets back at them.  One article mentions that poor tippers are likely to have their food spat on, thrown on the floor and placed back on the plate, and worse.  Although I am not among the poor tipper brigade, I believe that a reasonable person must accept these things as risks of dining out.  After all, you don’t really know what you’re getting.  While I like to think my good tipping exempts me from these exploits most of the time, I am forced to hark back to advice my grandfather gave me:  What you don’t know can’t hurt you.  As long as I don’t know what you did to my food, I will shut up and eat it.  Should I end up with a case of Montezuma’s revenge or worse, chances are I will think that it’s the flu that’s going around or just another wacky side effect of my medication.  Most of the time, I will be right.  Many people automatically blame any real or imagined physical discomfort on the restaurant meal they ate the night before, but the truth is that the blame is probably misplaced.

The editors at Stained Apron suggest that the subminimum wage laws that apply to servers require customers to tip and that those who object to tipping should “take a real stand.  Stop eating out.  Lobby the government.  Don’t penalize the poor student or single mother making slave wages to serve you.”

The first part of this suggestion makes no sense whatever.  It is true that I should probably stop eating out; both my corporeal and financial health would improve immensely.  If many of us take this advice, however, the effect will be that fewer servers will be needed and fewer will be hired.  What of the poor student or single mother when she or he is unable to find a job at all?  Perhaps the website’s authors believe that refusing to eat out would force restaurateurs to capitulate and raise the wages of their employees.  Would that this were true.  It is, however, a pipe dream.  When the customers leave, the restaurant closes.  Exhibit A is Robert Irvine’s show “Restaurant Impossible” on TV’s Food Network.

By contrast, the second part of Stained Apron’s suggestion does make sense.  Lobbying the government is indeed the answer.  The logic used by state legislatures that permit eating establishments to pay their servers subminimum wages is that these wages are “supplemented” by tips.  In other words, our lawmakers are in cahoots with restaurant owners at the expense of the public.  Our legislators can get away with exempting restaurant owners from the minimum wage laws by which other employers must abide because there is no need for restaurants to pay their employees when the gullible public will do it for them.

So yes, if you object to the special treatment accorded to restaurant owners, do write or email your senator, your congressman and your state legislators to tell them that the laws must be changed.  If results are not forthcoming, speak your mind with your vote.

As for the servers, it is they and not the customers who should abandon the food service industry.  Remember, restaurants are not going to pay their servers more when they can get away with paying less.  That is economics simple enough for even me to understand.

The only way that restaurants will pay their servers what they deserve is if they can’t get any employees otherwise.  And if that means that the price of a restaurant meal increases even more than it has already, I, for one, will be more than willing to pay it.

Truth be told, I am already paying it in the form of tips.  And yes, we did provide our server with our usual 20% tip today despite the restaurant’s jacked-up prices.