1940s Archive

Along the Boulevards

Originally Published December 1948

Every now and then this department ventures into a discussion of some phase of the hotel business because (a) he is a hotel child and has lived in nothing but shebangs, el dumpos, and hogans of one degree of stateliness or another for the past quarter century; (b) because almost everyone likes to read about hotels and restaurants; and (c) it is probably the most fascinating single business in the world from the inside, and hotel men probably know more about human beings by the time they are junior receptionists than the most learned psychologists in Vienna when they are at the top of the professoring business. Everything happens in hotels, and now and then a play- wright or a novelist who recognizes them as an unrestricted hunting ground and one with no season makes a fortune out of his discovery.

There isn't, however, much that one can write about hotels that makes the hotelmen's associations happy unless it is unmitigated goose-grease and undiscriminating flattery. An individual hotel owner or manager can abide reading that his own premises is the quintessence of lux, is patronized solely by the old nobility, and that its restaurants make Voisin in Paris look like a hamburger joint. But remark that anyone else's hotel is comparable to this degree of elegance, and he is sore as a leading lady whose name has been spelled wrong in the reviews of her opening. A few months ago we remarked that we were, as we now are, in favor of mandatory jail sentences by Federal statute for hotel managers who charge from a dollar up, or indeed anything, for cracked ice, and since that time this department has spent most of its time in foxholes avoiding angry missionaries from the hotelmen's associations who want to sell him on the proposition that charging for ice, a preposterous and tactless larceny on the face of it, is practically something to be listed as an improvement in the service.

Pish and nonsense. Hotels have gotten away with so much murder during the past few years of easy money and immigration to cities that in many cases they have come to regard the guest as a boob or zany, who is no better than a victim type and fit only for insult and pillage. The time may be at hand when they will think differently. Certainly any reasonable intelligence hopes so.

Probably the trouble with all too many hotels is that they are managed and staffed by young men. It should be perfectly obvious that no man is fit for an executive position in any hotel, let alone one which requires his coming in actual contact with the guests, until he is fifty. By that time he has possibly acquired sense and probably manners. It may have been a crazy baboon with a credit manager's intelligence or it may have been a recent graduate from a college of hotel management, but it was certainly no hotelman of mature judgment or wide experience who dreamed up such an insult to his guests as charging them for ice. It is conceivable that some hotels, crazed beyond the ordinary with rapacity, would like to charge extra for the running water and run a separate account for the use of the carpets and mirrors, but these aren't generally considered reasonable by the standard American hotel code of ethics, although they may be at any time.

The art of running a hotel has almost disappeared in the United States, and it is because hotel owners, knowing that no outrage against decency is beyond the capacity of an ambitious young man anxious to get ahead, turned their properties and especially their front desks over to the juveniles. These shiftless, undressed, and uncourtly little juniors, to whom a French menu is a mystery and who do not even own, let alone wear, proper morning clothes, have taken over responsible positions once held by experts and veterans in whose generation of manners and graciousness no hôtelier could dream of a manager's job at a Railroad Street flophouse until he had served behind stairs for at least forty years in the more distinguished hotels of France, Switzerland, and Italy. When he could speak six languages flawlessly, could identify a hundred different Rhine wines by reference only to the aroma of the cork, and knew every traveling person of consequence in the United States and England by sight and that instanter, he was entrusted with a probationary job as a night assistant receptionist. Nowadays the graduate of a school of hotel management considers himself a failure if he isn't resident managing director the week he has learned that claret and Burgundy aren't the same wine. The manager of one of New York's stateliest hotels, while he may be an excellent purchasing agent or even a personnel manager, is still in his early thirties, and it is the opinion of most of the residents in his august hostelry that he should be put away out of sight for another twenty-five years.

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