A night in the life of a hotel night auditor

The Front Desk at the Embassy SuitesBack in 1994 when I lived on the Central Coast, I was the night auditor at an Embassy Suites hotel for most of a year. During most of the time I worked there, it wasn’t actually an Embassy Suites, but rather the “Pacific Suites Hotel”. From what I gathered, either the owner did not want to pay the association fees to be an Embassy Suites, or they were not up to Embassy’s standards and lost their accreditation. Shortly after new owners bought the hotel, they reinstated the Embassy Suites affiliation, and then proceeded to replace all the upper and middle management (including me) with their own people. (Oh well.) I was immediately hired by the smaller, but very nice, Best Western Shelter Cove Lodge overlooking the ocean. While most of the nights at both properties were pretty routine, there were a few wild times there: fire alarms and even a real fire, drunken and domestic fights, medical emergencies, rowdy beach parties, and even a near miss by an airplane.

Pacific Suites was a really nice hotel and one of the largest in San Luis Obispo, CA. It had 196 rooms (though only 195 available for guests; the 196th was a semi-permanent “junk room” full of spare furniture and things, though occasionally some staff members squeezed in there for the night if they worked the late shift and then had an early morning meeting and lived a long way from the hotel), and was a four-story building.

The exterior of the Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo, CAThe “nightly audit” was my most important duty during the night, but it was far from my only one. I was the only “guest relations” staff who worked at night, so I took care of all the needs of our guests. A small staff worked with me, and I was the “MOD” (Manager On Duty) for about seven hours each night. I usually worked Monday night/Tuesday morning through Friday night/Saturday morning. A “relief night auditor” worked the intervening nights and filled in for me if I had absences. More often I ended up filling in for him by swapping days.

Things worked a little differently in the hotel at night. Since there was only a skeleton crew of people working, there was essentially no bureaucracy. Within the policies of the hotel, I got to make all the decisions concerning the wellbeing of the staff and guests. During the day, anywhere from three to as many as ten different people might be involved in servicing a guest’s need (enabling pay-per-view TV, delivering an extra pillow or an ironing board, or even handing out an adhesive bandage). At night, if it was something that could be done from the Front Desk or Back Office, I would do it (e.g., the PPV TV request). Otherwise, I’d radio the security guard and ask him to make the delivery. The restaurant was closed at night, but sometimes a guest would have a special need for a baby or if someone was ill. At night, I could bend the rules a bit—after all, there was no one to say “no” or second-guess me—at least until the morning came along and my decisions were reviewed by the bureaucracy. Usually, there was no problem, even if my decision cost the hotel money. My bosses realized that at night the guests had to come first; otherwise, they would not return and spend more money later. I think another reason they rarely second-guessed my decisions is that it saved them from having to deal with an unhappy guest the next morning.

The kitchen at Embassy SuitesBesides myself, there was a security guard (aka “my right hand man”), two people who cleaned the restaurant kitchen (from the dishes to the floors), and a housekeeper for part of the night (he mainly took care of cleaning the floors, brass fixtures, public restrooms, etc.—not usually servicing guests’ needs). If there was a big event going on in the ballroom or one of the meeting rooms, there might be a few additional catering staff waiting around for the event to end. On Fridays and Saturdays, the restaurant bar stayed open until midnight, so their paperwork was always a little late.

So what did a “typical” night involved? I’d arrive a little before 11 pm, clock in, and put on my coat and tie. I’d head to the Front Desk and speak to the clerk who was on duty. We would go over any special requests, problem guests, guests with problems, meetings that were still going on in the conference center, errors that the Front Desk had made that would look funny in the audit reports, and several other little bits of minutia that I needed to know. Many of the bits were actually passed on to me from the morning crew, through the day crew, and down to the remaining Front Desk person whom I relieved. As with the game “telephone”, sometimes things got a little garbled. Usually, however, the system worked amazingly well. While the clerk was still there (and usually the security guard by then), I would count the cash in the drawer (something done in most retail places at the “changing of the guards” when a different person takes control of the till), and then the clerk would leave.

The fountain in the Embassy Suites AtriumThe guard would make an initial inspection of the hotel and property to get a feel for the place. Sometimes, usually on the weekends, it could still be a fairly busy place. Mondays and Tuesdays were usually very quiet. Meanwhile, I would print the daily reports and get started on different aspects of the audit.

The audit was an interesting process. The first part of the night was a race to see how quickly I could prepare and feed the information into the accounting system. If there were still events going on, that would irritate me, because it meant that the whole audit would be held up until I could get the receipts from the event and process them. Finally, after everything was processed, itemized, subtotaled, recalculated, totaled, initially reported, and then plugged into the computer system, I was finally able to push the button on the computer that would “close the day”.

Closing the day was actually a little bit scary no matter how many times I did it. During the close of day, the computer essentially shut down as it crunched all the information that had been fed into it—both by me, and by every other automated system that was connected to it. During that time, I had to do everything manually and rely upon the printed daily reports. If an auditor forgot to print those reports, heh, it was a tense three hours waiting for the computer to come back up and hoping that nobody called with a question or a problem.

The close of day was also the time that the computer system believed that the old day had ended and the new had begun. Prior to that, even if it was 2 am, the computer still thought it was the previous day. So, if a guest showed up at 1 am and wanted to check out for an early departure, it caused a bit of confusion. The guest’s account had to be manually processed and billed for one night’s stay (that the computer didn’t think had happened yet), and then the guest could go. But that didn’t end the computer frustrations. Since the computer thought the room was vacant, it thought that it could be re-rented. There were some housekeeping codes and other codes that had to be entered into the system to help the computer figure out the room’s status when it woke up from close of day. To say that I hated early checkouts was an understatement, yet the guests always received a big smile and a heartfelt thank you.

A typical living room in a guest suite at the Embassy SuitesIf a checkout happens early enough in the evening that housekeeping can turn the room over to a rentable condition again, and if the hotel was nearly full, they would do so. Filling the hotel to maximum occupancy was a big deal. There was a nice bonus for the evening Front Desk staff if that was accomplished without having to “walk” anyone to another hotel. It was even odds whether it would be the last Front Desk clerk or the night auditor that would be responsible for that bit of magic.

The hotel had 195 rentable rooms. If we rented all 195 to people staying in the hotel, we received the bonus. If we rented 195, but six were no-shows, we did not receive a bonus even though all 195 guests were billed. In order to earn the bonus, all the rooms had to be physically rented. This is why hotels will often overbook their inventory. It is also why when you go to a hotel in person, even if the Internet and the 800# say it’s full, you might still be able to score a room. The Front Desk staff, blinded by the bonus and strongly encouraged by the management, will bet against all the guaranteed reservations from showing up. It is true, that on any given night there are a certain number who don’t show. The problem is when the guaranteed guests do show and you’ve already rented their room.

This must be what the bedrooms look like from the inside.That starts a panicked call around to other local hotels (ideally of comparable quality, but that’s a bit difficult when you are about the highest quality hotel in the area) to find them a room. If you can find them a room and send them on their way, then you have to write up a report about the whole fiasco and leave a note for accounting that they will be receiving a bill from the other hotel (usually at full rack rate for the inconvenience). The worst case is where you call every hotel, motel, and B&B in the city and those in the surrounding cities and towns, and cannot find them a room. One time, I had to call all the way down to Santa Barbara, drive of 1.5 hours south, before I finally found a very upset family a room. Fortunately, I was not the one who had overbooked the hotel, but I still had to go through hell to help the family.

My philosophy on overbooking was a bit more cautious. If it was a busy weekend where the other hotels were near capacity, too, I’d call around before I overbooked to see about availability. If availability was short, I would play it cautious and not overbook. In that case, I would rely upon someone else overbooking and sending to us, if necessary, to fill up the hotel. It was a plan that worked pretty well, because I rarely had to walk any guests and still managed to earn the bonus for the Front Desk staff.

One of the meeting rooms in the Conference CenterEvery so often, there would be a problem trying to close the day. Something would be fouled up somewhere in the system, and the computer would simply refuse to close down. Sometimes it was something that somebody did during the day (an improperly applied credit to a guest’s account was common, or it could be the infamous early check-out that left inventory in a quasi-sold state), and other times it was something that I had done wrong. If I couldn’t figure it out, I’d have to call technical support for the computer system. They would remotely connect to the system and poke around, working with me to track down the problem. Sometimes it was just a glitch in the system. Whatever it was, it was frustrating, because it delayed the close of day.

During close of day, which usually took two to three hours, it was a very quiet time. Nobody was permitted to sleep on the job, so we had to come up with ways of keeping busy. There were several times when I left the security guard in the office and would take a look around the hotel. I loved it there at night. I can imagine it a little like the feel of a captain of a cruise ship standing proudly on deck, looking at the ship, knowing that it was his staff that kept everyone safe and secure. I enjoyed poking around in all the “hidden places” inside the hotel… the storage rooms on the roof full of old furniture, catering equipment, and ceiling tiles… the maintenance area with its tools and gizmos that kept the place in repair… Back of the House, which is the maze of hallways and storage areas around and in between the meeting rooms and ballrooms… The restaurant kitchen and storage areas… The housekeeping area with its huge washers and dryers… The various equipment rooms for the elevator, the pools, and the generator. It might sound a little dangerous, but it was a pretty small city, and I kept in contact with the security guard by radio.

This is a typical meeting roomThe security guards were the ones who told me about all the interesting places to see in the hotel. When I first started working at the hotel, we had one in-house security guard (whose name was actually Rocky—how cool was that for a security guard?). He had worked there for quite a while, and really knew the place inside and out. A couple of months into the job, the management switched to an outside security company, and we had some good guards and some rather useless guards. It did make the job a little more interesting, because you never knew ahead of time which guard would be working with you. It also helped that you could repeat your same old stories to different guards, and it was always fresh material.

Talking or playing a game was a common way of passing the time during close of day. Sometimes I’d read a book (especially when I was also taking a college class). Sometimes I tweaked a spreadsheet that I used during the audit to try to make it a little faster, easier, or better. In other words, it was often pretty boring after the initial flurry of activity.

The Atrium Lounge at the Embassy SuitesAlso, midway through the night, the security guard would prepare dinner for the night staff. Depending on the guard, that might mean something leftover from a catered event (often yummy), something thrown into the fryer (the easiest method of cooking, but the least healthy), a Stouffer’s lasagna in a tin (also very easy), or something one of the more culinary-skilled guards managed to whip up. We were allowed to choose from anything in the kitchen as long as it didn’t come from the meat locker or the alcohol locker. We could even enjoy a slice of cheesecake or other dessert from time to time. Likewise, we could help ourselves to anything non-alcoholic at the bar. Dinner was a nice break for all of us. It also usually signaled the end of the housekeeper’s shift, unless he switched over to help in the kitchen, which was common on weekends.

Finally, the printers would start churning out reams of paper, and the computer monitors would flicker back to life. The day had closed and the new one was starting. One of the hardest things at that point was to stop automatically subtracting a day from the current day. Between midnight and close of day, I had to constantly remember to subtract a day from the date (to match the computer’s reality). After close of day, I had to stop doing that. It left me feeling a little disoriented sometimes.

After a few key reports finished printing out, I was able to resume the audit. By this time, that mostly means transferring some of the numbers from the various reports into the spreadsheet and printing the finished spreadsheet. After that, I would assemble the reports and my spreadsheet printouts together into a binder, and leave them for the daytime auditor to review and crunch before passing them on to the General Manager for review.

The only task left to perform was the one I hated the most. Our hotel was too cheap to buy a credit card processing system that automatically settled the credit card transactions. Instead, I had to take all the credit card imprint slips and manually key in the card numbers and transaction amounts into a little machine. On a weekend night, that could include all 195 rooms, plus a few no-shows, plus the restaurant, bar, and catering charges. Sometimes that resulted in over 350 separate charges. Talk about carpel tunnel! It was also annoying that during the whole audit, I used 10-key keyboards with 1 at the bottom and 7 at the top. The credit card machine was like a telephone, where 1 was at the top and 7 at the bottom. Transposing 1′s and 7′s was a fairly common mistake I’d make, and going back through 350 transactions to find where I’d transposed a number was a royal pain. I remain a very fast touch-typist on both styles of 10-key keyboards thanks to that experience.

Around the time that the reports started printing is the time that people started showing up at the Front Desk to checkout. Since the computers were running again, that was usually a pretty painless process. The biggest problem was when people were shocked at certain charges on their bills. After a little while, you develop a kind of sixth sense as to the people who are trying to get away with something and those who are legitimately surprised. All the charges were legitimate, even if somewhat overpriced, as is typical in any hotel. Depending on how the guest reacted, I might reverse some of the charges (always resulting in a review of my actions by the Front Desk supervisor when she got in later), or I might be a stickler and tell them how it was a posted charge, and that was that. Some threatened to make a big stink, and if it was close to the morning staff coming on, I’d tell them to go ahead and make a stink. The least effective time for a guest to try to get out of a legitimate charge is first thing in the morning before the Front Desk manager has had a couple cups of coffee. It was almost 100% guaranteed that the request would be denied, and the person would probably leave feeling very small indeed after the experience. The FD manager was really a nice lady, but she had zero tolerance for shenanigans from guests first thing in the morning.

Near the end of my shift, the first of the bellmen would arrive to start helping guests checkout. That was also when the security guard would leave. I stayed on another hour, and had a half-hour overlap with the first Front Desk clerk. We would repeat the passing of the information on about our guests, special requests, problems that came up during the night, reports on how full we were, etc. The clerk would count the till, and by then the half hour would have flown by. I’d usually leave as the FD manager and other clerks arrived. It was kind of fun to be walking out of the hotel as all the other sleepy-looking staff were trooping in.

Now that was a “typical” night. There were a few a-typical nights.

The Atrium setup for BrunchAny night where we had to call the police or an ambulance was a-typical. Domestic disputes were the most common reason. One time the police showed up just as a man was threatening at the top of his lungs to throw his wife / girlfriend / whatever over the third-floor balcony and into the center Atrium. Other times, I would receive calls from neighboring guests who reported fighting next door. The security guard would usually be able to handle it, but not always. On at least two occasions, we had to call 911 for medical emergencies, resulting in first responders, gurneys, and medical equipment parading past the Front Desk and up the elevators. For some reason, the San Luis Obispo police were particularly rude. They never would speak to me, except to ask where the security guard was. And then, they would talk to him with open disdain—like he was just some sort of wannabe cop. We both really hated calling SLOPD in for help; it also created a lot of extra paperwork for the guard.

Fire alarms were actually fairly common, especially on weekends. The first time one went off, I didn’t know what it was or what to do. Nobody had bothered to explain ANY emergency procedures to me (I eventually read the emergency procedures manual and became the most knowledgeable person on them other than the lead engineer who wrote them). I called my predecessor and asked him what to do. He told me how to silence the alarm (which was already waking up the guests and causing anxiety in all of us), and where to send the guard. It turned out to be a false alarm, but it was still very alarming to me and to the guests. The reason alarms went off more often on weekends is that we often had youth groups staying in the hotel then. Kids would tamper with the sprinkler system controls, and that would set off the alarm. I really grew to hate soccer teams, since they were the most common sources of false alarms.

One of the funniest nights was when we had a “gay car show” in town. It was an annual event, and the hotel sold out every year. It was a three-day event, with the peak of the celebration happening on Friday night. That night the hotel was nearly 100% occupied by gay people in a very partying mood. A few walk-ins were also present, but they had all been warned that things could get rowdy and that we would not let them a room unless they were okay with that. As a result, we didn’t hear any complaints from the non-gay guests, which was nice.

The biggest problem turned out to be our security guard that night. I don’t know if he lost a bet, or it was somebody’s idea of a sick joke, but they sent the most homophobic, rednecked “bubba” of a security guard they had to the hotel that night. I’m not being unkind in calling him that. He often joked proudly about being a redneck, and his nickname was Bubba.

The hot tub near the pool at the EmbassyAfter the initial walk-around, he came back into the office practically hyperventilating. If there was a hell for this young man, he was in it. He was surrounded by nearly 400 homosexual men, some in drag, some in cowboy costume (that was the theme of the event), and some in much, much, much less, all flaming with gay abandon and completely unconcerned about showing their pride. Naturally, I found the whole situation hilarious. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I took great delight in watching him squirm as he had to go about his duties.

I had been expecting something like this, having worked the two nights leading up to Friday, but Friday was something else. It wasn’t long before I felt sorry for Bubba, and gave him a crash course in night auditing. He took over on the audit for me, and I took over his flashlight and radio, and I was the security guard that night. And what a night it was! I found people in the elevator equipment room having oral sex (one of the guys I knew from school), flashers in the hallways, all sorts of frivolity in the whirlpool.

The pool at the Embassy SuitesMost of it was harmless and just guys being guys. The worst was when, some drunken idiots, who I’d already warned to get out of the pool area, upended a huge potted palm tree into the swimming pool. I think the swimming pool was closed for most of week after that event due to the all the soil messing up the filters. At that point, I went back to the guard and sicked him on those guys. He cheered up considerably after that. It turned out that the people who had done the damage weren’t even part of the group staying at the hotel, but some college students who had snuck in for a good time. They got away before the cops showed up.

Another night, a small private jet nearly wiped out our conference center! A different security guard was outside on patrol when it happened and saw the whole thing. Our general manager was at a drive-in movie across the freeway and facing the hotel and saw it, too. (He was actually the first one to call 911.) The airplane had taken off at the local airport, and the runway lines up with our hotel. The plane lost power, and was diving straight for the conference center. Fortunately for us, the wing caught on some high tension power lines, snapping them in two, and swinging the plane around, causing it to crash prematurely onto the freeway instead into our hotel. The snapped power lines caused a huge power outage over much of the city (including the hotel) and some of the surrounding county.

Fortunately, I had just recently run the daily reports, otherwise I would not have known who was checked in or the rooms they were in. The guard came running in and told me to call 911. With the power out, the phone system was out, too. I sent the guard to start up the emergency generator, while I grabbed some dimes from the till and tried to go use the payphone in the lobby. Unfortunately, the power also knocked out the special electronic security lock on the Back Office door, and I couldn’t get out. I had to literally hop over the Front Desk to make the call. I also called the GM, who was already on the way over, fighting through the resulting mess of traffic from the airplane crash. Naturally, half the hotel had been awakened by the sound of the crash, and with the phones down, they were coming out of their rooms to find out what was going on. The security guard really did a great job that night as we both worked to keep everyone calm and reassured. Power was restored before the generator ran out of diesel. The GM complimented both the guard and me for our cool heads and excellent actions under extreme circumstances.

After that experience, the rest of the time there was relatively tame. The next most exciting experience was when a major fire literally cut the county in two due to road closures on the main north-south highways. The power lines between also failed, and the entire southern half of the county became powerless. It was a Saturday, a busy day for the hotel and my night off. The outage hit around 4:30 or 5 pm, and I didn’t have anything better to do, so I went over to the hotel. It was complete chaos!

The front entrance with a bellman holding the doorApparently, the daytime staff had very little experience with power outages or other emergencies. Nobody had printed out a daily status or room report since 10 am! As far as the staff knew based on that old report, most of the people from the previous night had never checked out, and none of the people who had checked in that day were accounted for. It was a mess, and the Front Desk manager was nearly in a panic. I pitched in and we formulated a plan. Two bellmen and I took master keys and went from door to door through the hotel. We knocked to see if anyone was in the room. If there was no answer, we’d open the door and look for any luggage or other signs that the room was rented. After finishing a wing, one of the bellmen would run down to the FD with an updated list. The plan worked surprisingly well, and very few rooms ended up being double-rented. Thankfully.

About the time we finished our manual inventory, the emergency power was on and the computers were starting up. Unfortunately, it was almost like close of day, because the computer had to roll back to the start of the day and reenter and verify all the transactions that had occurred since. By the time the computer was ready to start accepting new information, the hotel was pretty full. The clerks had to begin entering all the new activity they had manually process that had occurred while the computers were down.

The relief night auditor called to say that he had to stay with his girlfriend that night and help her because the fire was near her house. The FD manager and I both thought that sounded like a really lame excuse. Since I had no other plans for that night and it mean I would earn overtime, I agreed. In actuality, it worked out very nicely for me. They counted my arrival time as 4:30 pm, it was my sixth full day of the week working, so I earned time-and-a-half for the first eight hours, and then double time for the rest. They even called in a bellman stay overnight to help since things were so crazy.

Being a Saturday, the hotel was already close to capacity in reservations. We ended up with even more people trying to squeeze in due to being stranded by the road closures. There was also a large influx of reporters and photographers covering the fire. Over the next few hours, we filled the hotel at full rack rate that night. It was really a different experience working the Front Desk during the day shift, and it was the only time I ever did. None of the hotels in the area had vacancy, and a fellow pulled in around 3 am, exhausted and with nowhere else to go. I let him sleep on a sofa in the lobby at no charge for a few hours. I figured that was better than sending him out and having him get into an accident.

Since we were at capacity by the start of my shift, and I had already entered a lot of the preliminary stuff into the computer before my normal shift started, the audit actually went very smoothly. That was a little surprising considering the snafu with the rooms earlier, but the Front Desk staff had pulled together and gotten everything straightened out. I think having me there helped, too, because of all my experience in troubleshooting audit problems in the computer. A little after midnight, everything had calmed down, close-of-day was running, and it was incredibly boring. The bellman wondered how we could ever do this job night after night. It was a good thing that I had closed the day early. The roads reopened in the wee hours of the morning, and the news media started checking out in a hurry. Finally, the bellman (who was half asleep by that time, not being used to the shift) had something to do. A lot to do!

A seagull's eye view of the motel

So, that was my experience at a fairly large hotel. I also worked for a couple of years after that at a much smaller Best Western Shelter Cove Lodge in Shell Beach, a community within Pismo Beach, CA. The motel overlooked the ocean, and it was a very beautiful place to work, even at night.

The grounds of the Shelter Cove LodgeThe contrast between the two places could not be more profound. The “Lodge” was really an upscale motel. It had a fireplace in the Lobby and in some of the nicer rooms. I was the night manager, not an auditor. The evening Front Desk clerk did the nightly audit, mostly by hand and with a simple spreadsheet. The general manager reviewed it the next morning. I never had to wear a coat or a tie. In the summer, I probably could have worn shorts and gotten away with it, but the weather was usually too cold at night. There was no other staff working with me during my shift, though a security guard did drive by three times a night to see that I was still alive and that there was nothing obviously wrong going on.

The lobby of the Shelter Cove LodgeI don’t remember how many rooms there were exactly, but it was a little over 50. Management was not focused on overbooking rooms, though it was still encouraged if it could be done safely. In their view, a hotel that was full on the books was full, and if there were no-shows, it meant that the housekeeping staff could go home earlier and not be paid as much. On the other hand, if someone wasn’t coming in for sure, then we could go ahead and double-sell the room.

Since there was nobody else working with me (and really no need for anyone else), if a guest had something go wrong, I had to help fix it. When it came to toilet plunging, I’d usually hand them the plunger (which actually most people seemed to prefer because they didn’t want me in their room after something like that). I also made the delivery of pillows, blankets, and emergency disposable razors. The motel was right along a busy road, so it never felt quite as safe for me to be outside as it did at the larger hotel. I let the guests decide if they wanted to come and get the stuff of if I should delivery it. Many people were quite happy to come and get it.

A hot tub, a pool, and the ocean beyondSince there was no audit to do, and there was nobody to talk to, I was allowed to sleep on a sofa in the lobby if I wanted to. The night manager before me apparently did that all the time. I was such a night owl by this time, that I usually computed instead. In the beginning, I used the Best Western reservation system computer to dial up to local BBSes, but was told that BW’s policies mandated that the computer had to remain available for receiving reservations all the time. So, I started bringing my own computer in to the office on a rolling luggage cart. This was in the mid 1990s, before laptop computers or even the Internet were very common. I had to lug my monitor, big boxy computer, keyboard, mouse, modem, and speakers in and out of the office every night.

One of the suitesIt was worth it though. I made a number of good friends online that way. Some were night owls on the West Coast, later the early birds on the East Coast would sign-in. I also talked to people in South Africa (they were about 12-hours off of my time) and even Lebanon. I remember the guy in Lebanon once had to sign off suddenly saying, “Got to go, they’re bombing my neighborhood again!” I didn’t hear from him again for nearly a week, but he turned out to be fine. It was my first experience in seeing the world shrink thanks to the Internet.

A typical night for me started with the passing of knowledge from the night clerk to me. Then I’d go around and lock up the things that needed locking. If people were being noisy in the pool area, I’d ask them to be quiet or leave. If they wouldn’t quiet down, I’d make them leave and lock the area. Otherwise, I didn’t mind if people used the pool, even after midnight if they weren’t causing problems.

This looks like one of the standard roomsThe rooms surrounding the pool were usually vacant, since they were the only suites we had and rented at a much higher rate. They were quite overpriced, in fact, though they did come with a “complimentary” bottle of wine and souvenir wine glasses. The suites were not even included in calculating if the hotel was filled up or not, meaning that the hotel was full when all the rooms except for the eight suites were rented. It was a very different mentality. I think they rooms rented at $130 to $150, and I could not rent them for less than $100 to $120, and the wine was only available at full price. During the summer weekends, though, all eight rooms were usually rented.

Unless the weather was terrible, I would usually patrol the grounds at least a couple of times during the night. It amazed me that people slept, or enjoyed other activities, with their curtains wide open. It wasn’t exactly commonplace, but it wasn’t exactly rare either.

The fishing cove is shown in front of the gazeboEven though the motel owned the property, much of the area was considered public access property so that people could get to the ocean. Sometimes, I would encounter fishermen at a particular nook. They would cast their fishing lines into some turbulent water in a cove over 50 feet below. They usually did pretty well with their catches, too. The fishermen were nice to talk to, though they didn’t like to be interrupted from their fishing for very long.

One of my favorite places to go each night was the gazebo sitting atop a rock surrounded by ocean. You walk out across a bridge and stand there, looking out to the shimmering sea lit by moonlight. It was an amazing thing, and it was all my own, because everyone else was sleeping away inside the motel.

The wild mustard flowers of summerThere was also access to a thin strip of beach below the gazebo, with a long stairway leading down to it. Every so often, there would be something or someone down there, and I would have to go check on it. Sometimes it was kids having a party, sometimes it was a homeless person sleeping, and once it was a guest who couldn’t sleep. Since the tide often covered the beach at some point during the night, we couldn’t let anyone sleep on the beach. Also, the city ordinances prohibited drinking and fires on that beach, so the kids often had to be told to leave. If they didn’t, I would call the cops.

The Pismo Beach police were initially somewhat like the SLO police. Of course, since we didn’t have a security guard, they had to talk to me directly. Pismo is a much smaller city than SLO, so I quickly learned most of the night-shift officers. One in particular became a great ally for me. Not having a security guard, I did have to call on the police more often than I did at Embassy, but I the officers learned that I didn’t call them out needlessly, and pretty quickly learned that my calls were something to be taken seriously. I guess some of the other night auditors around panic easily and “cry wolf” a little too often. That might explain why SLOPD had such an attitude.

The purple iceplant blooms in the cooler monthsIn the two or so years I worked there, I can really only remember two serious disturbances. The first was a couple, not even guests, who got into a knock-down, screaming fight in the middle of our parking lot. When the police arrived, I found out that they had been evicted from a bar in Avila Beach hours ago, and had been forced to take a taxi or walk home since they were too drunk to drive. They walked. I guess the two of them couldn’t stand each other any longer by the time they reached our hotel, and they got into a huge fight. The fight awakened two buildings of people. The police seemed to think the whole thing was kind of funny, and I agreed. I felt sorry for the guests whose sleep was interrupted.

A sitting area and outlook that leads down to the wedding areaThe other bit of “excitement” was when someone started knocking on the door and yelling that there was a fire. Obviously, if there’s a fire, you want to do the right thing and call the fire department, but on the other hand, I didn’t see a fire, no alarms were going off, and the guy might just be trying to rob the place. I decided to call the fire department to be safe, letting them know it was an unconfirmed report of a fire, and then I checked it out, locking the office behind me. Sure enough, a dumpster at the far end of the parking lot was on fire. It had been stuffed full of palm tree trimmings. Someone probably threw a cigarette into it, and after smoldering, it caught fire. Fortunately, the only building nearby was a public restroom. The fire trucks (and my cop friend) pulled up without sirens, set about quickly knocking down the fire before it did any damage except to the dumpster and some soot on the bathroom, and then left. The cop stuck around and we both searched the area to make sure that nothing funny was going on anywhere else. Everything was fine. In the morning, nobody could even tell that there had been any excitement except by looking at the blackened dumpster.

Every room at the Shelter Cove Lodge has an ocean viewAfter the night was nearly over, I performed the only two regular duties I had to perform. I set out the continental breakfast of thawed muffins, instant oatmeal, and bananas, started the coffee makers for the guests in the kitchen downstairs. I unlocked the doors, and then I headed upstairs and mopped the Lobby floor. To this day, I can’t smell Mr. Clean without thinking of that Lobby floor.

The motel did not have an automated wake-up call system, so there was an antiquated alarm clock with little pegs, one for every 15 minutes in a 12-hour period. When an alarm went off, I checked the list and made the calls.

The lead housekeeper would be the first to arrive, and she’d take care of guests’ needs in the morning. I checked people out until the morning Front Desk clerk arrived. We’d do a little knowledge transfer, and then I’d be on my way.

It was driving home from that job that I coined the phrase, “Sunrise is a beautiful time of day to go to bed.”


I wrote this article at the request of my father for a writer friend of his to use as background material for a story. Therefore, I will dual-license this work for any author that may wish to use it under my usual license termsCreative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License. You may either (a) credit me (Will Murray) in your bibliography along with the URL of this blog (http://willmurray.name/blog/), or (b) you may include my name in the acknowledgments and send me a complimentary copy of your book. Doing either of those will satisfy the attribution requirement. and also a

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54 thoughts on “A night in the life of a hotel night auditor

  1. Steven Graves

    Hi Will,

    As I type, I am fulfilling my duties as the Night Auditor at the Embassy Suites Downtown in Austin, TX. It’s a downtown hotel on the weekend, and I feel your pain–I’ve already cleaned some blood out of one elevator, we had about 10 guests get stuck in another elevator, and one woman confessed to me that her girlfriend had just left her, then asked where she could find some food at 3:30 am.

    I’ve done the audit at two different hotels, one at a smaller Choice hotel of 65 rooms, and the experience has been very different. At the Choice, after 11 pm, nobody moved, and I spent all my time on my laptop and setting up the hot breakfast at various intervals. All the real audit work involved checking the numbers on the room logs, but it was still mostly computerized. The audit itself took all of a couple of minutes.

    At the Embassy, it’s definitely more lively and more complicated. Finding errors made throughout the day requires better understanding of the system than any normal desk clerk will ever amass, and anyone who hopes to move up in hotels should and does have to spend some time as the auditor first. The final audit closeout takes around 10 minutes, but I retain some use of the system during that time, with caveats. A weekend auditor really has to know his stuff, which means I tend to get a little creative in how I go about even routine tasks like check-ins.

    I’ve been doing this for right at a year now, and, while I think it’s really interesting, it also wears you down after a while, so I’ve begun the process of moving on/up. These days, weekend audit experience seems to look really good on a resume if you want to go a little deeper into front desk management. Several doors have been opened to me as a result, and it remains to be seen which I’ll pick.

    A fun read. I’ll think of your story next time I have a fire alarm at 4 am on a Sunday morning in the rain.

      

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  2. Mark R. Stephens

    Hey Will- It was a good read and the best part is hearing just how much night auditors have in common! I only wish that i worked at the some of the properties in which you have worked. Especially the little 50 room place on the coast. AWSUM! I was a bellman for nearly 6 years at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando. Then i was the auditor at a Hilton Garden Inn here in Central Florida but now I am back with Hyatt in the night audit position. Thanks again for writing this! Mark

      

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  3. Amy Lu

    Hi,

    My name is Amy and I’m student studying accounting at University of Georgia. I found your site when I was looking up auditors experience in hotels for my project on hotel industry.

    I like your stories and was wondering if you could help me identify some of the audit risks and audit procedures peculiar to the industry. Anything helps!

    Thanks.
    Amy

      

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  4. Amber Adams

    I’ve just been hired as the new Night Auditor at Townplace Suites. I’m excited about starting and reading your blog about your time as one was a good way to get a feel as to how the job might be like. Thanks!

      

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  5. Lisa

    I happened upon your night auditor recollections and was pleasantly surpised by your interesting storytelling. I was googling “what is a night auditor” because I didn’t know what all it entailed. And I was wasting time at work, like i am presently doing, while my work piles up. anyway, your writing reminded me talking to old friends, and I just thought I would tell you I enjoyed it. If I get a chance, I will explore your website further. I will favorite it right now.

      

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  6. T. Smith

    Thank you so much for posting this! I’ve always wondered what a night auditor does. I would love to work at a resort hotel on the coast, and I would be willing to do night auditing to get my foot in the door.

      

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  7. Diana

    Thanks Will for sharing your fascinating experiences working in hotels. I’ve not worked as a night auditor before, but I have for a long time wondered what such a job would be like. I’m a night owl too, and like spending a lot of time alone. I also have a particular fascination with hotels, airports and railway stations – any place where there is constant movement of people, machines or equipment; and where long journeys are implied. Thanks again, it was wonderful reading.

      

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  8. Nuno Caetano

    I loved what you wrote. I am a guest service agent at the Hotel Campo Real Golf Resort & Spa (Portugal), and I just had a proposition to night audit. Your story was very helpfull for my decision. Best Regards

      

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  9. Christy

    Hi Will, good article! been night auditing for about 10 years now, and you neglected to mention the distinct possibility that you may get robbed. I’ve been held up at gunpoint 5x over the years; it sucks . Every. Single Time. One funny part, though. The last guy who robbed me was so busy trying to stuff the “windfall” of, oh, about $96.00 in his pockets, I actually beat him out the front door! Was on my cell to 911, with my cig almost lit when he ran by. Yeah, they caught him–jerk!!

      

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  10. Nathan Bush

    Hello! I am a hired-on Night Auditor at the Hampton Inn – Des Moines International Airport in Des Moines, Iowa. I’m now the Director of Sales, but find myself doing Night Audit at least once or twice a week. I have a story that I look back on that I tell co-workers and get a kick out of it. It’s too lengthy to type here…but it was an experience, let me tell you!

    I don’t mind doing the night audit, but working overnight takes a toll on your social life (sleep all day, work all night…). We use the OnQ Front Desk system tool called “NightAudit” to process ours. It takes about 10 minutes to process altogether. We have 121 units at our hotel. Once the bills are organized, Night Audit processed, and the papers are organized and put away, the whole process takes about an hour to do (less if there are few bills to make out.) So I loved reading your blog, and hope all goes well! Thanks!

      

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  11. Kylie

    Hi Will, I loved your blog and all the responses that have been posted since you published it. I am Australian and have worked in hotels for years but have had an extended vacation in Europe before returning to Aus to work again. I’m about to start a new job next week as a night auditor in a fairly remote but beautiful region- Tasmania and reading your blog has really helped fuel my enthusiasm for the role, so thank you!! :)

      

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  12. Andy Hoffman

    I just started as the full-time night auditor at a 211 room hotel in a small town in Southern Indiana. We will get busy during the summer because we have a theme park nearby, but at the moment we are not very busy at all. (not even at capacity for New Year’s!) I am working on some things in addition to my night auditor duties such as facebooking for the hotel and developing a new website. It is an exciting experience and I am really looking forward to the wonderful year ahead!

      

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  13. Will Post author

    To everyone who has commented thus far, THANK YOU! It has been nearly four years since I wrote this, and I am really pleased and humbled that it has helped, influenced, delighted, and even inspired so many people.

    A few follow-up comments now…

    @NADEEM – The climate in San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach is usually wonderful at any time of the year. That makes both of them an ideal tourist destination. Growing up, the summers were usually cool and a little foggy, and the winters were generally mild and sunny. It rained enough in winter to keep the hills green for many months (often mentioned that they reminded people of the hills in Ireland), and then they would turn a lovely golden color during the dry late spring, summer, and autumn. The climate change over the last decade has made the weather a little less predictable, but I hear it’s still quite lovely.

    @Steven Graves – Yes, tales of breakups and other misfortunes related by guests is part of the job, too. After all, you’re one of the only people in the hotel awake and available to talk to when a guest has insomnia. Blood in the elevator was not something I ever had to deal with (thankfully), but guests did leave all sorts of messes all over the place. Some of which I had to clean up, but most of it was able to wait until the housekeepers arrived in the morning.

    Elevators getting stuck… yes, that happened occasionally. I remember a night auditor friend of mine telling me about how he was stuck in an elevator. The phone in the elevator only rang the front desk (nobody there, of course!), and this was before cell phones were common. He got the doors open a crack. A young boy found him, and my friend was able to slip him the office key through the crack, tell him where to go, and explained how to flip the circuit breaker that would reset the elevator. The boy came through for my friend, but that could have been such a bad situation if there had been an emergency–of if he’d had to use the restroom while stuck. All of those experiences are why, to this day, I never ride in an elevator when I’m the only person working in a building at night or on a weekend. My computer work often had me working late at night in empty buildings, and I’d send my equipment up or down the elevator, while I hoofed it up or down the stairs. After all, if I get stuck, there’s nobody else on-site to let the repairman in.

    @Christy – Robbery is something I was always concerned about, but (very fortunately) never had to deal with. I think being in smaller towns helped a lot. I also was as careful as possible to not put myself in dangerous situations if I could avoid them. Anytime that you are in a place with money around, it’s likely to draw thieves to you. I won’t go into the things that the hotels did to try to keep cash secure, but they did have some things in place to help keep the amount of cash on hand as low as possible. Since customers usually pay by credit card, there’s actually not that much cash on hand anyway. But there is still a perception. Most of the thievery I experienced involved guests stealing towels, glasses, coffee makers, and even paintings off the walls. Or even more commonly, watching a pay-per-view movie or making phone calls and then disputing the charges. And people wonder why hotel rates are what they are?

    @Andy Hoffman – It sounds like your seasonal nature was very similar to the Lodge’s. During the summer, people flocked to the beaches, and we were full most every night–especially on Fridays and Saturdays. In the winter, 50% occupancy on those nights was pretty good. I liked it best at the change in seasons. We were busy enough to keep things interesting, without being stressed out.

      

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  14. Deb Lawton

    Can you please share what the typical salary range is for a hotel night auditor? Does the salary differ based on the size (or brand) of the hotel?

      

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    1. Will Post author

      Hi Deb. It has been far too many years (and too many increases in minimum wage) since I worked in the industry to hazard a guess on a typical salary range for any hotel positions. However, you are probably correct that the size, brand, location, type of property (resort, downtown, airport, beach-side, mountain lodge, meeting-focused, commuter-focused, near a major theme park, etc.) does play a difference. In my experience (and I doubt it’s changed significantly), the more upscale the hotel brand, the more they paid. Also, larger hotels paid more than smaller ones. And, hotels in nice areas paid better salaries to attract a higher-class of worker than motels of questionable repute. It’s just that the more money hotels bring in, generally the better they pay their staff, because well-paid staff generally take better care of their guests, and therefore the hotels can charge more. Or vice-versa. Of course, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t good people working in some lousy hotels, or that all the people working in 5-star hotels are great. I’m just speaking in very broad generalities here, and from a heavily-biased California view of the hotel industry.
      One final thought… I have never found night auditors or front desk clerks to be reticent in divulging approximate salaries with me if I approach them when they aren’t busy and there aren’t other people around to overhear. If you do ask, be sure to ask in general terms. Asking them how much they personally get paid is downright rude. Asking what a starting bell staff person, clerk, or auditor typically is offered at their hotel comes across as curious (if preceded by a little casual chitchat to break the ice and see if they are in a talkative mood). Remember that the bell staff do work for tips as well as salary, so if you monopolize a lot of their time, you might want to thank them and offer a small (but not insultingly so) tip for their time and information, especially if they gave you some good inside information. Front desk staff (including night auditors) do not expect to receive tips, and some might even be insulted by such an offer, but most would quietly accept tips if they go above and beyond answering routine questions and providing basic services.

        

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  16. Isabella

    This is such a great story that I read the entire post and comments too. What a great resource. :)

      

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  17. my

    Hi Will,
    Thank you for your story. I did a search; *night auditor*, to try to define some more duties this job can/may have offer. I work at a small, 70 room, hotel just outside Harrisburg, Pa. The northside rooms have a lovely view of the mountains – its quiet. I enjoy my own quiet time and solitude, plus spend a lot of time in *alone* activities such as kayaking and endurance racing with my horse. Working overnight allows plenty of time for both activities …so my sunrise mantra is *what a great day to play* !
    Its now 2014, things have changed a bit. I bring in my netbook/hotel Wifi, cell, and a remote to a huge wall tv of 1000 channels in a beautiful lobby. Just me, oh yes, and the coffee machine.
    This is a career change, and with just skills as a o/n-nursing, o/n-EMT, exerciser rider, and a smiling, contagious personality, , I was hired on the spot with the manager saying *its easy,, read help, you’ll get it* — ack! but she was right. I still study each night, more in the auditing duties than management as I’m now older and among the working retired.
    It was a relief reading your story and finding that I’m aligned well with this work….. really glad I summoned the courage to apply for it.
    You tell great stories Will, thank you!
    Annie

      

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    1. Will Murray (Willscrlt) Post author

      Hi Annie. I’m glad that you are enjoying the work and the lifestyle. It sounds like you have an absolutely lovely place to work, which is always a bonus! Thanks for your compliments about my storytelling skills. :-)
      —Will

        

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  18. Gary Loyd

    Awesome article, I’m an auditor at a Clarion in New Orleans, La and used to audit for The Hilto Family Hotels. I’m surprised I never found this. If any auditors see this and want to play some card games online or something email me lol garcloyd85@gmail.com. Take care guys!

      

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