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 (now the “Inn at the Cove“; see my update below) 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 extra 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 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 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 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 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 (update: 52 rooms is the official number). 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 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.”


7 December 2015 Update: I was cleaning up a bit of link-rot in this article, and I discovered that the Best Western Shelter Cove Lodge is now the Inn at the Cove, with no indication that it is a Best Western any more. That’s fine, but I was shocked to see the marketing tricks that the hotel used to make the hotel look amazing in the photos. It’s disgusting. Shelter Cove’s old site had beautiful photos that were truly representative of the hotel. The new site is less realistic than a model photoshopped on a fashion magazine cover.

Here are my reactions to each of the marketing photos they use on their site now.

Room photo #1: This is the inside of one of the 8 suites—one of the 8 most expensive rooms at the hotel, and not representative of the hotel in general. Given the second window on the wall to the left and the vaulted ceiling, this must be the suite closest to the water, on the right side of the office, on the second floor. In other words, the room with the very best views and the most light and roominess. Also, the TV’s picture is photoshopped to remind you that the room is near the ocean; nothing wrong with that, but it is a marketing ploy.

Room photo #2: Given the view of the pool, but the lack of a vaulted ceiling, this must be the room directly below room #1.

Room photo #3: In the old days (i.e., back when I worked there), complimentary wine and commemorative logo wine glasses (not these generic ones) were included with the suites when guests paid full rack rate (i.e., full price with no discounts). During the slack time, there were a few room and wine package deals that were advertised, where the rooms were discounted and the wine was still included. Otherwise, wine was not included. You might want to confirm the availability of the wine before assuming anything. Oh, and there were no fresh flowers anywhere—even the lobby flowers were artificial. Who knows these days.

Room photo #4: Vaulted ceiling and a similar view of the pool area leads me to believe that this is the suite next door to room #1 (closer to the office). Again, the image on the TV is a photoshopped image to get ocean views more firmly planted into your subconscious.

Room photo #5: Same view and lack of a vaulted ceiling indicates this is probably the room below #4. Again with the TV.

Balcony photo #6: I honestly cannot tell where this photo was taken. According to the press release below, all of the ugly metal balcony railings were replaced with easy-to-see-through cabling like shown in this photo. I can see the access road and grass near the bottom of the photo, so this is probably a view from one of the upstairs rooms’ balcony. Shelter Cove always did have wonderful views!

I have no comments concerning photos 7 and 8 and did not include them.

Pool area photo #9: The pool area has not changed very much (nicer furniture, for sure), but there is something funky about the photo. It looks a little squashed vertically, and stretched a little horizontally. Maybe it’s the lens, maybe it’s Photoshop. But other than the proportions, this looks pretty much like the view I enjoyed every day I worked there—except it was all dark and night-timey when I was there. 🙂

Breakfast room photo #10: The press release made this sound like a big deal, but it looks very similar to what I remember. There used to be a folding wall that kept the breakfast area hidden from view (and tampering/raiding by guests) during the afternoons and evenings. The furniture, flooring, and wall coverings are new. Maybe there are more windows, too. Whatever, it’s still a basic breakfast room. Note that the balcony for the rooms shown in photo #4 an #2 are visible through the door, to the right of the umbrellas. Notice also that the pool area is not so squished vertically or stretched so wide as it was in #9.

Summary: So, despite honestly showing you 4 different guest rooms at the inn, the marketing folks managed to not show you even one regular room. That means, that you have no real idea what your actual room is going to be like. I think that’s a little deceptive, but it’s also common in the industry. It’s not even as devious as showing you an extreme close-up of a postage stamp-sized swimming pool to make you think its huge. I just think that its bad to set guests’ expectations at an unrealistic level. If any property’s regular rooms are too embarrassing, ugly, or average to show people, then it’s probably time to renovate/upgrade the rooms. If a property’s rooms aren’t that bad, then give potential guests a reasonable expectation of what they will encounter. This property has amazing views, and it used to have nice rooms (not luxurious, but still very nice). I can’t imagine why the marketing gurus only showed off the best rooms unless they were still being renovated when the website was being updated.

Beach photo #1: First of all, this is a highly artsy photo. Nothing wrong with that, but the reality is much less dramatic, and, in my opinion, more ruggedly beautiful than what is shown here. And what is up with the birds in half of these photos? Were they photoshopped in? There are gulls around, but to capture so many in every photo seems a little incredulous to me. Also, this is a cold-water ocean, despite the warm glow of the photo. Still beautiful, though.

Beach photo #2: This is part of the public easement area that anyone, guest or public, has access to anytime day or night. This view was one of the best perks or working there. Of course, it was much colder there at night than this picture shows.

Beach photos #3 and #4: These made me laugh. First of all, the path and stairways down to the beach is a bit treacherous. The thought of lugging all that furniture down there for a photoshoot is ridiculous. Secondly, one of my tasks (and the security guard’s) was to check that the beach was empty of people sleeping there at night. The water can come up all the way to the cliffs during high tides, leaving the beach underwater. Unless the tides have changed, I think it is incredibly unlikely that you will find a lounging area like this actually waiting for you on the beach. Then again, I suppose if money is of no concern, they might be willing to set something up like this for you. After all, they did it once already for a photo shoot.

Beach photo #5: That wooden bench is so much nicer than the ugly concrete ones they used to have. I also spy the old-style metal balcony railings all the rooms used to have. So, I’m not sure if this is an older photo, or if there are still some of the older railings still around. I love that view!

Beach photo #6: The cobblestone walkway is a nice improvement. This used to be a dirt pathway that got muddy in the rain.

Beach photo #7: An honest view of the beach! Yes folks, this is what it actually looks like. It’s tiny and sheltered, but it’s a real beach. I think it has a lot of character. Also, it’s open to the public, so if you are in the area, you can stop by and visit it, even if you are not a guest at the hotel.

Beach photo #8: This is not the beach. It it, however, a primo fishing spot—at least according to the fishermen I talked to at night. That railing is many feet above the water, and the waves come right up to the cliff face. They would drop their fishing lines into the churning water, and quite often there’d be a fish when they reeled it back in. Fishermen have lots of interesting tales to tell, too.

These are some interesting documents I discovered while updating the information. Most include some drawings and/or photographs of the property and its beach.

Return to the blog article…


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 terms Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. Please credit me as “Will Murray (Willscrlt)” in your acknowledgements or bibliography and either (a) include the URL of this blog (//willmurray.name/blog/) or (b) send me a complimentary copy of your book. Doing so will fully satisfy the attribution requirement, and I will really appreciate it.

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

  1. I was a night auditor for a few years back in the 80’s, one of my college jobs. Wow this blog brings back some memories! The scary part was I did not have a security guard, that was one of my many functions as the only employee in a 200+ room hotel sometimes, and I remember ringing my accounting machine with one hand while keeping a drunk from climbing over the desk with the other. There is no question it is the most dangerous job I’ve ever had.

    A WWII vet getting ready to retire trained me so I picked up a lot of the good practices and wisdom, and learned the classic NCR4200. It wasn’t really computerized, so you had to do your trial balance with an adding machine and submit the tapes as the proof, and there was a lot of investigation of stray debits and credits involved, sometimes veering into the forensic. After I went to another large company they quickly figured out I really knew what I was doing, so they sent all their management trainees to me to learn the audit. That was nice because I got some assistance on the night shift, and I also would walk the property, exploring.

    The most enjoyable part about the job was the camaraderie between all the area night auditors. The night auditor typically has the highest IQ on the staff and we were always in communication with one another, finding rooms to walk our overbooked guests to, and warning one another about security risks and troublesome guests. If someone was booted out of a room for fighting or doing damage, or was trying to use stolen credit cards, it would hit the phones and every auditor in the area would turn him around as soon as he reached the front door. The delivery men, cops, diner employees, we all knew them too and watched out for one another the best we could.

    Night auditors weren’t really respected back then, we were considered very competent guys but not image conscious and not suited to the office politics of the 9-to-5 employees, and I don’t know any who advanced to being a GM. Fine by me, it was just a college job for me, but was very educational and provided my transition from being a student to being a professional adult.

    1. Great information, Mike. What city/area did you work in? Mine was San Luis Obispo and Pismo Beach, California. I think SLO had a population of around 41.5K and Pismo only 7.5K. You would think that smaller towns like that would have had a similar sort of camaraderie, but it wasn’t the case. I think part of the problem was there was too high of a turn-over rate among auditors to really develop relationships with one another. Part of the time that I worked in Pismo, a friend of mine from my youth worked at another nearby hotel. I’d always call him first if I needed to find someone a room, and he did the same for me. I’d also stop by and visit him sometimes on my nights off. (I was awake anyway.) In SLO, I got to know a couple of the auditors at the closest hotels, simply because they were the first we’d call if someone had to be bumped or if we needed to borrow a roll-away (yes, roll-aways sometimes got traded between hotels if one ran short; so hotels really aren’t kidding if they say they don’t have one for you). It would have been great to get a heads-up like that from other auditors. I’ll bet that there are some message boards that night auditors use (and if not, someone should create one!) to do that sort of thing now.
      Thanks for sharing your memories. It’s all great information!

      1. I worked in NJ, just outside of New York City. Never traded a rollaway, but there were a couple of instances where we traded jobs. One of my buddy’s relief auditor quit so I went down and applied at his hotel, worked with him for one night and then for the next two weekends until they found a replacement. Then my relief auditor quit so I trained our courtesy shuttle driver to be a night auditor so he could give me a night off.

        We even had a groupie. Unfortunately he was male- obscene phone caller who used to bother all the auditors. One night the GM was there for some reason and he called so I just transferred the call to my GM. I could hear him yelling in there- “Oh yeah? Oh YEAH? Well, go kill yourself, mister.” Thank God there were no guests in the lobby, I nearly died laughing!

  2. I have been a night audior for a couple of months. Im having doubts about this job choice it’s only 66 room but I find everything nerve wrecking from the elevator doors worried thats its a gues that needs something that i dont know how do on the computer .to the ice machine making nosie and I’m anxious everyday with winter coming I find myself worrying more and I’m alone.and don’t get me starting on trying to sleep. I know I can call anyone for help. I don’t think this is the job for me

    1. I’m sorry to hear that. Yes, being a night auditor/night manager can certainly be stressful at times. At the Pacific Suites Hotel, I was considered middle management, and at night, I was the only manager on the property. That means that I had the authority to do almost anything necessary to keep our guests safe and comfortable. Of course, the next morning, my decisions would be reviewed and I could get reprimanded if I overstepped common sense boundaries. However, my bosses knew that sometimes you have to go above and beyond the normal to keep the customers happy. It’s different at night. Just don’t let the power go to your head.
      Elevators… yeah. Even after I left the hospitality industry and went into information technology (where I often did work in buildings closed for the night), elevators continued to disturb me. Sure, they work great most of the time. Nevertheless, I’ve been the one who had to help get things resolved when they stopped working, too. And if I am the only person working at night, it makes me really nervous to put my faith in a contraption that could leave me trapped in a little cubicle for, potentially, hours. My hotel experiences were prior to cell phones. In both hotels, the emergency phone just rang the front desk, and if I am stuck in the elevator, calling the front desk would be pointless.
      One of my friends who also was a night auditor did get stuck in his hotel’s elevator one night. As with my elevators, his emergency phone rang the front desk, so no help there. Fortunately, a boy came by, and my friend was able to explain to him how to get into the front office, locate the elevator panel, and reset the thing. The kid did what my friend asked, and after the reset, the doors opened. I think the boy was a hero, and so did my friend.
      Another thing about elevators is that they make odd noises at night. If you don’t realize that its the elevator, you might just think you heard a person making a thump or a muffled crashing sound. It can be really nerve-wracking until you get used to the sounds of a building at night. Even building settling sounds, the change in temperature from warm days to cool nights, the heating and ventilation systems, tree branches, animals, cars or trucks going by on the road, people passing through (if your lobby is open all night), coffee makers, refrigerators, ice machines… all sorts of things make weird sounds that can get your heart racing. And then the people who show up at night, especially if you aren’t expecting them.
      Also, as you mentioned, freaking out when the computers don’t do what they are supposed to (a much bigger deal in the big hotel where everything depended on the computers) and not knowing how to do things that should be easy. It can be stressful.
      At the big hotel, there were always people around (a security guard, and usually a housekeeper and/or kitchen worker), but at the little one, it was just me. In the beginning, I really appreciated when the security guard drove by 2-3 times a night just to see that everything looked okay (and he used the elevators, so he’d have found me if I was stuck). The rest of the time, it could be a lonely job. Fortunately, I had my computer, which kept my mind busy when the work was done. Sometimes, I was able to have conversations with guests who couldn’t sleep (one guy chatted with me for an hour or two almost every time he stayed there on business, which was usually one or twice a month).
      Keeping your brain occupied is the key to success on this job. It takes time to really get acclimated to a new job and building. You also have to be a bit of an optimist, and not let your mind dwell on all the possible things that could go wrong. If you can’t do that, then it might not be the best job for you, and that’s okay. There are lots of other things you probably could do that would not be stressful in the same way. On the other hand, if you can get outside the fear in your head and embrace the beauty of the night, it can be a really rewarding position. I remember thinking many times that I was a bit like a captain of a cruise ship. The passengers were all asleep in their cabins, and I had the helm. I was steering the ship through the seas, and while everyone else slept, I was the lucky one who was able to see the glittering moonlight on the water. Sure, there were occasional storms, but it was a great job the rest of the time. The fact that my hotel looked out over the ocean (especially if I walked out to the gazebo at the end of a little peninsula ), really added to the illusion.
      I wish you all the best in your job, this one or something else more to your liking. 🙂

  3. I always see job listings for hotel night auditors and I’ve wondered what the job entails. Thanks for your entertaining explanation. (I live in SLO, so it was cool to see all the local stuff you referenced.)

  4. Great in formation to work with as am still presently the night auditor in my country and i would like to also know more thing with regard to that thank you

  5. I just applied for night auditor at the double tree hotel in San Jose, Ca so having found this article has proved very helpful! I read through the whole thing like it was a book!
    What can I expect in the interview (if I get one)?

  6. Great story, well written. I am applying for my first Night Auditor position and you gave me some great advice! and much to think on… THANKS!

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