ALL IN A DAY’S WORK: Kyle Damm, Front Desk Manager, Nassau Inn
Kyle Damm signed on at the Nassau Inn in December 2009 after graduating from Ohio State with a degree in hospitality management. Since then he has worked as a front desk agent, housekeeping manager, and, for the last three years, as front office manager. Described by his boss, director of rooms Nick Ballas, as “an encouraging force for the staff and our guests, down to earth, and very good at empathizing,” Kyle loves problem-solving and working with people every day on the job. “He understands the guests and their preferences,” Mr. Ballas added. “Whatever their needs are, he understands them. He’s our ace here.” Kyle, 29, who grew up in Hamilton, now lives in Plainsboro with his girlfriend Jessica. Here, in his own words, Kyle talks about life as the front desk manager at the Nassau Inn.
At the Front Desk
It’s a job that’s full of challenges — certainly not a desk job. In hospitality, you’re always moving. It’s a fast-paced environment. No two days are the same. I enjoy that aspect of it.
I felt comfortable interacting with the guests from the beginning. I enjoy it. If you don’t love it, you can’t be in this industry. The front desk is the first point of contact with the guests. You’re on the phone. You’re on the radio, checking people in, checking people out. You’re empowered to solve problems as they come up, and they do come up for various reasons. The people who are good at the front desk aren’t looking at it as just a check-in, check-out job. It’s the little things you’re doing while people are here — listening to them if they have issues. That’s what separates good front desk staff from everybody else.
Communication Is Key
I come in typically around 7 and discuss the evening with my night manager, who works the overnight shift. I’ll line up things that need to get done during the day, such as guests who need to change their rooms, billing issues, or that day’s arrivals. I look very closely at the arrivals for each day, making sure that people who’ve been here before, our repeat guests, get the best rooms and get into rooms prior to check-in times if possible.
I’ll review things with my staff, the operator, my bellman, the desk agents. Communication is the key, especially at the beginning of the day, setting up the day to come, because we are a 24-hour operation. We are always open.
The check-out rush, 7-10 a.m., is a very busy time, and I like to be present, and if there are problems, addressing them right there as the guests are leaving. Then we start getting the check-ins. It’s non-stop. I’m making sure things are running smoothly. It’s about communicating and making sure we’re getting the job done correctly. I’m answering questions all day.
And I’m on call around the clock. I often get calls when I’m at home. If there’s a question that needs to be answered, the guests will need answers right on the spot, and I’ll get a call. My staff does a great job of handling situations, but sometimes I’ll need to make a decision, and they’ll call me. It’s something that comes with the territory in working with a 24/7 operation.
The Housekeeping World
Housekeeping is a totally different world. You’re behind the scenes. It’s not the most glamorous job, but it is one of the most important jobs in a hotel. I have a lot of respect for the housekeepers, because that’s not an easy job. It’s grueling work that they do every day and it often does go unnoticed. This staff really does a tremendous job, keeping our guests happy, turning over our rooms each day.
My job as housekeeping manager involved a lot of inspecting rooms and checking up on employees’ work. You have to be everywhere and have your eyes on a lot of different places in the hotel. Keeping people on schedule, making sure everybody gets their work done, 22 people working behind the scenes to make sure your stay is very enjoyable.
One of my main tasks here is defusing the difficult situations. There is a new approach for each situation. It’s a lot about reading people, listening to them, understanding what they’re looking for and how I can help them. I do a lot of listening because they need to be heard, and if it’s something legitimate, then we’re going to make it right. It’s about understanding their problem and coming up with a solution as best as I can.
The angry guest is the hardest part of the job, because there are people — you try and figure it out for them, and it doesn’t always work out. It’s pretty much a daily thing — my internet wasn’t working, or people were making noise in the hallway last night, or street noise, or paying for parking.
I do approach things differently depending on who is on the other side of the desk. It’s totally different in every situation. As the manager of the front desk of a hotel, there is no set game plan when it comes to people who are upset. What can we offer you? Maybe just a simple “sorry” or a heartfelt apology can go a long way for people in relieving their stress.
One strange complaint we got was a woman who said she wanted the tree outside her window cut down because it was blocking her view of the square. The guest was insisting we do this and had a hard time accepting that we couldn’t!
Top of Our Game
The most rewarding experiences I’ve had here took place during the hurricanes — Sandy and Irene — and during the fire at House of Cupcakes. Our employees came together — across all departments. Our hotel filled up quickly with people who had lost power, and some staff couldn’t get to work. Seeing everyone come together in a difficult situation was a memorable experience, something to be really proud of. People were coming in to charge their phones, or to get a meal because they couldn’t get into the grocery store. Rooms were filled for several days because people didn’t want to go back to their homes, because they didn’t have power or they couldn’t get there. People were stranded, and everyone worked together as if it was a regular day. There was a work load that exceeded a whole week’s work in just a couple of days.
During the fire at House of Cupcakes, smoke from the fire hit th back of the hotel, and we had to relocate guests in the middle of the night. I came in and there were employees who worked all night, moving guests into rooms that weren’t filled with smoke. And the clean-up afterwards, the housekeeping staff did a lot of work to get us running smoothly. It’s amazing to see how those events brought out the best in our staff.
There are the examples of the hurricanes and the fire, but the six days of reunions and graduation are when we’re at the top of our game, giving guests the best experiences they can have. It’s something we’ve fine-tuned throughout the years to make these experiences memorable. Nassau Inn is really the best place to be if you’re going to be at the University, so that’s a great week — one week every year, six days of non-stop action for the hotel, for everybody. It’s a very rewarding week for what we do. People have to book a year in advance to get in for those dates.
We have 188 guest rooms, and we do see many VIPs, from CEOs to movie stars to high ranking members of government — Meryl Streep, Jason Garrett [Dallas Cowboys coach], and a lot of his players. We’re respectful of their privacy. We try to give them their space. Some of the other famous guests to come through include Bill Clinton, Brooke Shields, the Obama daughters, General David Petraeus, Oliver Stone, and Megan Fox.
This industry is my future. I’ve had great experiences now with two different departments here. I enjoy the hotel business, and I’d love to stay at the Nassau Inn. They’ve just completed a renovation of the entire property, and we have a great staff in place. That’s what’s separating us from other hotels in Princeton. It’s something I want to be a part of.