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Confessions of a Hotel Doorman

From secret codes to how to win taxi battles to a real answer on the kickback question, we got an NYC doorman to spill all of his secrets

Carting heavy suitcases in the pouring rain for a family of eight. Total tip: 75 cents. Standing in the middle of a Midtown street at rush hour trying to avoid swerving cars while hailing a cab. Tip: A slice of leftover pie. Answering questions like: Where’s the bus stop for the A-train? Tip: A fist bump. Working as a New York City hotel doorman is many things – but rarely boring. We got the scoop from Chris Russell, a hotel doorman at a large hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Russell is also a writer and filmmaker, and you can follow his hilarious doorman blog, along with this equally hilarious Twitter. Here he shares his strong opinions on the doorman life.


(Illustration: Jeanine Henderson)

(Illustration: Jeanine Henderson)

A doorman never, ever, ever forgets a guest who doesn’t tip
People have this misconception that if they stiff you, we won’t remember. Not true – we will always remember who didn’t give us a tip. Basically, if someone gives me a couple of bucks, I say thanks. But $5 is the minimum for real service, as in “seek me out – for whatever you need.”

And we remember the bad tips, too
The worst tip ever? A Metro Card with 35 cents on it. The best tip? $80 from guy who looked like the Marlboro Man. And if someone just tosses me change, I don’t take it. This is not the 1970s. I’m a grown man. And guests also sometimes give me food for a tip — like a piece of Junior’s cheesecake. Really?

When it comes to nationality and tipping, I’ve noticed a pattern…
If you open a trunk, and the luggage tags are from the United States, any non-French speaking region of Canada, Mexico or Ireland: Take a breath of relief. There’s money to be made. If you open a trunk, and the luggage tags are from England, Germany, Japan, Iceland, any Scandinavian country, Quebec, most of Central and South America or Australia: Put your tap shoes on, do some serious stretching, and be prepared to dance and dance hard. If you’re going to get anything, you’re going to work for it, and it won’t be much. Americans are good tippers for the most part – usually $1 a bag. But you’ll actually get more from blue-collar folks, rather than from the Bergdorf-buying types.

We have our own language, with phrases like “take the knife out”
We make little hieroglyphics on our logbook next to the names of those who didn’t tip, and yes, the next time they need something, well… When we get nothing, we’ll put the words “FC” – take a guess what means. One star means $5, and two stars means $10. When a bellman gets back to the lobby after helping a guest, we’ll all lean over to see what he writes. And, if he writes star, and then another star, and then another star – we’ll all think, oh man! Lucky guy. The good tippers? We call them “angels.” And then you have the guest who you don’t think is going to tip, but they turn around and surprise you. Like the eight suitcases you’ve hauled in for a family, and you get nothing until the last day, and then they surprise you with a big tip. That’s what we call “take the knife out.”

There is a hotel pecking order
The doormen get more respect, because they’re like the street guy. There’s a certain toughness about doormen. This job has toughened me like you wouldn’t believe. It made a man out of me. When you’re working at the front desk, or as the concierge or bellman, it’s management and guests that you have to deal with. Those are your two biggest “foes,” for lack of a better word. But when you’re the doorman, it’s the life of the street that you have to deal with — homeless people, pedicab drivers, CD hustlers. Homeless people actually come up and pick fights with me. When you’re inside, you’re safe — you’re in the lobby. Not out on the street.

It’s a daily war between doormen and cabbies, like the Yankees vs. the Red Socks
It’s like the socials and the greasers. The Yankees and the Red Socks. The doormen puff out their chests like they’re the king of the sidewalk, but the cabbies aren’t having it. Basically, if I had a nickel for every time a taxi driver has screamed “You’re a ****ing ***hole!,” I’d have lots of nickels.

Only four to taxi? Not always
New York law is a maximum of four passengers in a taxi. People assume it’s my fault that this is the law. Anyway, a cab’s not going to take more than four people to just drive five blocks. But, during the shift change? At 4 or 5 o’clock? (Dumbest thing in the world, by the way, that the shift change is at rush hour. Dumbest thing in the world.) But, anyway, that’s when they’ll take more than four people. Most cabbies live in Queens. What’s in Queens? LaGuardia. JFK. Cabbies will come up to the hotel, with their lights off, which is illegal, and ask “JFK? LaGuardia?” That’s also illegal — to ask where people are going before they get in. If you say “no” to JFK or LaGuardia, they’ll roar off. But otherwise, they’ll pack them in.

No parking places? Actually, yes there are
The loading zone is our real estate. Always, always ask the doorman if you need to park your car. The doorman can usually find you a much better deal than the parking garage. What we’ll basically say is “Hey, it’s up to you. You can park in the garage, where the guys will whack it around, and you’ll have to tip the guy going in, and tip going out, and there will probably be a line. It’ll cost you $25. Or, you and I can work something out…” Most people will then get it. We park cars in the loading zone and then put a valet ticket on it, and traffic cops won’t touch it. The traffic cops are pretty decent with us. Why? Because we’ll flip out on them. Anyway, we’ll then watch over your car until you return.

With bellmen, you better pay up
I work as a bellman at the hotel once a week, but it’s a friend of mine, Jacob Tomsky, who wrote the excellent Heads in Beds, who explained it best, about bellmen and their tips. Basically, the bellman puts on a big show in the elevator for the guests: He tells you all about New York, he gets to know you, he makes sure you know he’s your friend. And then, when you’re in the room, he puts down the bags, he hands you the keys, the demeanor changes, and it’s like the waiter putting down the check on the table. The eyes go cold. It’s tip time.

Yes, we get kickbacks, but…
For the concierge, unless you ask for a restaurant specifically, any restaurant they send you to is probably going to give them something for the referral. I also get a kickback from an Italian restaurant that’s near the hotel. We’ll get like $5 a head. But, most of these restaurants, we’d recommend anyway. We’re not going to send you to a piece-of-s*it restaurant.

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