By David Lund
As you know the front office is the command post for your operation, and it’s also the point where all the receipts come through. Making sure you have solid internal controls at the desk is not only good business, it’s mission-critical. Without these safeguards you are wide open and as someone once said, good internal controls help keep honest people honest. Now don’t get me wrong. I believe we need to trust the people we have on our teams, and I also have seen what can happen when there is an opportunity. So, this piece is about eliminating most of those weaknesses at the front desk.
Room Rebate Review and Approval
Having the ability to adjust the room rate to compensate for a service delivery problem such as noise, room temperature or a hot water issue is common in our business. Making sure your front-line staff are empowered to do this is in my option particularly important. This will help ensure your guests are looked after and your staff is operating in your overall best interest. However, each rebate needs to be properly reviewed and approved by the GM or owner. Make sure each adjustment is documented with the appropriate information. Look for trends and the best practice is to track the dollars and issues and manage accordingly.
Room Inventory & PMS Verification
This will ensure no one is selling your rooms for you and pocketing the proceeds. The typical sleight of hand means a walk-in guest that pays cash is actually not checked into the PMS. The clerk pockets the cash and the following day housekeeping finds a “discrepant” room. If you find these even on an infrequent basis you have a problem. Each day someone needs to balance the inventory to the “occupied rooms” report in your hotel. I remember dating a girl for a while early in my career. She was the housekeeping secretary and I worked at the desk. I had no idea that each day she “balanced the house count.” If you’re not doing this, start today!
Even today your staff needs a cash float that is their assigned float. A regular monthly count is critical. The count should be a surprise, and when you issue the float at hiring ensure they know it will be counted. This should be spelled out in the “float contract” that they sign, and you keep on file. Float counts can be administered at the beginning or end of the shift, as well as in the middle. The middle can be an interesting affair. I recall one such adventure when we counted one of our associate’s float halfway thru her shift. She had $200 more than she should have had. After reviewing the possibilities, we discovered she sold a room and didn’t check it into the system.
Credit Card Adjustments
Having the ability to post a credit to a guest’s credit card is a necessary element in your operation. What you want to ensure is that each and every credit is reviewed and verified by someone other than the person who posted the credit adjustment. Credit cards are obviously a convenient element in our world but bear in mind your employees also have one or more of these devices. If you don’t review the card number for all credits you run the risk of the credit being directed to the wrong account.
Room Rate Verification
In your reservation system, you must have room rates that are set up and approved by your GM or sales manager. All rates that ultimately are assigned to each reservation need to come from these approved rates. If you don’t do this, you open the door to allowing any and all room rates. With approved rates, your PMS will generate a daily discrepant rate report and you can then review this to weed out any variations.
Cash Paying Guests
Be especially focused on cash paying guests. I once worked in a hotel where we discovered a little scam. Our front office manager was reviewing the room rebates and she was concerned that a guest in what she thought was a fantastic room was complaining about the noise. So – what did she do? She called the guest to follow up. Noise? The guest said, no noise, just a wonderful stay. Looking at the account the FOM noticed it was a cash-paying guest and the desk clerk had adjusted $200 off the account for the supposed problem. I think you can take it from here.
This is the currency of your business. Any and all comps need to be approved by the GM or owner. Don’t be stingy but make sure each one is approved. If I have the ability to change the rate to comp, I can pocket the cash. Here is a pro tip for those of you that have read this far: Distinguish separately comps from house use. Comps in almost all jurisdictions attract room tax, that is to say, you need to impute the tax on the lowest advertised rate and pay the municipality or state. On the flip side if the room is house use, let’s say for staff to stay over or a contractor use, the house use code allows that no tax needs to be paid.
A happy hotelier is one who gets to keep all his room revenue!