Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels

Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels

Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels

Class Acts: Service and Inequality in Luxury Hotels

Synopsis

In this lively study, Rachel Sherman goes behind the scenes in two urban luxury hotels to give a nuanced picture of the workers who care for and cater to wealthy guests by providing seemingly unlimited personal attention. Drawing on in-depth interviews and extended ethnographic research in a range of hotel jobs, including concierge, bellperson, and housekeeper, Sherman gives an insightful analysis of what exactly luxury service consists of, how managers organize its production, and how workers and guests negotiate the inequality between them. She finds that workers employ a variety of practices to assert a powerful sense of self, including playing games, comparing themselves to other workers and guests, and forming meaningful and reciprocal relations with guests. Through their contact with hotel staff, guests learn how to behave in the luxury environment and come to see themselves as deserving of luxury consumption. These practices, Sherman argues, help make class inequality seem normal, something to be taken for granted. Throughout, Class Acts sheds new light on the complex relationship between class and service work, an increasingly relevant topic in light of the growing economic inequality in the United States that underlies luxury consumption.

Excerpt

When Mr. Jones, a guest at the five-star Luxury Garden hotel, began to prepare for an early business meeting, he realized he had forgotten to pack his dress shoes. Panicked, he called the concierge desk. Not to worry, said Max, the concierge. Max called a local department store, asked the security guard to help him contact the manager, and convinced the manager to open the store two hours early for the desperate guest. At the same hotel, room service workers know that when Mrs. Smith orders breakfast, they must slice her papaya along a straight line, forgoing the usual serrated edge. At the Royal Court, a small luxury hotel nearby, Mrs. Frank looks forward to the hazelnut butter on her French toast, which the chef whips up just for her. In a third upscale hotel, the gift shop does not carry the Silk Cut cigarettes Mr. White prefers. No problem, he is told; we can send someone to get them. Each time the guest returns thereafter, the cig-

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