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Choice Hotels' 'Undercover Boss' Talks About Changing Bed Covers and More

September 27, 2010 at 7:04 AM | by | ()

If you hotel geeks have never watched CBS's Undercover Boss before then you best get yourself to CBS.com and try to watch a snippet of last night's season premiere episode featuring the CEO of Choice Hotels, Steve Joyce.

Joyce went undercover for a week as "Jack Parker" a prospective employee at several different Choice Brands from Econolodge to Comfort Suites to Choice's newest brand, Cambria Suites. Joyce/Parker tried his hand at several different jobs from maintenance man to housekeeper, sales guy and front desk agent. Aside from trying out for a variety of jobs at Choice, and learning what they entail, Joyce actually stayed at different Choice Hotels, checking out things from a guest perspective.

The episode was filled with mishaps from broken door locks to broken elevators to coffee that needed to be purchased at the front desk before being consumed in the room. Oh and Joyce also cleaned a toiletry tray with a dirty toilet rag. (Don't worry, they removed the tray.) While their jobs are grueling, the employees that Joyce encountered in the episode also have their own hardships outside of work, like the front desk agent who was kicked out by her family when she was pregnant at 16.

But as with all "Undercover Boss" episodes, there are plenty of feel-good happy endings. Joyce revealed himself to the unknowing employees who helped train him and gave them the opportunities they were thirsting for (as well as some bonuses, both monetary and professional.)

Joyce also came down on the owner of disappointing Econolodge in Orlando which had a leaky roof and other serious maintenance problems. And he asked to fix the pay-for coffee policy at Suburban Extended Brands.

So now that Choice Hotels has been put in the national spotlight, there will probably be more scrutiny on their brands to see if the changes that were promised have really been made. But in the meantime, we were able to do a Q&A with Steve Joyce via email last week before the episode aired. Here are some of his inside observations on the "Undercover" experience.

HotelChatter: Why did you decide to go on "Undercover Boss?" and what did you hope to accomplish by doing this?

Steve Joyce, Choice Hotels CEO: We decided the show would be a great opportunity because, while Choice’s brands are doing extraordinarily well, Choice Hotels as a company might not be as well known to the consumer.

Since I became CEO 2 years ago – unlike my previous company, where I came up from the ranks and did many of the frontline jobs, I haven’t had that opportunity at Choice. So, I wanted to get to know the line level folks better. I wanted a better understanding of Choice and the folks who do the work every day.

HC: How elaborate was your disguise, or did you even need one?

SJ: I’ve had a mustache since I was 12 years old. I had only shaved it once it high school for pictures at my mother’s request and I grew it back immediately. So, they made me shave my mustache, it was quite an emotional moment, and then they gelled and dyed my hair.

HC: What were you most surprised to learn?

SJ: While I expected to work hard, I was unprepared for how truly difficult those jobs are – and how hard those people work every day. I don’t think of myself as an ivory-tower type of guy, but I hadn’t worked on the front lines for 30 years. I was also unprepared for the emotional impact that meeting some of these people had on my life.

HC: What upset you? And what made you happy to see?

SJ: I was overwhelmed by the quality and caliber of the front line staff at our hotels, and more than anything, reminded about one of the truly great things about the hospitality industry – the career paths that can start as a front line employee and take you all the way to the top. This is one of those unique pieces of the industry.

One of the things that I learned that I can take back to corporate with me to make positive changes is that there were policies that we, Choice Hotels, had put in place that we found if we would’ve asked the hotel operators about, we would have understood they didn’t make much sense.

HC: What was a difficult task that you had to do--housekeeping, front desk, etc?

SJ: I worked as a housekeeper, maintenance man, night clerk and director of sales. All of these jobs were extremely difficult. I was not prepared at how difficult these jobs would be, having been off of the front lines for 30 years. In fact, the housekeeper I worked with was one of the most amazing people I have ever met, not only personally but the way she motivates her team and the quality of work she does. She cleans a room in 27 minutes. I couldn’t even get within double of that and I was sweating the whole time.

HC: What do you differently now as a result of what you saw and learned from "Undercover Boss?"

SJ: You’re just going to have to wait and see on Sunday, but I can say we made immediate, impactful changes at the company based on what I saw and learned during my experience undercover.

HC: Having done this, would you recommend this sort of "in the trenches" approach to other hotel company CEOs?

SJ: Absolutely! It’s truly been an invaluable experience.

Thanks, Steve! We hope other hotel CEOs are paying just as close attention to their hard-working employees as you are! (If they haven't been, we bet they are now.) For those of you who missed it you can learn more about the episode over at www.choicehotels.com/undercoverboss.

[All photos: Sonja Flemming/CBS ©2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved.]

Archived Comments:

i watched it

I think my favorite person was the housekeeper also. She had a LOT of fire and spirit and I loved how, at the end of the show, they noted that she had finished top of her class for managerial training.

sales guy

ok the housekeeper blew me away. i kept wondering if i would be able to clean the shower like that. but i also liked the sales guy. it was interesting to see how that side of things work. i had a general idea of how they court customers and do room tours, etc. but that was definitely a different side of the hotel biz you don't really see publicized.

also the look on the owner of the Econolodge's face was priceless. he thought he was going to brought in there for something good and instead he got reprimanded. priceless!

PR Stunt?

I saw this show as well last night and do enjoy the series, however am unsure how realistic it is (i.e. Hooters CEO not understanding why parents wouldn't want their daughters to work for him?!)

Anyways I found it suspicious that the Econologe's GM was so easy to say 'Yes' to renovation after he was reprimanded.

I highly doubt the GM wasn't renovating the property due to lack of an 'eye for detail' or laziness. In the real world wouldn't a GM refer back to the `budget' or unfortunately cut employee hours to pay for these fixes?


I think the GM was just caught on camera looking bad so he immediately said "we will fix it" to look good. however, the reviews on TripAdvisor are still pretty abysmal.

Also these Undercover Boss shows, like most reality shows, tend to wrap up a bit too neatly, which is why we'll definitely be keeping our eye on Choice Hotels a lot more closely, probably starting with that Econolodge.

This was PR crap

Any person who has ever managed a franchised property knows that while corporate directs the managers to improve property standards, ultimately it is the owners' responsibility & wallet which dictates what is accomplished in capital improvements. I've spent almost 30 years in this industry as GM and my hands were always tied by owners who don't give a crap, or bought a property at a bargain price & didn't have the knowledge or financial support to take care of it once they bought it. It is unrealistic for Mr. Joyce to tell the EconoLodge GM to "make it so"; the person(s) he needs to direct his demands to are the owners. All he did was sound ignorant & embarrass the GM on national TV. I have 6 years history with Choice branded properties and 13 with Days Inn, in addition to management stints with Hampton & Sheraton and independant properties; I know from experience; the corporate "high muckety mucks" don't know crap. If Mr. Joyce wants a REAL experience, let him spend a week with a GM.

Great show!

I really like this show. I like watching down to earth bosses who are really nice guys but do not fail in holding certain people accountable. I wish I had a boss like this. Maybe I didn't need to get a payday loan if I was in an episode last week. LOL