There was a time when "working a hotel" meant fishnets and a miniskirt—now it's a laptop and a cell. Hang out in a hotel lobby or bar, particularly a high-end one, and you're sure to see more people than ever running their entire business operations from a table over in the corner. "With a city-center hotel, it's hard to say who's a hotel guest," says Mark Sergot, director of sales and marketing at the Fairmont hotel in Chicago. Given the trappings of the free public space of a hotel, why not? Afraid of getting busted? Not only do hotel managers not mind, but most we talked to view the practice as a chance to enhance their bottom lines.
The surge in guerrilla meet-ups has coincided with hotels installing Wi-Fi networks in their lobbies and restaurants. "Right after we put it in, we saw traffic go up in all of those locations," says Dick Mason, general manager of Boston's Omni Parker House hotel.
The practice is tacitly sanctioned for a couple of reasons. "We've certainly had some discussions about [the increase in meetings]," Mason says, but the Omni hasn't seen a drop in conference-room bookings, so it's not an issue. And Mason and his staff make an effort to "get some ancillary revenue" out of visitors. As the Fairmont's Sergot explains, "Folks sitting in the lobby are typically bringing the hotel revenue, be it the coffee in the morning or cocktails in the evening."
For the meeting holders, hotel lobbies have a lot of advantages over, say, Starbucks—or, more awkwardly, their own hotel rooms, which are bedrooms. "If it's a nice hotel with nice furnishings, it's a really comfortable environment," says Nathan Papadopulos, a marketing manager for Logitech, the consumer-electronics maker. When he's in New York, Papadopulos prefers the W on the East Side. His clients seem to go along, too. "Some people ask me, 'Does the hotel mind this?' Once I say no, we just move on."
So go early and snag a good spot. And hey, given all you're getting for nothing, the least you can do is order something.
A version of this article appeared in the December 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.