Mariah Carey is famous for keeping hotel staff on their toes with her prima-donna requests.

Cape Town - Hotels are often home away from home for regular travellers, but some guests take that adage a bit too far. Especially those who venture from their room starkers, or ask staff to check for monsters in the closet, and sing them lullabies.

We’re all used to Hollywood celebs acting like prima donnas, but many would be surprised to know that ordinary-looking executives can be quite demanding, too.

Each year, the Protea Hospitality Group’s staff from 125 properties across Africa anonymously submit the weird and quirky requests they receive from guests. For the most part, guests request standard items – like extra blankets or more pillows, but bedding has on occasion become quite an issue. Like, when one executive travelling alone asked for the white cotton duvet cover on his kingsize bed to be replaced with a Ben Ten duvet cover.

Then there was the guest at a KwaZulu-Natal hotel who insisted on being moved to another room because she didn’t like the colour of the walls. And the hotel staff in Gauteng who had the sticky task of dealing with an extremely tall guest who threw an almighty tantrum in reception because the kingsize bed in his room wasn’t extra-length.

We all know that it’s not the easiest thing to fall asleep in strange surroundings, but no adult should need a sleep-inducing lullaby unless they’re Sheldon Cooper in The Big Bang Theory. But that’s exactly what a rooms division manager in Gauteng had to do when a burly guest insisted that being sung to sleep was the only sure cure for his insomnia. It worked.

Singing a lullaby is small fry compared to the Cape Town general manager who had to go out to a mall at 8pm in search of a goldfish for a guest who insisted she’d never get to sleep unless she could watch swimming fish.

And while hotels are used to dealing with guests’ food allergies and intolerances, few are equipped to deal with odd requests like the one an Eastern Cape chef faced when he had to magic up goat meat because the guest refused to eat anything else.

Another man sent his room service soft-boiled eggs back five times, before the chef finally figured out that the guest would only eat eggs with speckled shells.

It’s not uncommon for airlines to misplace luggage, and the fallout can sometimes give hotels big headaches. One guest relations manager in Cape Town had the unenviable task of finding a ballgown at 9pm one Sunday after a guest’s luggage went awol somewhere between the US and South Africa.

But that’s nothing, though, compared to the poor receptionist – also in Cape Town – who had to go hunting for a pair of size 12 stilettos for a Priscilla-Queen-of-the-Desert guest who was due on stage in two hours and the airline had lost his shoebag.

The requests that probably take the cake are the executive who called down to the reception of his Bloemfontein hotel one night demanding a fortune teller be sent to his room to help him make a decision about a multi-million rand deal, and the man in Joburg who wandered down to reception in his birthday suit asking for someone to go out and buy him “tighty whities”.

Protea Hospitality Group marketing and advertising manager Nicholas Barenblatt says what may be outrageous behaviour to most people, hotel staff will generally take with a pinch of salt.

“After you’ve been asked by a businessman to check his cupboard for monsters, not much is going to surprise you,” says Barenblatt.

However, if situations lead to discomfort, debriefing and counselling is available to staff.

How are staff supposed to react when faced with such strange requests? Barenblatt says the staff do extensive role-playing training in guest relations. But even then, this often doesn’t measure up to what the real-life guests ask for. The staff, however, have learned to take the quirks in their stride.

“Our company culture as a whole is fun and quirky, so our people are far better equipped to deal with weird and wonderful requests than other groups that are more perhaps corporately rigid,” says Barenblatt.

He says as long as it’s legal, nine out of 10 times they will fulfil requests. Barenblatt admits that there are times their attempts to satisfy guests are thwarted by acts of God or airlines, but adds if you ask a general manager to find a tiara chances are you’ll get one.

“We do draw the line at animals, though. No good is ever going to come of a request for a monkey or a rooster, and donkeys are most definitely a no-no.”

Gold taps and mineral baths: celebs’ demands

Celebrities have become notorious for their ridiculous demands when on tour.

Among the most outrageous is diva Mariah Carey, who reportedly requested that all the taps in her hotel room be gold, new toilet seats be fitted, and that she and her pooch bathed in French mineral water.

Barbra Streisand asked hotel staff to scatter rose petals in the toilet. She also wanted peach toilet paper, and 120 peach designer bath towels.

Rihanna doesn’t ask for much. Just that her sheets are made of Egyptian cotton, she has a white couch big and wide enough to stretch out on, and animal print pillows scattered about. She also demanded a 2am bikini wax in her room.

Old rocker Rod Stewart loves his afternoon naps. He apparently requests a special team of “darkeners” to make his room impenetrable to the light before he sleeps.

Nicole Kidman once sent a detailed list of instructions on the type of linen she wanted, how the bed was to be made, and that she needed light bulbs replaced with a lower wattage. And then she didn’t bother showing up.

Justin Timberlake requires an entire hotel floor, and wants the door handles disinfected every few hours. - Cape Argus