All it takes is one look at an online review site to see just how sensitive guests are to cleaning errors and why housekeeping is such a vital part of your operations. Even though we all know how important the role of the housekeeper is, seldom do we managers know how to actually do what they do so that we can truly empathize with the issues they encounter on a daily basis.
I decided to change that this past month by spending a day working alongside (shadowing, really) an experienced team member of a luxury hotel property. I was asked not to reveal the name of the property nor the housekeeping staff member who I will refer to as Donna (obviously not her real name). Nursing a single malt as I write this, my back is still aching and I remain in awe of her capabilities.
To be blunt, slackers need not apply. Housekeeping is not an occupation for those who are unfit. The day’s mission was to obtain 13 room ‘credits’ (where a suite is either 1.5 or 2 credits), half being departure rooms with the balance as continuations. In one regular shift, this gave Donna about 20 minutes per room.
With her fully-laden housekeeping cart and determination to meet the commitment of the corporate ‘perfect’ mandate, we dove in for our first room, which was prioritized for an early arrival. It was what Donna described as lightly used. The single guest had departed in the wee hours of the morning, probably to catch a flight. Most of the room appeared unused, yet Donna meticulously checked most every aspect, bending and contorting her body under furniture just to be sure. She told me that she’s seen just about everything, adding after opening the bar fridge, “Even a set of false teeth in here.”
To clean the bathroom, restock amenities, vacuum the carpet, change the linens and inspect the entire room took about 15 minutes. It was a thoroughly practiced routine of constant movement and well-honed techniques to hasten the process. As Donna went through her routine, she also trained me on how to make a bed, clean a shower, and check for wear and tear. The ease in which this was done was impressive.
As our day continued, I was given the chance to actually assist. It’s taken me nearly 40 years of working in the hospitality industry to finally know how to make proper ‘hotel corners’ on bed linens and to consistently wrap towels in order to deliver a perfect fold. Of note, I was not allowed to perform the more rigorous tasks such as glass or counter cleaning, which I suspect was due to the risk of damaging myself rather than the property because these jobs can be quite strenuous on the joints and they open the hotel up to certain liability issues.
While the initial guestroom on our housekeeping round was relatively straightforward, others were more daunting. The 20-minute target per room was uniform, but the workflow anything but. In particular, one nasty room took nearly double the time allocation, and that was still with all hands on deck, brushing, scrubbing and disinfecting practically uninterrupted for 40 minutes. After first observing this room’s condition, I questioned how anyone could have lived like that. Donna was nonplussed, shrugging it off and remarking that she had seen much worse before diving right in to her brisk pace of methodically cleansing this sty.
One observation was immediately clear from all this—housekeeping can be quite demanding on the body. It is difficult to master in order to keep the times down and it can take a toll when it comes to the heightened risk for employee injuries.
When was the last time you sincerely thanked a housekeeper for a job that is both physically and mentally challenging? Moreover, when was the last time you shadowed a housekeeper? Put this high on your to-do list as understanding their plight will help you to better find solutions that will make their jobs easier or safer, increase their morale and, ultimately, improve room cleanliness so that guest satisfaction also gets a boost.