Stephen Ayers

Why housekeeping staff are the ‘unsung heroes in the daily hotel war’

Running a successful hotel is a never ending and complicated campaign to keep the guests satisfied and the ownership content with the results. Involved in this are so many ‘campaign’ components, both front of the house and back, that it can be described as a daily ‘military’ campaign to satisfy guests and stakeholders alike.

In the context of such a description, the housekeeping department would be your front line soldiers, and indeed they are. As with most infantry in armies they are the unsung heroes in the ‘battle’ to keep customers satisfied and returning to the hotels. To achieve this they work ceaselessly, performing hard, back breaking work daily.

Let us take a closer in depth look at this ‘army’ that advances daily to overcome the tasks on hand and to win the day.

The earliest accommodations were generally family-owned, with families providing not only lodging but also food and drink for weary travelers. It was only by he middle of the 1700s, the term hotel came to be used for lodging in Europe, replacing the old idea of inns or taverns.

As can be understood, hotels were and are built primarily to offer guests different levels of lodging whether for an overnight or a longer stay. The majority of their profits stem from the rooms while the other ‘divisions’ supplement the revenues, complement the rooms and the property reputation. Most people talk about their stay in terms of the great meal that they enjoyed, the pleasant ambience or the view from their room. Not many mention their rooms, the cleanliness or the linen, towels and comfortable sheets and beds they slept in. Yet this is one of the main reasons for their choice of hotel, and this is where the housekeeping ‘infantry’ come in.

Arriving daily in the mornings, the room attendants are given their quota of rooms, both stayover and check outs. They proceed to load their carts with all the necessary equipment to complete their tasks. Whether it is soap, toilet paper, towels and sheets, cleaning supplies or those ‘smiling Henry’ small red vacuum cleaners to be seen in most hotel corridors.

Off they go to the rooms to empty the trash, remake beds, clean the bathrooms and toilets, replenish the amenities, hoover, tidy the guests’ clothes and personal items and leave the rooms ready for new guests or refreshed for those returning after a day out. I have covered their work in one small paragraph but believe me they are the ones still doing the ‘slave’ work in the quest to deliver all that guests expect in their rooms. Not to be forgotten is the fact that  they also take care of cleaning the public areas, restaurants and bars.

Of course there are the other ‘divisions’ in hotels without  whose soldiers there would be no service. I definitely do not attempt here to belittle their contribution in any way whatsoever.

The maintenance ‘soldiers’ fan out to ensure that hot and cold water flows smoothly, that drains work properly, that the air conditioning is on point, that all equipment is in good working condition, that all lights work and that any emergencies are promptly taken care of. The front desk staff are there to welcome guests whether arriving, departing or staying, and they perform an important task in the free flow of the hotel as well as the general ambience.

The food services ‘soldiers’ are there to serve the meals that many hotels reputation depends on, while the kitchen brigade (excuse the play on words) cook up wonders preparing delicious foods to be served. Other unsung heroes are the stewarding ‘soldiers’ that keep the kitchens clean and hygienic, and wash the dishes, glassware and cutlery. No one wants dirty utensils or stained dishes for their meals.

Let’s not forget all the soldiers (and officers) who take care of reservations, sales and marketing, group and seminar organisers, accounting, IT and a myriad of other components necessary in delivering a perfect product to the end user, the guests. We must also appreciate the cadre of ‘ranking officers’ that direct this daily army, set the standards and continuously supply that most important item, the guests.

There is however more depth to the front line housekeeping magicians, or indeed any of those ‘soldiers’ with guest contact. They are soldiers with a vast, mostly untapped knowledge of the guests. They know what the guests expect, want and can be of invaluable service to the officers in charge in their search for more efficiency in time, savings and revenues and equipment.

I have always gone to the source for information on how to perform better as a manager, and those who are on the front lines are the ones with that knowledge. They are not only a delightful bunch of people, but they have helped me countless times in problem solving. Managers should get more used to the idea of asking them for ideas and solutions to problems.

The housekeeping staff, being mostly female, also take more than their fair share of abuse and harassment, including sexual, in the course of their hard work. They are, by virtue of their work locations, ‘easy ‘ prey for potential abuse. I am overjoyed that technology has allowed many hotels to provide their staff with ‘panic buttons’ for any emergency and to protect them from harassment or abuse.

But I take my experienced hat off to the front line staff in hotels, and specifically to the magnificent ‘infantry’ who perform heroically every day in the rooms, on the floors and everywhere in the never ending struggle to deliver the satisfaction the guests both expect and deserve.

They often go home tired at the end of a day to look after their families, their primary care in life and for whom they toil so hard.

Yes, the housekeeping ‘infantry’ are the unsung front line heroes and the backbone of every successful hotel, and as such they deserve great respect.

They have mine!

By Stephen Ayers. This article first appeared in the November 2018 issue of Hotel Owner

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