Day 3 in Seattle – Laundry Chute Luxury

The day began early again. Now that I had learned the breakfast set up routine, I was able to jump right in at 7 a.m. and contribute. We were expecting thirteen guests for the meal, again spread over three different rooms. I lucked out this week, because we had no crazy or mean guests to serve. Everyone was quite affable. The only one who stuck out a bit was a widow who personified the word “loquacious.” We had quite an eclectic group, including a young couple seeking a little romance, young parents and their 5-month old baby, a widow on her way to a spiritual retreat, an Australian visiting the University of Washington on some official academic business, a gay couple, a non-descript baby boomer couple and a mother and daughter checking out the campus. We served yummy ginger spice pancakes, dusted with powder sugar, with an apple salad. It was my good fortune that the mother and daughter in the Sunrise Chamber didn’t show for breakfast, if you get my drift.

The calm after the storm didn’t last long, as Kristen and I were off to the large suites for some room turning. I cleaned the kitchen top-to-bottom, dusted, vacuumed, put new linens on the bed, and inflated an Aero bed for the incoming guests. I was then given the go-ahead to turn a room by myself. Joyce gave me the Scallop Chamber, which is the largest room in the main house. Here was my opportunity to show Joyce that I was coachable and could take on the monumental task of a thorough cleaning.Lesson number one that I learned: gather and organize what you’re going to need, so you don’t have to make too many trips. The Scallop Chamber is on the third floor, and I discovered that what I needed (if it wasn’t stocked in the housekeeping cabinet and linen closet) could have been on floor two, floor one or the basement. There is definitely a method to the madness of housekeeping. You have to anticipate all that you’re going to need. Working a three-floor house can be exhausting, which motivates you to think wisely about how you approach these kinds of projects. Three or four trips up and down the stairs will have you thinking about efficiency! And, what an appreciation I now have for the laundry chute! Open the little door in the wall…drop the dirty linens…voila! They magically appear in the basement, right where you want it all! Unbelievable. Everyone should be so lucky.

I also learned from Kristen that there are lint rollers, and then there are lint rollers. She uses them on the floor in the bathrooms to pick up hair that the naked eye will usually miss. I asked her, “But how do you deal with a wet floor? Won’t the tape just get wet and stop picking up stuff?” Kristen proceeded to take the next three minutes to explain that not all lint rollers are created equal, and that some will actually continue to pick up hair even when wet! Yes it is true ladies and gentlemen – the perfect lint roller exists (according to Kristen), and I intend to contact the company directly to discuss a formal endorsement with PAII.

So I learned that housekeeping takes a long time – if you’re going to do it right. While I cleaned rooms today, I could see where a tired innkeeper might decide to cut corners or not bend over to get the Swifter under the sideboard. In the name of getting done and on to the next thing, it would be tempting to cut corners. I made sure that I cleaned the Scallop Chamber as best as I could, but I’m not sure I could hold that same level of dedication day-in and day-out. It made me think that truly GOOD housekeepers must be very hard to find. I have a new appreciation for the sessions at the PAII conference on speed cleaning and time-saving tips. I couldn’t imagine having to turn over every room on this property on the same day. Something would have to give. The cookie jar might go empty for a few hours.

Joyce came up to the room to inspect my work, just after I lent her a hand in finishing up her room. I was hoping the gesture might weigh on her judgment of my performance. She walked around the entire room, running her finger over nearly everything to check for dust. She kept coming up empty. (Nice work, Mr. Karen, is what I was saying to myself). The true test would come with how well I made the bed and how clean the bathroom was. The bed was exactly how it was supposed to be, including hospital corners, which I mastered on the first try. See below.

I was worried about the bathroom. What if I missed a stray hair? What if I left streaks on the mirror? What if I didn’t dry off the shower curtain all the way?Luckily, when Joyce first entered the room, she had a good feeling about how I did overall. The bed looked perfect, with the down comforter covering the queen size bed to just the right points all around. The pillows stood up sharply at the head of the bed, and even the Teddy bear looked to be fairly content. The bed making passed her standards of excellence. In the bathroom, Joyce closely inspected everything and began to say what I great job I had done. She was genuinely proud of the work I did. We started moving towards the door to leave, when she went back into the bathroom to check one more thing. This is the point when my readers can see what is about to happen. Joyce found the spot where I had neglected to clean – there was dust on top of the tissue box! Well, if that’s the worst she could find, I think I still earn my certificate.
The finished product:

The Scallop Chamber
I also met Julie today, Joyce’s part-time assistant innkeeper. All three ladies who work for Joyce, and with whom I’ve worked in my short time here, are rock solid. Joyce is very lucky. Because Joyce has such good staff, she PROBABLY doesn’t have to bust her tail as hard as she does. But she does anyway. It sets a great example to the staff, and Joyce probably wouldn’t have it any other way. Nevertheless, I’ve learned the value of good help. Many innkeepers I’ve met share the sentiment that “innkeeping would be great, if it wasn’t for staff.” I suppose staffing is a double-edged sword. Managing people can be tough, but if done well through good hiring practices, solid training and a dose of daily enjoyment and levity, I think the pros far out way the cons – if you can afford it. This places hums like a well-oiled machine, at least as far as the guests can see, is because the staff stay on their game. I can see that Joyce probably sleeps well at night, because she has good people working with her. Joyce also apparently has a phenomenal interim innkeeper, which is so important. Joyce can find time to focus on herse
lf, her marriage or whatever else she wants to focus on. She can put the spatula down and walk away for chunks of time – that’s a very good thing.I told Joyce and her husband, Steve, over dinner tonight that I have incredible respect for innkeepers that wake up every day and do this. I imagine some folks do this seven days a week throughout the year. Time zone changes notwithstanding, I’ve been doing this for two and a half days, and am exhausted. My muscles ache. My eyelids are heavy. I’ve eaten poorly, because of limited options and time shortage. Running a large trade association has it’s challenges, but you know what? If I woke up feeling poor or decided I wanted to take a day off to spend with my wife and daughter, I could do that with relative ease. My work will be waiting for me when I return, and I could knock a few things out on my Blackberry. The thought occurred to me today that the guests just keep coming and coming and coming – whether you’re ready or not! Well, that is of course if you’re doing a good job. So, if you’re feeling under the weather, you still have to get your rear out of bed and deliver. That is tough! My hat is off to you.

One thing I see a need for, by watching Joyce work throughout the day and go from room to room to room, is something that will help an innkeeper accomplish multiple things while on the move. I am starting to think that all the reservation requests, lists of daily tasks, tracking of guests in a database, viewing room availability and whatever else I’m forgetting cannot necessarily be managed by one software program on the computer. As mentioned in a previous post, Joyce uses a paper-based system to get a lot done. As much of a technophile as I am, I get Joyce’s system. It works well. Joyce has to move to get the job done. She may be dusting a dresser on the third floor, when someone calls to inquire about staying here next month. She can’t get down to her computer at that very moment. Wouldn’t it be nice if all the technology she needed could be available simultaneously on her laptop computer and a hand held device, and also hosted online?

That reminds me. One of the lessons I’m taking back to the PAII office is the need to develop practical programs and services that help you do your job better, more quickly and more efficiently. We won’t lose site of publishing research and educating you on best practices, but I now have a little fire under me to deliver some practical solutions to all the little things that make your job that much more difficult. I’m making lots of notes while I’m here!

Author: Jay Karen

Jay is the President & CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

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