You could stay in a hotel for years and never meet the housekeeper. You might not even know of her existence. And yet your comfort, enjoyment and all the little things that make such a difference to your stay often depend on the housekeeping team.
I recently interviewed Elaine Walker who is Executive Housekeeper at the Stafford London Hotel – the hotel with a 360 year-old wine cellar.
She described her typical day’s work to me – it starts early, at six o’clock.
“My day begins an hour before my department officially opens,” she says, “so I can get organised.” Planning is vital; she needs to go through guest arrivals, check room allocations and sometimes reallocate if she knows the guest would be better suited by a different room. “We have a very high percentage of regular guests with very specific requirements,” she says; “and we’ve got a very large guest history record, with every request and every comment they’ve made, so we know just what they want.”
She also needs to check that rooms have been vacated before the next guest arrives. “It’s a juggling act or a jigsaw puzzle – you’re constantly forward planning and looking ahead.” She checks flight times for guests coming in from the airport – a flight delay can give an extra fifteen minutes to get a room ready. But it’s not the computer that runs the hotel – she says “a lot of the way things work is in my head and not on paper. The longer you stay, the more you know how it all fits together.”
She’s been at The Stafford for 17 years, so she has most certainly got the feel of it by now. Most of her staff are also long-term – including several who have been with her right from the beginning – and she believes that is one of the hotel’s strong points. “We are much more like a host than just room cleaners. We are the department that looks after the biggest earner – and if we were to get it wrong, the whole hotel would suffer.”
It’s quite a big department; she has 25 full time staff and uses 6 or 7 permanent agency staff to fill in when the hotel is particularly busy. She also has responsibility for all the hotel’s purchasing within her area.
“I’m responsible for an immense amount of stock,” she says; “we own our own laundry, linen, table linen and towels.” She also has to order all the hotel toiletries and janitorial equipment, checking a month ahead to ensure there are no shortages.
It’s a tricky job getting it all right and ensuring everything is done on time. But do guests notice, I ask? “I’m not really sure,” Elaine says. “In fact, when a guest is here, silence is the best compliment! We do get some nice compliment letters though, so some of them appreciate what we do.”
She believes it takes a particular kind of person to become a housekeeper.
“I’m a bit of a neatness freak,” she admits. “When I check into a room on my own travels I will tidy up, I straighten the pictures. I don’t like to see the seams of a lampshade, or hairs down the plughole. I think you need to have a little bit of OCD to do this job!”
Elaine seems happily settled at The Stafford after a career including stints at several luxury London hotels including The Dorchester, The Howard, The Cavendish, and Claridge’s. In her spare time, she’s an active member of a book club and loves gardening. “It’s quite a challenge getting my books read,” she says, “but I love being a lady who lunches on my days off!”
I don’t think Elaine would approve of my house. I don’t have that little bit of OCD she was talking about. But being humble enough to learn, I ask for her top housekeeping tips.
First, she says, don’t try to do it all at once. Just pick a room and get that one properly cleaned and organised before you move on to the next.
And secondly, she says, use the housekeeper’s secret weapon – microfibre cloths. “I think they’re wonderful,” she says. “With most cleaning cloths you’re just moving dust about – but microfibre cloths really pick it up.”
There you go. We now have no excuse for failing to bring immaculate 5 star hotel-style housekeeping into our own homes!
Photo credit: The Stafford London Hotel.