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When selecting the best hotel for a vacation, most people will assess the size of the rooms, hotel amenities, location and reviews. An important factor that is usually overlooked unless it is unsatisfactory is the work of the housekeeping staff. These hardworking individuals ensure that messy rooms are miraculously spotless at the end of the day. Hotel housekeeping is a difficult and demanding job that requires much more than might be expected.
The job of a hotel housekeeper is to keep an assigned number of rooms clean. This includes a variety of services depending on the room's occupants. For a standard occupied room, this will involve basic cleaning duties. For a room where the occupants have just checked out, the job is more difficult and involves turning over nearly everything in the room. A check-out room must be so neat and clean that the new occupants cannot tell that another family may have vacated the room only a few hours earlier. Some occupants who are in the hotel room when the housekeeper arrives or are perhaps ill and spending the day in bed may prefer service known as trash and towels. This is exactly how it sounds. The housekeeper will provide fresh clean towels and toiletries and remove the trash, but otherwise leave the room alone. If a guest leaves a later service sign on the door, the room must be revisited, perhaps several times throughout the day until the sign is removed. However, some guests forget to remove this sign entirely. Depending on the hotel this may mean that they will not receive any service, or it may mean they receive a phone call offering later service. Some locations will even leave a set of clean towels and toiletries outside the door. One last consideration is rooms that have been vacant for several days. Though they have already been cleaned and turned over, these rooms must be revisited so the housekeeper can sweep and dust, ensuring that the room doesn't look dusty and abandoned when new guests arrive.
The specific duties of a housekeeper may vary from one hotel to the next, but usually include several standard jobs. The first is making the beds. A good housekeeper should be able to make each bed in about a minute. Unless there are very obvious stains, the sheets and pillowcases are rarely changed daily. The average amount of time for sheets to be left unchanged is three days. However, this also varies from one hotel to the next. In very expensive locations the sheets are changed daily. The number of sheets and pillows on the bed can also vary. While a standard hotel bed has a bottom sheet, top sheet, blanket and comforter, nicer hotels will have a sheet both beneath and on top of the blanket. Some less-expensive hotels may not have a blanket at all. Hotel beds are typically made with the comforter covering the entire bed and are almost always made this way when guests first check in. However, during a guest's stay, the comforter may only be folded neatly at the bottom of the bed. Next, the housekeeper must refresh any amenities in the room, such as coffee. End tables and desks may be straightened, but the guest's items are generally left as they are. Small touches such as closing the doors of a television cabinet can give a room a finished look very quickly. If there is a porch or balcony, this should be swept and any ashtrays need to be emptied. Lastly, the trashcans in the rooms will be emptied, and the carpets swept. Moving on to the bathroom, the housekeeper will wipe down the tub, toilet, sink and counter. Towels will be changed and amenities will be refreshed. In a check-out room, the bathroom is cleaned more thoroughly with a variety of cleaning agents, usually including bleach. Small touches are important here, such as carefully folding the towels. Each hotel has its own preferred method for folding and placing the towels. The toilet paper must be folded to a neat point as well. In some hotels, the tip of the toilet paper is even pressed with a stamp featuring the hotel's logo or name.
Most housekeepers work a typical eight-hour day. However, this day is usually filled with nonstop activity. Most hotels give each housekeeper between 15 and 20 rooms each day. An occupied room should take no more than 15 minutes to complete and a check out should take no more than half an hour. This is often a difficult schedule to keep considering the state of some rooms. In hotels with large suites, a housekeeper may be given around 10 suites to complete each day. Suites often take much longer because of the additional amenities. Stoves, counters and refrigerators need to be cleaned. If a dishwasher is present, the housekeeper will often be required to load and unload any dishes. In a suite there are also usually several bedrooms and bathrooms, all requiring attention. Housekeepers must always stay conscious of the time of day. The typical hotel check-out time is 11 a.m. Vacated rooms need to be cleaned as soon as possible to be ready for the usual 3 p.m. check-in time. Most housekeepers have a set area in the hotel for which they are responsible. This means that they are not assigned an equal number of occupied rooms and check-outs each day. Some days can be very easy, with all rooms occupied. However, some days--especially weekends--can be extremely difficult when nearly every room is a check-out.
Though the typical housekeeper is responsible for a number of hotel rooms, there are many other important roles in the housekeeping team at most hotels. In large hotels, there is usually a houseperson for each floor or section. This person is responsible for emptying the dirty linens and trash in housekeepers' carts and refilling their towels and amenities when needed. In some locations it is not possible for each housekeeper to empty and his cart throughout the day, so the houseperson is essential and makes his rounds continually, at least once an hour. The houseperson is also responsible for vacuuming hallways, dusting banisters and woodwork and cleaning any common areas on the floor. Another member of the housekeeping staff is usually assigned to the lobby area. In large hotels this can include the check-in area, pool, fitness center, childcare center, laundry facility and a variety of other areas. Lobby housekeepers usually make their rounds through these areas several times throughout the day. If a guest calls for special amenities such as a microwave or crib, or other items that are not typically left in the room such a toothbrush, sewing kit or matches, these are often provided by another hardworking member of the housekeeping staff, sometimes called a runner. Hotels with minibars and turn-down service usually leave these specific tasks to separate members of the staff as well.
When staying in any hotel, it is considered polite to tip the housekeeper. If you decline service for most or all of your stay your tip can be significantly less, but you should still keep in mind that the housekeeper prepared the room before you arrived, and will need to turn it over after you leave. For guests who receive service every day, a typical tip is two or three dollars per day. You can leave this tip daily or in a lump sum when you check out. The tip should be in bills, not change. For the housekeeper to be sure that the tip is intended for them, it should be left in a conspicuous place such as on the pillow. You may also want to leave a note with it. If you are only leaving a tip when you check out it can be left most anywhere and the housekeeper will assume that it is intended for them. Either method will work, but leaving a small tip daily will often let the housekeeper know that you are a considerate guest and may earn a few special touches.
Mandi Rogier is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about a wide range of topics. As a previous employee of Walt Disney World, she enjoys writing travel articles that make use of her extensive knowledge of Orlando theme parks.