Every year, when the rest of the workforce goes on vacation, housekeepers in India are confronted with their highest annual workload. Why? Because a combination of pleasant weather, religious beliefs and scheduled holidays conspire to make winter the Great Indian Wedding Season.
Across the country, in venues big and small, thousands of men and women – and their families – come together to celebrate the climactic event of their lives. Banquet halls are booked solid for months at a stretch. Luxurious properties that can host destination weddings need to be reserved at least a year in advance. Wedding decorators have consecutive sleepless nights – to deck up venues for the wedding. Catering companies shift into top gear, churning out delicacy after delicacy to feed guests with refined palates.
But who oversees and coordinates all this on the ground at the hotel? The housekeeper.
Prepping for a big wedding is a gargantuan task; prepping for a wedding seven nights (and days) a week is almost an impossible ask. The entire housekeeping team needs to work as a well-oiled unit, backed by careful planning, adequate procurement and smart deployment to achieve a super-quick turnaround time.
Veteran housekeepers know what to anticipate and prepare accordingly. Creating a pleasant, welcoming ambience in a hotel that is spotlessly clean at all times is just the baseline of what is expected of them. They must operate without being seen, make a difference without being noticed, and clear up after an hours-long event in a matter of minutes…before the decorators for the next event come knocking on their doors.
How do they do it? What tools do they use? What best practices have they distilled from their experience?
Three housekeepers of premier hotels – Papri Das, Director – Housekeeping, Le Meridien, New Delhi, Kritika Sharma, Executive Housekeeper, The Leela Palace, Udaipur and Ajay Dhar, Deputy Director of Services, Radisson Blu Hotel, Greater Noida – share their wisdom.
Planning, planning, planning
What is a wedding, if not meeting the needs of hundreds – if not thousands – of happy, hungry guests with a relatively small team? In this scenario, there is no such thing as too much planning – the only way to do more with less.
Duty rosters are prepared keeping occupancy levels in mind. Some weddings are day events where guests come, eat and leave; others are days-long affairs where the guests stay at the hotel and both banquet rooms and guest rooms are booked. The latter case especially demands a heightened level of preparation for both before and during the events. This is apart from building contingencies to meet special guest requests, which are in plenty at a time when they want to look and feel their best.
Procurement & costing
Generally, the months from November to March are the peak season for hoteliers. Hotels host thousands of guests every day; during wedding season, the load increases by as much as 40-50%. As Dhar explained, there are two kinds of spends that need to be made to meet heightened requirements:
“There is hardly any change in fixed costs like employee insurance premiums, training etc. But variable costs keep on changing with the change in occupancy and volume of business. This impacts our procurement of cleaning supplies and other products like flower arrangements, guest room amenities etc.”
Anticipating the increase, housekeepers place larger orders and collaborate with their suppliers to fulfill the increased demand. Orders are placed well in advance to give the supply chain enough time to deliver punctually. This is also the time when new cleaning equipment is procured, and existing equipment is repaired or sent for maintenance.
According to Das, “When the guests are staying at the property, consumables like bottled water, toilet rolls and tissue paper are used up at a rapid rate. Since we have prior information about the number of occupants in each room – as well as extra occupants – we can stock up in advance”.
Various jobs that are the responsibility of the housekeeping department are assigned either to hotel employees or contractual staff. Said Dhar: “During wedding season, the staffing numbers can increase dramatically by up to 25-30%, depending upon the volume of business during the season. It also depends upon the size and type of hotel. These numbers also fluctuate on a daily basis, depending upon the type and number of housekeeping tasks”.
Hence, manpower requirements are also calculated early on for all areas: guests floors, common areas and the laundry.
“Staff members are specially briefed to be careful while servicing wedding guests’ rooms”, said Das. “This is because wedding guests tend to have more luggage than usual. And with guests in party mood, they tend to get careless about their belongings. For safety reasons, wedding rooms are usually serviced only in the presence of guests or security.”
Alternatively, as Sharma said, flexi hours are instituted where the guest rooms are serviced while the guests are busy at the wedding events.
If occupancy demands, offs and leaves are canceled to meet the high workload during this period, with extended duty timings – an issue the hospitality industry must address as an unfair labour practice.
During the wedding
It is wishful thinking to believe that the staging areas of the wedding will remain as pristine as they were after being cleaned. Housekeeping teams are stationed at various critical points, and are also on the move to clean up spills almost as soon as they occur. Doing this discreetly without interrupting the function or drawing attention to oneself is a challenge that only the most experienced housekeepers can overcome.
Cleaning during an ongoing event is usually manual and depends on tools like a long-handled dustpan with a self-closing lid. At times, a part of the venue may need to be cordoned off temporarily.
Continuous cleaning helps maintain a state of cleanliness throughout the event and helps achieve a shorter turnaround time. A senior housekeeping manager may be stationed at the wedding venue to supervise throughout the event.
After the wedding
When the last dessert has been relished, the last photograph taken and the last guest has departed for their room or their home, what’s left can only be described as a mess. Restoring the venue and the rooms to normal is no mean task. “Not only does the amount of garbage increase, but we also have to take care of damages and pilferage”, said Das. “Extra manpower is deployed to clear each area. During wedding season, we normally have back-to-back events. One has to be extremely fast in having the venue ready for the next event. We also have to pull in teams from other areas, and multitask.”
Not to forget: “We also have an extensive team for horticulture and strict guidelines to maintain the green belt of the palace hotel. We ensure that our lawns are manicured in the smallest window available between two weddings”, said Sharma.
Room linen, F&B linen and the drapes used at the wedding venue are all liable to be stained. At such high-profile events, each stained item needs to be instantly replaced by a freshly laundered one. The turnover of linen during wedding season is almost industrial; it takes a round-the-clock effort to have enough clean linen in store for any eventuality, which can and will almost certainly happen.
Here are some ways housekeepers accomplish this:
- Laundry operation timings are usually modified to run extra cycles.
- In order to prepare F&B linen for day functions, extra wash cycles are run at night.
- The regular ironer and garment steamer are maintained in optimum condition.
- Dhar shared: “We have cut down on folding time by introducing a modern folding machine that can be operated by one employee, saving on the time and labour of numerous other workers. Our employees don’t have to lose precious time and energy on pre-sorting linen before folding it.”
According to Das, “Normally, all hotels use equipment like heavy duty vacuum cleaners and scrubbing and polishing machines. Night cleaning after a wedding is an extensive, exhaustive process. Once the wedding season is over or we get a breather between two events, shampooing and polishing work is done to spruce up the venue”.
With many wedding events being hosted in outdoor areas like lawns, cleaning them is a specialised task. “During wedding season, we use a magnetic sweeper twice a day across all lawns, to protect the greens as well as for our guests’ safety”, shared Sharma.
Dhar systemically broke down the machines, rolls and chemicals used at his hotel:
Vacuum cleaners and scrubbing & polishing machines for vacuuming, shampooing carpets, polishing floors and spray maintenance.
- Brushes & brooms are used to remove dust and dirt from a variety of surfaces like floors, walls, upholstery, clothes etc. The various types of brushes used are toilet brushes and deck scrubbers (used for cleaning large areas) and carpet brushes, upholstery brushes, feather brushes.
- Brooms are of three types: Hard brooms, soft brooms & wall brooms. Brushes and brooms are made up of bristles which if not stored properly, have a tendency to bend and flake.
- Dry and wet mops
- Cloths: Microfibre cloths, dusters, wiping sheets, dust sheets, chamois leather, scrim.
- Containers: Buckets, dustpans, dustbins, spray bottles, hand caddies)
- Carts and trolleys: Room attendants’ trolley, linen trolleys
- Disinfectant toilet cleaner
- Glass cleaner: Used to clean the glass of shower cubicles which have water marks
- Multipurpose cleaner: To clean various fixtures as well as floors. They are of great aid in the day to day cleaning process.
- Mild abrasives are used to remove stubborn stains from steel fixtures like taps, drawer handle, towel tray etc.