It could be the least sexy, but most necessary, job of any hotel operation. Every day, hundreds of pounds of linens and towels are stripped from beds, bathrooms and pool areas, finding their way into massive washing machines and dryers, and returned to storage closets or guestrooms. But as straightforward a process as it might appear, hotel laundry is surprisingly involved. Whether tackling the job in-house or outsourcing to an external service provider, the laundry business is far from a clean sweep.
The Case for Outsourcing
Broadly speaking, the larger, busier and more centrally located a hotel is, the more it can benefit from having its laundry handled by an external service provider. The smaller, quieter and more geographically remote a hotel is, the more sense it makes to tackle the stuff on-site.
The Fairmont Pacific Rim, a 377-room hotel in downtown Vancouver, employs Vancouver-based K-Bro Linen Systems to do its laundry and has done so since it opened five years ago. It’s a choice that makes sense for a busy property with an outdoor pool and a consistently high occupancy. Thanks to its proximity to other Fairmont properties, its purchasing power makes the choice even more sensible.
“The range of knowledge required to run laundry is very different than what’s required to run the [other elements of] a housekeeping operation,” says Elizabeth Hovey-Smith, Fairmont Pacific Rim’s director of Front Office and former executive housekeeper. It takes a specialist’s focus and expertise to operate a hotel’s massive laundry operation effectively, she believes. “You have to know how to make all the items perfect, follow the best procedures, ensure the longest lifetimes [of the fabric], apply the right treatments. You need a professional who knows laundry, but is also able to deal with everything else that’s part of housekeeping — and that’s very hard to find. They’re very different skillsets.”
More than that, she asserts outsourcing laundry is cheaper and relieves the hotel from having to manage not only the labour, but boilers, dryers and industrial-sized washing machines. “It’s fantastic that this isn’t something we have to worry about. We can focus on the needs of our guests,” she adds. Still, Hovey-Smith acknowledges challenges with this option, including filling out orders in advance of confirmed occupancy levels. Each week, the Fairmont’s head houseperson, assistant executive housekeeper or executive housekeeper predicts the volume of laundry it will generate based on its occupancy and submits an order to the laundry company. A truck visits twice a day, completing a morning pick-up and a second, smaller pick-up later in the day combined with a drop-off (typically items that were picked up the day before).
The laundry service picks up sheets, pillowcases, bath towels, robes, hand towels and face cloths — or, as goes the lingo, “linens and terry” — along with the odd specialty items such as cushion covers and drapes, which are dropped down a laundry chute and land on the housekeeping level during the course of the day. A housekeeping staffer rotates and moves them via a dedicated freight elevator to the loading dock. When the truck arrives, the bins are rolled onto it and driven to the plant. The bins are returned filled with clean, folded laundry and housekeepers deliver the contents to guest floors and re-stock the linen closets.
On average, the property sends out between 12,000 and 15,000 laundry pieces each week, depending on its occupancy. This breaks down to between 10 and 20 bins making the trip every day.
Roll Up Your Sleeves
The Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Woodstock, Ont., keeps two on-site washers and dryers pretty busy. “We took a look at the outsourcing option,” says GM Imran Meghani, “but because we’re in a remote area, delivery schedules were a bit of a concern.” Additionally, the recommended par levels (learn more about par levels in “Keeping Inventory” on p. 46) required for outsourcing would have added an expense. It’s cheaper overall, he believes, to do the work themselves.
Every year, the hotel spends between $10,000 and $12,000 to lease and operate the laundry equipment needed to service its 87 rooms and indoor pool operations. Its supplier agreement includes the provision of as-needed repair work and an ongoing schedule of preventative maintenance, an important factor for a property in a small town, says Meghani. As the equipment approaches its fifth year in use, “it’s reasonable to assume that we’re going to start seeing some issues with it.” Still, he doesn’t anticipate having to replace [the machines] for another 10 years.
During busy stretches (including wintertime visits from hockey teams taking advantage of the pool), the hotel’s laundry operations run nearly 24 hours a day for at least two days every week, and are staffed by one full-time and one part-time employee. Linens are changed as new guests come and go and, unless otherwise requested, every third day of a longer-term stay. A linen-reuse program encourages guests to be mindful of their carbon footprint and to reduce the call for linen and towel refreshments.
When tackling laundry in-house, it’s essential to provide proper employee training. “If the staff understands why towels run on the towel cycle and sheets on the sheet cycle, they understand the importance of not wasting water,” says Meghani. At his property, they’ve tweaked the training program as required and conduct regular health and safety meetings with staff. “If done properly, there shouldn’t be any concerns with an in-house [laundry operation],” he affirms.
Additionally, the Holiday Inn Express participates in IHG’s Green Engage program, which tracks water, electricity and gas consumption. The increased visibility of these stats spotlighted laundry-related wastefulness, says Meghani, who responded by running shorter cycles and using cold or warm, instead of hot water, lowering the hotel’s water consumption and energy costs by 40 per cent. “We can use less hot water without having to sacrifice fresh, soft linen,” he adds. “And if we’re not using as much hot water, we’re not using as much hydro or gas.”
Written By: Laura Pratt
Volume 27, Number 6