How a few minutes add up to big dollars.
by Ray Terry

Having spent my adult life in the hospitality industry, I am still amazed that the more things change, the more they really stay the same. In this high tech age, the basic tenets of profit and loss are no different from when I first began as a management trainee.

I have reviewed many hotel profit and loss statements over the years covering full-service, limited-service and extended-stay operations. On average I found that about 70 percent of all controllable expenses were directly related to labor costs. In nearly all cases, housekeeping labor and room cleaning time provide the greatest money-saving opportunities.

To put it into perspective, a hotel with 130 rooms and a 70 percent annualized occupancy, paying an average room attendant wage of $7.50 per hour with a 25 percent tax and benefit cost would save $20,759 a year by reducing their room cleaning time four minutes. You can do the math to determine the ultimate value of that savings when a cap rate is applied for purposes of valuing a hotel. There are numerous variables that would have to be applied in each individual situation including wages, benefits and contracted labor.

When I first began my career, most hotel rooms were similar in nature and it was accepted that it took 30 minutes to clean a room. Because the hotel industry has experienced multiple downturns in business over the years, the result is the need to reduce operating costs, promoting the creation of efficiency-based, lofty goals. Today, I would consider a 26-minute labor standard, or expectations set for housekeeping attendants, a typical target time for that same room. More aggressive operators have reduced the labor standard time even further. Multiple factors can increase or decrease the labor standard including room engineering, customer base, length of stay and even some of the new brand standards for bed linens. In any case, determine a reasonable time and set up a plan to realize it.

Some might argue that reducing labor standards to a 26-minute or less constrained timeline creates too much stress and workload on the room attendant. Others might say the room cleanliness will suffer. This cannot be farther from the truth.

Invariably, poor room cleaning times are due to inefficiency and wasted time.

If you don’t think so, go into your hotels and just observe what happens in a typical day.

Here are a couple of things to consider:
Average Day — Start-to-Finish for Housekeeping Labor:
When a room attendant reports to work, this person should be able to punch the clock, get his/her room assignments, pick up his/her cart and head to the room. Small talk, delayed room assignments by management and non-stocked carts can put a housekeeping attendant behind before he/she even gets started. When taking breaks, the times and locations should be coordinated to keep an attendant’s breaks within the intended length of time. Upon completion of the last room, attendants should immediately report back to housekeeping and leave for the day.

Wasted Steps: The difference in time management between a room attendant who has proper training versus one who has not can be dramatic. Simply stand back and watch how many times some attendants will go back and forth between the cleaning cart and the room. You often train your people how to use a cleaning product, but how much time do you spend “choreographing” the actual cleaning process? Many of you may be familiar with the “once around” method of making a bed, but how many actually expand the process by reducing the trips between the room and cart?

Specifically, what can you do to eliminate the inefficiency and wasted time and reduce labor costs?

Consider the following helpful hints:
1) Ensure room forecasting is accurate and that labor standards are utilized in scheduling.
2) Keep store rooms and linen closets adequately stocked.
3) Supply cleaning carts the night before or in the morning prior to the room attendants’ arrival. One person can handle the process to save time and ensure consistent replenishing of the cart’s stock.
4) Stagger arrival time of room attendants based on customer base or departure patterns (i.e., corporate versus transient or weekday versus weekend).
5) Develop a company policy and handbook to train attendants on the sequence of steps to be followed when cleaning a guest room.
6) Develop a plan to restock carts during the day around staffing levels, break periods and linen room locations.
7) Cleaning time must be tracked on a daily basis. Remember that times will vary according to customer base, checkouts versus stay-overs and single versus multiple occupancy. Labor standards are based on an average time.
8) Compare cleaning time between attendants to determine where additional training is necessary.
9) Do not get caught in the trap of having inadequate linen inventory. In the end, there is no cost savings on the linen and doing same-day linen will drive up labor costs.
10) Do not be afraid to set up an incentive plan for your management team and attendants for helping achieve your goal. It is money well spent.
11) Give some thought to one of the conservation programs promoted to the guest as an elective way to assist the environment. Most entail a limited linen exchange versus a full change. Owners who aggressively promote the plan have been able to reduce cleaning time as well as chemicals and utilities.

While this might seem like a lot of work, it is simply a matter of investing a little time on the front end to set up some guidelines and procedures for the long term. There are numerous companies and hotels today that operate at a high level of efficiency. Keep one simple thought in mind: good labor cost makes for a good profit and loss statement!!                                 ALB

Ray Terry is the president of Orange Beach, Ala.-based Ray Terry Company, Inc., a hotel consulting service. He can be reached at 251-981-4520 or

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