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Flatwork Finishing Defines Hotel Quality

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Photo: © iStockphoto/Todd McLean

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. — In the hospitality business, flatwork finishing truly communicates a level of quality, in both rooms and food-and-beverage services. Competition continues to be a central theme in operating a profitable hotel property. In that competitive environment, discerning customers look for flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi and linen quality in a well-dressed hotel room.

My consulting practice offers interaction with hotel operators of many different types of properties. From roadside family operations to chic boutique and full-service resorts, linen quality oftentimes defines the level of quality and service in the hospitality industry. The big divider is whether or not the bed and F&B linen is ironed.

Not unlike the hospitality business, laundry and linen service options have changed and then changed back over the last several decades. Older boutique properties often have little back-of-the-house square footage, and no room for an ironer. The 100% cotton bed linen of the day when these properties were originally built was likely sent out to a full-service commercial laundry. 

The pre-permanent press commercial laundries utilized a hand-fed “mangle” for flatwork finishing. Before the advent of spreader-feeders and appropriate safety devices, there was a reason why ironers were referred to as mangles. It is true but unsettling to recall the origins of the flatwork ironer nickname. Possibly by referring to the machine as a mangle, operators were reminded of the need to be careful when feeding the machine.

With the advent of wash-and-dry fabrics, much of the hospitality industry abandoned outside linen services in the 1970s. Although larger properties often featured a laundry room adjacent to housekeeping in a remote corner of the property, it would not be unusual for a small hotel to require the night clerk to also pull laundry duty with machines located in a room behind the front desk. On-premise wash and dry significantly reduced costs compared to commercial laundry services.

Competition, however, has a way of changing things. How about a pillow-top bed that requires a super king-sized sheet?  How about 400-thread-count, 100% cotton linen? How about duvet covers on all the beds?

Flatwork finishing in the hospitality industry is back. As competition continues to be strong, senior managers have sought ways to differentiate their properties in areas of quality. Linen quality and finish is now a major benchmark. Although many successful business-class properties continue to prosper with wash-and-fold operations, full-service and coveted four-star designations require quality that can only come from ironed bed and F&B linen.

Processing volume for high-end hospitality flatwork is currently divided between OPL operations and mostly local commercial laundries. Although laundry services are not their core businesses, many hotel operators prefer to operate on-premise operations, in order to better control quality and reduce inventory requirements.

The Wyndham Orlando Resort operates an OPL at this popular conference resort destination. Dave Falzarano, director of rooms, says that providing ironed rooms linen increases the cleanliness of the rooms. Wyndham also dresses every bed with duvet covers; duvets in all the rooms are a brand standard. “Our duvets are washed and ironed after every guest, improving the quality and cleanliness of the room,” Falzarano says.

Besides improving quality, Falzarano believes the in-house ironing line actually reduces processing costs. “The machine automation does the work faster and better than if we dried the flatwork in a dryer and folded by hand,” he explains. “Although the original equipment purchase was significant, over time, flatwork finishing automation yields higher revenue.”

In addition to controlling quality, the on-premise laundry can reduce the cost of inventory. Given the time required to transport and process goods off-site, the average property will need to increase its par level by 1.5 to meet a similar level of service. High-end rooms linen can run several hundred dollars per room set. The added cost of increased par linen inventory in a 500-room property can easily exceed $200,000 per year.

The advantage of a professional outside linen service is just that—it is professional. Many facilities have spent the big bucks to operate the latest in automation and energy-efficient equipment. It is extremely difficult for an on-premise laundry to compete with the economies of scale and level of competence provided by well-managed linen service suppliers.

The lowest cost for linen service can vary between OPL and linen service. Linen services have the added expense of transportation. Depending on your delivery requirements, these charges can be significant. Plus, everybody needs to make a profit.

Many professional linen service providers, however, are dramatically more efficient than most on-premise hospitality operators.

It is difficult for many hospitality operations to accurately determine their linen processing costs. True costs not only include direct utilities, chemicals, maintenance and direct labor, but also the costs for heat and air, supervision, insurance, and the value of an alternate use of the space.

Whether linen is processed on-premise or off-site, quality is a major indicator of the overall quality of any hotel property.

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