OPL 101: Structured Hotel Laundry Processes Key to Quality Guest Experience

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Bill Brooks |

Create structured processes, with built-in flexibility to adapt to changes, says author

RIPON, Wis. — For all the back-of-the-house talk, our industry is far from an afterthought in any segment it serves, and definitely not in the hospitality market. 

In the world of fire service, our equipment is being trusted to care for firefighters’ most important protective gear. While they may not be as flashy as fire trucks, laundry machines are far from firehouse afterthoughts. What happens in the laundry resonates well beyond. Process and equipment matter.

In the world of long-term care, hospitals and even vet clinics, laundry machines take the lead role in helping prevent the spread of dangerous infections and germs. Again, the washer-extractors and tumble dryers may not be front and center, but their results will be felt throughout the facility. Process and equipment matter.

And then there’s the world of hospitality. Compared to the examples above, it is much simpler to use the back-of-the-house tag here. But it is a mistake to minimize the importance of laundry equipment and processes here. 

WHY PROCESSES, EQUIPMENT MATTER

Today’s hotels are offering more amenities than ever before. Food and beverage continues to be an important revenue generator for many properties, while pools, spas and workout rooms all contribute to the guest experience.

However, laundry staff and the processes they utilize are as important as the front-desk person or restaurant employees. A stretch you say? It doesn’t matter if you are a five-star hotel, limited-service property or even a bed-and-breakfast. The root of what each of these businesses is offering is quite simply a bed, a place to spend the night.

So, the question is simple: Will a fantastic check-in experience, wonderful meal and relaxing spa treatment be enough to counter towels that are harsh to the touch or bed linens that are stained or poorly finished? Doubtful. Few things can reduce a guest’s opinion of a property faster than the quality of the linen. Think of your worst hotel stay—I’m guessing dirty or poor-quality linens are part of that memory.

Laundry processes matter.

TAILOR YOUR APPROACH

The first step in establishing proper laundry processes in the hospitality business (and most others) is building open lines of communication with the key stakeholders. Management needs to have a clear picture of what the manufacturer of the linens recommends for handling the pieces. Linen replacement is no small expenditure, so it’s obviously important to adhere to their recommendations to ensure maximum linen life.

From there, it’s all about looping in your chemical company representative and laundry equipment distributor to dial-in the cycle specifics. In addition to the chemical input, clean results center on three variables: time, temperature and wash action. By employing a team approach and good communication, all parties should be able to agree on a wash formula that delivers the best care for linens.

In establishing these processes, laundry managers often uncover gaps in the operation. Does the washer-extractor have the programming flexibility to tailor cycles? Is the laundry as a whole set up for the increased demands? 

For instance, moving toward higher-thread-count sheets means higher water retention in the fabric. Low-G-force washers that might have been adequate in the past may not spin out fast enough, thus extending dry times significantly. This process gap could be exacerbated by old, inefficient tumble dryers. The process review also may uncover the need for an ironer, or that linens require a different residual-moisture level to condition better on the shelf.

TRAINING

Your hotel laundry has the right equipment set-up and processes that will deliver the premium results guests expect. Are those processes well-articulated to staff? Training is where processes are established, but some operations slip up due to not giving it adequate attention. Managers have to commit to establishing an adequate new-employee training procedure and double-check that staff (if they aren’t the one doing the training) is hitting all the key process points.

While much of that process is rigid, operations will see changes. Going back to the new-linen-package example, if new linens require new cycles, methods of handling, etc., part of the management process is to brief all staff on the changes. Staff needs to understand that a new linen package may come with new laundering procedures. Communication is key.

PROCESS REVIEW

Things appear to be running well. But how do you know? This is where a laundry management system can help supervisors identify where employees might need additional training or just flat out aren’t following processes.

One area on-premises laundry employees have often struggled with is fully utilizing the capacity of machines. If a supervisor isn’t there to see the action, they can’t really seize the opportunity to retrain staff members. A laundry management system is one of the biggest checks on process. 

In one example I have observed, a hotel was seeing washer-extractors registering a high percentage of out-of-balance loads. Armed with the data, management was able to investigate and see that staff was significantly underloading the 160-pound washers. Without the report, management may not have known a process problem existed. 

It’s important that staff understand how shortcuts or veering from process impacts quality. For instance, fast-forwarding a cycle can lead to residual chemical being left in linens. Once dried, the chemical gets baked into linens and creates a coarse feel and discoloration. They should know that underloading wastes chemicals and exposes linens to overdosing. Overdrying of loads contributes to linens wearing out prematurely.

Staff should be trained to wash like items and to separate according to soil level. This process helps reduce the reject rate, which is roughly 3-5% nationally. 

The bottom line is process isn’t something that is implemented and put on autopilot. Managers should adapt new processes to meet any changes in linens or equipment. They should communicate regularly and identify data points within laundry management systems that are opportunities to have process discussions with staff.

What employees might see as small, insignificant process changes on their end could have far-reaching consequences in quality that guests see. Again, communication and process go hand-in-hand.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Consumers today scarcely buy a product or visit a restaurant without first looking at online reviews. They most definitely are not going to stay in a hotel without first consulting an online rating and reading comments, often in a variety of locations.

When it comes to these reviews and ratings, everything is important. However, the centerpiece of every stay is the bed and linens. Nothing can ruin a guest’s stay faster than poor finished quality of linens. No doubt, a lackluster guest experience will deliver an equally poor review. 

This gives the consumer great power to shape the success of a hotel. It also underscores the need for consistency in the laundry, and consistency is rooted in processes. Managers need to take a thoughtful approach to not only what processes they adopt, but also reinforce them through continuous communications and utilize available technologies that help ensure they are being followed.

By creating structured processes and building in flexibility to adapt to changes in equipment and linens, laundry managers can put their department on the best footing possible to deliver quality—the type of quality that brings glowing online reviews. Process matters.

About the author

Bill Brooks

UniMac

National Sales Manager

Bill Brooks is the national sales manager for UniMac, a provider of on-premises laundry equipment. He can be reached at bill.brooks@alliancels.com or 920-748-4437.

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