how do hotels work?

Sitting in a hotel last night, i started wondering… They have all these signs that say that for environmental reasons, they won’t wash your towel unless you ask. But does it really matter that much? I probably don’t want to know how frequently they wash the bedspread, but i assume that they wash the sheets after each person. I wonder how long people stay in a hotel continuously on average; i’m doing an amazing job of 1 night here and 1 night there.

Back to washing.. do they wash the towels that are still folded? Do they wash the robe if it’s still on the hanger? What about the little bathroom supplies? If you unwrapped the soap and used it, they clearly don’t give it to someone else. But where does it go? Trash? (I personally took the rest of my soap from last night because it was far nicer than the cheap stuff i have at home and i figured they weren’t going to reuse my used soap.) What happens to stuff as it ages? Do they throw away less-than-perfect bedspreads? Or what about the furniture as it rips? (I’m thinking fantsy schmantzy hotels here not Motel 8 which doesn’t care about the rips.)

For all the time that i spend in hotels, i realize that i have no idea how they work…

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15 thoughts on “how do hotels work?

  1. Angela

    In some cases, you probably don’t want to know given the abysmal pay and conditions of housekeeping staff. I really try not to think about how often they wash the bedspreads or clean the nozzles on spa baths. Leaving towels and robes on the floor is the universal sign for “wash me”. Folded things don’t get washed. As for robes…now that’s something to think about. Half-used toiletries are binned. Hotels that are being refurbished sell off or giveaway the old furniture and electrical appliances to employees and their friends; sometimes they will be sent to auction houses or the tip. In my student days, I thrifted a very cheap TV and a bar fridge thanks to a major hotel chain. Furniture and other broken things are often stored in the hotel’s carpark. It pays to ask if you think their trash could be your treasure.

  2. J.D. Falk

    There’s a place in Oakland (you’ll see it from 880 with their sign reading “SOFA & LOVE $499” or whatever the current price is) that sells used hotel furniture. Really scary, awful stuff.

  3. the hod

    crikey, I actually looked at your blog… and realised there’s an answer. Hotels are frequenlty explicit about it. Loads of hotels leave you little notes saying “we care about the environment and don’t want to wash too much, leave towels you want washed on the bed and ones you don’t need washed hung up in the bathroom.” Of course, they couldn’t give a flying f about the environment and just want to save on their Lever Bros purchase orders. Yet this happy coincidence of hippy and capitalists behaviours does encourage us to be less of a lazy slob in our hotel rooms.

    PS soap is definitely included in the price

  4. Michael

    Coming from a person who does housekeeping at a 4 Seasons resort, I know from experience the general things in this post.(this will all fit at the place I work at only, overlap is possible though).

    Ones that are not used at all get held over, ones that are used, get taken out and replaced. If they’re in sub-par condition, we don’t use them and get one in better condition. This includes stains, frays, and tears. We put fresh towels and wash clothes at the foot of the bed for each person that can fit on the bed(max of 2).

    If not used, they’re kept. If they’re open, used, tampered with, etc, they’re replaced.

    If bed was used or even looks like it was used but the guest put it back together, we strip the bed of the sheets and put fresh ones on each time. Torn, stained, bad condition ones don’t get used.

    Shower heads and bathroom fixtures SHOULD be getting washed regularly and if not, we get to have a big talk with the managers.

    We don’t provide robes.

    All towels, wash clothes, bed sheets, pillow cases, hand towels, etc get taken each wednesday and cleaned by the company that provides them.
    I have to admit that the bedspreads don’t get washed as often as they should, but we’re looking to do that during the slow part of the winter. We only wash them in the summer if they get extremely dirty(ex. pee’d on). Tragically we don’t get to wash them very often in the summer time because we’re so busy with guests coming in and out, and we don’t have spares.

  5. Ben Metcalfe

    During my days with my former employer, I spent a fair amount of time in hotels – both upmarket (hmmm: Grand Hyatt, LA) and dingy (grrr: Hotel Pereire, Paris).

    The thing that kept me awake at night was wondering what kind of stuff had gone on in the room before me.

    We’re all adults, so one of the things that would go through my mind was sex – esp the more upmarket hotels in places like LA and San Francisco.

    What kind of deprived acts had taken place on the very bed I was now about to sleep in? And as you pointed out, on the bed spread at the foot of my bed. There are enough pornos out there filmed in up-market hotel rooms (er, so I’ve been told).

    But also non-sex stuff. Drug taking, gambling, people getting beaten up, smelly people, people wetting the bed, etc. I know, the mind wonders when you’re alone, bored and in a foreign place.

    I find most hotels tend to be awful for those reasons – and the more money you’re spending just makes that worse in many ways.

    Traveling is anything but glamorous.

  6. Bertil

    I know from a interview with a big consulting firm (McKenzy, BCG or Bain) that:
    – tiny soaps are cheap because the market very similar to a monopsony (one client, many providers): most hotels more or less agree on what should be the price, some have puchase-pooling contracts; therefore their are little savings to be made there, and they assume hotel-dwellers consider getting the soap part of the whole experience: I can’t remember the stats (that are very easy to get from the hotel supplies) but it’s striking; if there are left, most hotel replace them for standings, however, they would be too expensive to refurbish, recycle or anything — so they are thrown away (so much for the eco-friendly hotel);
    – washing is different and there are savings to be made there, but people tend to be pickier about towels, or careless: inventing that “international convention” and binding it to the environement was an interesting approach to suit and discipline them in the same time;
    – robes are even more expensive to wash, and their probably won’t, unless it is clearly needing it;
    – you are making the wrong assumption that such great sheets can make decent second-order sheet when torn-out: any sheet, once it has done its time, is useless — a hole is a hole, and their is no “second tier period”. You can recycle it, but that’s all.

    Furniture is discretely auctionned elsewhere.

    Anyway, if you need details about upscale hotels, I live 15, 35 and 50 m away from the fanciest hotels in Paris; I can pretend to be an eco-journalist and ask them.

    And of course, a classical on that matter:

  7. Rady

    I used to work as guest services in a Marriott in Florida. We were also the runners and would take people odds and ends like soap, shaving cream etc. They would have the stuff by the crate-load in the back on palates. If it gets opened it gets replaced. I will say the first thing I do now when I travel for business is take the comforter off of the bed!

  8. Jamie

    “Wir sparen wasser fur ein besser Welt.”

    I lived in a hotel in Zurich for a year, and this was my favorite sign, well, that and little tuchie guy who floated on a vent of hot air from the loo.

    (no, seriously… this was part of the instructions for the toilet.

    That sounds pretty lame now that I’ve written it, but hey jumping between Europe and the States every other week for a year will give you a new perspective on jet lag. You’ll be amazed at what becomes interesting when you no longer know whether you are in Time Zone X or Y (or alive or dead).

    In any case, I always thought the towel thing was just a big joke. A money saver for the hotel.

    It’s a little like drinking with a straw at a restaurant… I do not labor under the mistaken idea that the inside of the glass is somehow cleaner than the outside.

  9. Matthew Stadler

    These are such interesting questions. The most far-reaching exploration of hotels – both their mechanics and their broader meanings – that I have read is Wayne Koestenbaum’s forthcoming book HOTEL THEORY. It is, as are all of Wayne’s books, hilarious, gripping and bristling with intelligence. I think Soft Skull Press is publishing it in May.

  10. Joe Hunkins

    Danah – I think the environmental claims are not very significant and basically a pretense for less cost, but DO leave a NICE TIP for the housekeepers who work very hard at hotels, typically for low pay. I get upset to often hear well-heeled and soon-to-be-well-heeled technology folks take service worker folks for granted, treat them poorly, leave no tips, etc, etc. (present company excluded).

    Ben – you are a brilliant guy, but after that hotel reverie I think I might need to cross you off the list for marketing my travel blogging project!

  11. School

    There’s a place in Oakland (you’ll see it from 880 with their sign reading “SOFA & LOVE $499” or whatever the current price is) that sells used hotel furniture. Really scary, awful stuff.

    Posted by J.D. Falk | November 30, 2006 5:24 PM

  12. Sarah Mencshelyi

    I have worked in Hotels for 7 years now.

    Only 4 & 5 star and housekeeping in the hotels i have worked have been very particular on their tasks, they are required to replace everything that is used within the hotel room.

    Housekeepers are paid to do the work they do, they do have allocated times to clean rooms but they must do a good job, all hotel managers generally inspect their cleanig skills somethime weekly even daily so they must keep them clean.

    Hope this helps.

  13. Sherri

    In response to the last post above (March 24, 2007 04:52).

    When you say “they are required to replace everything that is used within the hotel room”, does that include the comforters too?

  14. theresnoplacelikehome

    While laying in an expensive hotel last night with my head laying on the pillow, I thought about people who slobber, and was wishing and hoping, and praying that they too wash pillows. I know that they don’t but It doesn’t hurt to wish 😉

    My sister in law works for a hotel, and I know that they do not wash the bedspreads. EWWW…think of the people who have sex on top of the bedspread, and then you come the next night, and lay at the foot of the bed watching T.V..EWWWWW..

    I’m just glad I’m home. 🙂

  15. CKarl

    I work at a Hilton Hotel and I can tell you that we wash everything after the person checks out. Including the comforters, Pillows, towels, everything!

    You do get what you pay for.

    The key to a clean hotel is to hire an Excellent Executive Housekeeper who knows her stuff, speaks english and isnt afraid to discapline the housekeepers when they slack.

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