Photographs: Catherine Benson/Reuters Shalini Gupta
When Garima Nagpal decided to pursue a course in hotel management 25 years back, she joined IHM, Delhi, only to find four girls (including her) in a batch of 80 students. But she was determined.
A Front Office aspirant, the bespectacled Garima, was selected for accommodation management (also known as Housekeeping) during campus placement, much to her chagrin. Little did she know that it was the beginning of something she would do lifelong. Just three months into her training, she felt was in the right place.
Today, an Executive Housekeeper with The Imperial Delhi, she is credited with starting the house keeping operations at most of the prestigious hotels in India, thanks to a twist of fate.
The daily grind
Ever wondered who is responsible for that elaborate flower arrangement or those chic curtains or that spotless window or even that painting you couldn't help but admire in the lobby of a hotel?
Well, it is the Housekeeping staff. It is their duty to create a clean, comfortable and appealing environment in the hotel. As Nagpal puts it, "We create a home away from home, with a touch of luxury, keeping comfort in mind." The staff is expected to maintain standards of excellence in sanitation, comfort and aesthetics at the hotel, including rooms, public areas, corridors, patio and lawns.
They also need to follow standard operating procedures (SOP's) for cleaning and maintain an inventory of furniture, linen etc. For example, each hotel might have its own SOP on how to make a bed, which has to be strictly followed by its staff. A room attendant (the smallest unit of the staff ) might have to work on up to 20 SOPs in a day. However, Housekeeping is not just about religiously following SOP's.
"Every day, it is up to us to do the same thing differently, so as to make every guest feel special and cared for," says Amandeep Kaur, Assistant Manager, Housekeeping, at ITC Sheraton, New Delhi.
Students with a degree in hotel management typically join as supervisors who are responsible for organising, assigning and coordinating the work of the room attendants. After a few years they might be promoted as Assistant Managers, several of whom are supervised by Deputy Managers. Supervisors who perform well are promoted to executives to be trained under Assistant Managers. Finally, every hotel has an executive housekeeper who oversees the entire operations.
If the hotel is a huge group, there might be a corporate housekeeper as well, overseeing several executive housekeepers across different locations. At the managerial level, one also needs to handle and groom contractual staff such as cleaners and other manual labourers, look at induction of new employees, motivate and counsel staff and supervise their discipline and conduct while ensuring proper communication amongst them. Meetings are conducted early morning to brief the staff on their duties for the day and also to resolve any outstanding issues.
What you need to make the cutFirst and foremost, start from scratch. Most of the youngsters today aspire to be executive housekeepers, but they need to understand and be adept at the nitty-gritty of the job first. "If you know how to scrub a tub, you would make a better manager, as you will not only respect your subordinates, but also know what to expect from them," says Garima.
People-friendliness is also important, since the endeavour is to make every guest feel special. You need to be able to feel the pulse of your guests and gauge what they would need intuitively, says Amandeep. For example, when a German guest at the hotel mentioned how he loved the feather pillows at home, she immediately got them arranged, much to his surprise.
An eye for detail
You need to go that extra mile and not just stick to what is expected of you. And for that you have to have a passion for the work. Acute observation skills help, adds Balbir Singh, Executive Housekeeper at the Best Western The Pride, Pune. A knack for creativity is a plus, be it deciding the flower arrangement, the decor ofthe lounge area, or the upholstery.
High on growth
Housekeeping is one the fastest growing in the service sector. Growth is performance-based and chances of a new trainee heading the department in a few years is much higher a compared to others. Garima was the youngest Executive Housekeeper at the age of 28, working at the Oberoi, Delhi back in the early 80s. Amandeep Kaur is working as an Assistant Manager with ITC Sheraton Delhi, with seven years of experience behind her.
"The smartest ladies in the hotel industry are in Housekeeping," she says. For long a female bastion, men are also opting for Housekeeping. Although growth is fast, pay at the entry level is not as lucrative. A room attendant might start from around Rs. 10,000 per month, while a supervisor might get up to Rs 16,000 per month. The pay only rises as one rises up the ranks and may vary from luxury hotels to budget hotels to hospitals and company guest houses.
Challenging, yet satisfying
The biggest high is that of a job well done, an unparalleled sense of satisfaction and achievement when a guest appreciates your work, or leaves a note behind saying he would to like to visit again. It might require you to do things that might seem to ridiculous to an outsider, like searching for a guest's lost comb, but there's nothing that is more gratifying than a satisfied customer at the end of the day, opines Amandeep. As for the challenges, Balbir Singh, puts it best. "When the occupancy in a hotel or an office guest house goes up, it becomes a challenge to manage guests, and if we have very few guests, then the challenge for Housekeeping is how to generate more footfalls."
Rupali Chauhan is a bright third year student at IHM, Delhi, who is one of the few shortlisted by The Oberoi hotels for their upcoming management training programme. She was as clueless as a young Garima when she set her foot in the campus. But now, after three years into her programme, going by her soaring confidence and positive attitude, the story might be altogether different a few years later. Clearly, Housekeeping is for the go-getters.