The pandemic keeps impacting hotel operations in many ways but staffing may be the hardest hit right now. While that issue impacts all of a hotel's operations, it is definitely impacting the laundry operations on properties large and small.
“Despite progress, the emergence of the delta variant and increased numbers have made recovery slow and kept properties from ramping up staffing,” said Steve Bowie, GM of the on-premises laundry segment for Alliance Laundry Systems. “Many on-premises laundries are continuing to work with smaller crews.”
Guests increasingly want assurances their rooms and linens are as clean as possible, which means back-of-house activities have become a front-and-center focus, Bowie continued.
But additional changes hoteliers have made with their laundry services really depend on the size and class of the hotel, said Joe Fleming, national sales manager at Yamamoto North America. “To avoid any unnecessary/additional exposure between guests and staff, many hotels have opted to pause replacement services for room linens in rooms occupied by ‘stay over’ guests,” he said. So rather than a daily housekeeping visit that would require a housekeeper to enter the room to collect and replace linens and remake beds, they leave the guest with a set amount of linens and only replace if requested at some point during the stay.
Some hotels have adjusted wash temperatures higher in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, and dirty linens are bagged/contained in the guestroom to eliminate excess contact while being transported, Fleming said. Some hotels have implemented ozone treatment into their washing process to add an extra layer of protection to their sanitation processes.
“Automation is rapidly getting more popular for several reasons but mostly because of two factors,” Fleming said. “First, machines like towel folders or sheet ironers pay for themselves by replacing the need for laundry staff. Second, they are more readily available than finding quality staff for hire.”
In many cases, Fleming said automation is the best answer to lessening the strain on facilities that are hurting due to decreased number of staff during the pandemic. “Innovations in towel folders, roller sheet ironers and current laundry equipment can save hotels more money than the cost to purchase and install the equipment,” he said. “In the event the facility does not have the space or capital for that type of investment, my best recommendation is to find a way to adjust your processes so you can have another employee be multifaceted.”
For example, in many updated hotels that are smaller than average, Yamamoto is helping design laundry rooms that are quiet and placed near or behind front-desk offices. That way, night auditors or lobby attendants can help process loads during downtime, which might not be possible in busier hours, Fleming said.
Additional ways to ease the workload include leveraging delayed start capabilities to help operations stagger scheduling, Bowie said. “For instance, washer-extractors could be loaded before staff leaves for the day and programmed to start before the first person arrives the next morning,” he said. “The next person could then come in a bit later, when loads are wrapping up drying cycles.”
Managers should also look to maximize efficiency, Bowie said. While timing may not be great for upgrading to equipment with advanced features such as over-dry prevention, spray rinse and ultra-high G-force extraction (all features that reduce cycle times and help cut operating costs) small steps, such as ensuring machines are loaded to full capacity and reducing rewash percentages, also can help.
Yamamoto North America is helping design laundry rooms that are quiet and placed near or behind front-desk offices so night auditors or lobby attendants can help process loads during downtime. (Yamamoto North America)
How New Laundry Features are Helping Hoteliers
With decreased staff, hotels need to find ways to operate more efficiently. Hotel Management asked hotel laundry experts their advice on new features to help streamline laundry services. Bowie said laundry-management systems help increase visibility that processes are being followed and track overall efficiency. These systems also ensure processes that impact finished quality and hygienic results—both particularly important during COVID-19—are being followed with no shortcuts.
Also, Bowie said advanced features such as overdry prevention, spray rinse, and ultra-high G-force extraction all drive faster cycle times, which increases throughput and lowers labor costs.
Fleming said laundry system automation can alleviate stress on employees and can save on labor costs. Tighter controls and advanced programming also are beneficial because they prevent unnecessary use of utilities and also reduce linen wear and tear. Some units are connected to reporting systems that compare when the unit is in operation versus when it's not in use to show if you’re overbuilt for your needs or when to properly staff for busy times.
In the case of some equipment (but not all, Fleming warns), the lifespan of new equipment is significantly longer than what’s been used in the past. “We’ve also focused our design to be easy to regularly service to prevent expensive service calls and risk the chance of having a machine out of commission for an extended period of time,” he said.