Last September, I spoke with Lonny Wolfe, one of the greatest advocates for housekeepers in hospitality today, about the labor shortage, housekeeping, and digital tipping.
As hotels continue to struggle with housekeeper shortages as they begin the new year, I thought I would post our conversation here.
⬇️Listen to the conversation or read our conversation below.⬇️
Lonny Wolfe: I see housekeepers get great tips when the properties are super elevated in cleanliness hygiene, safety, and presentation.
Jason: We are celebrating International Housekeeping and Environmental Services Week. And my special guest is Lonny Wolf with the Art of Housekeeping coming to us from Ocean Ridge, Florida. How are you?
Lonny Wolfe: Good morning. How are you, Jason? Great to see you.
Jason: I’m good, thank you. In your words, what is the state of housekeeping post-pandemic?
Lonny Wolfe: Depends on the property, depends on who’s running the property, depends on how they treat their staff. But overall, it’s not great. You’ll hear different opinions from different people. It’s all about who’s up here. And, I mean, you’ve got a lot of brand properties and non-brand properties.
I’ll start with a brand property. They’re run by an asset management company. How are they executing in what they do? How are they thanking their team? How are they working with their team? How are they providing the tools for the team, how they rewarding the team going forward? There’s not a lot of that. I’ve gone to so many big brand properties, and they’re just treated so poorly with zero respect.
There’s only one hotelier I know out there. If you asked him the question post-pandemic, during this time, he didn’t lose any of his employees, and his name is Harris Rosen from Rosen Hotels and Resorts in Orlando. It’s the way he treated his people, it’s how he respected his people, it’s how he paid his people and everything that he did going forward. And no one left during the pandemic. If anything, people wanted to join his organization. It’s all about ROI, rate of investment on your team, and then it can be in housekeeping, food and beverage engineering, anything within the environment. So it’s what you make of it. It’s thinking outside the box to make it work.
Jason: So what can hotels do to attract maybe new talent to housekeeping, if not bring back the people who left during the pandemic?
Lonny Wolfe: Well, for starters, better training and communication are key. You bring in a housekeeper and say, “Good morning, nice to see you.” “Here you go, I’m giving you 20 rooms.” It doesn’t work that way. You want to train them, you want to understand them. You want to do most time-motion studies of the property, so you’re not overloading them.
There’s a lot of things you can do for your housekeepers, such as a rewards program. You can do Employee of the Month. You can acknowledge and celebrate your team’s birthdays, outings, monthly increase in salary based on great performance, and the reviews that come in on the OTAs.
Again, it’s thinking outside the box. If I was to open a new property tomorrow, I don’t think I’d have any problems hiring housekeepers because it’s the art of delivery. It’s the excellence of your communication. It’s how you treat your team.
As an example before COVID, I’ll take COVID out of the question. The talk is in seven years. I had zero turnover in housekeeping because I thank the team when they arrived, I thanked them for what they did the day prior, and I’m going to thank them for what they’re going to do today because every day, we must end with a win. And that big word thank you worked zero turnover in seven years, even during COVID.
Jason: No turnover. Wow. That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Because that’s a hard job.
Lonny Wolfe: I challenge all general managers and ownership, spend a life in housekeeping, not just for a day, but do it for a week or two weeks and see exactly what they do each and every day. It’s the heartbeat within the industry, and it is a super hard job, especially when you don’t do time-motion studies for a property, and you turn around and go, okay, Jason, here we go. I’m giving you 30 rooms today. You can’t accomplish 30 rooms properly. You can’t even do 30 rooms in a day based on an average of under 300 sqft. It doesn’t work. It doesn’t happen.
You got to know your team. You got to know your property. You got to know what works.
Jason: So what about tips? What role do you think tips play in the housekeeping realm these days? I mean, it’s still important, right?
Lonny Wolfe: Absolutely. It’s like going to a restaurant. You finished dining; you had a great experience, you tip well. If you didn’t have a great experience, people aren’t going to tip.
It happens in housekeeping. If you go to a property that’s from the moment you arrive, the presentation is nasty; everything’s dirty. You arrive, you go through the doors, and it smells. The windows are dirty; the carpets are filthy, the people at the front desk don’t engage with you properly. You take the lift up to your room. The room is not presented in any way, shape, or form beautifully. You’re not going to get a tip, or you’ll get nothing.
When you have a property that’s cleanliness, safety, and presentation to include everything in the guest experience, if there’s cashless tipping, digital, if there’s an envelope or people will just leave it on a table on the bed.
I see housekeepers get great tips when the properties are super elevated in cleanliness, hygiene, safety, and presentation, and you don’t have to go digital. But digital (tipping) is going big time today. People don’t have cash on them, they go digital. But housekeepers definitely deserve a great tip for providing a great service for the guests.
Jason: I haven’t talked with anybody about this, but it dawned on me as you were speaking that you’ve got to equip the housekeeper to succeed in order to get a good tip.
Lonny Wolfe: 100%. Absolutely. It starts with training and communication and knowing how to own the space, clean the space, understand what you’re cleaning and why we clean it this way.
I always tell a housekeeper, act as if you’re the guest. Two things a guest does when they enter a hotel room. They use the bathroom, the facilities, wash their hands, or they go and jump on the bed and lay down and go, wow, I’ve arrived.
And what do they see? Act as if you’re the guest. Do you think the room is presentable after what you’ve just done? I go to hotels that I am shocked. I am absolutely shocked what they look like from the moment I go undercover to the moment I start going into these rooms. You mean they shouldn’t even be sold to a guest at all? And there was no proper training.
The supervisors have no idea what they’re doing and how they’re training to include the Directors of Housekeeping. It’s just a title. You’ve got to really understand how to clean a room and have it not just super clean, 99% clean because in my world, you don’t sell a room unless it’s perfect to a guest because the goal is to have the guest come and see you later, saying,
Love the room. Oh, my God, it’s beautifully cleaned. I want to know who the housekeeper is. Can you recommend a place for dining? No other reason for them to come down except you don’t want those complaints.
Jason: So you’re going undercover? You’re doing some secret shopping?
Lonny Wolfe: Yeah, I’ll go undercover and then I’ll present myself after 24 hours, and I’ll go up to the roof, all the way down to the boiler room, and see how the property, the whole operation, is running.
I’ll go to hotels where I ask them where they keep their amenities that are going into the rooms soap, shampoos, and moisturizers. And I’m shocked when I hear, “Oh, we keep it down in the boiler room,” and then I go down in the boiler room and it’s sitting at 130 degrees. I’m like, this stuff is bubbling. And now I’m going to put the moisturizer on my skin. No. Yeah.
Jason: So tell us what exactly you’re doing these days, Lonnie.
Lonny Wolfe: Changing the hotel environment one hotel at a time. Cleanliness, safety, and presentation. That’s what it and the guest experience, how to engage with the guest.
And like I said, cleanliness, safety, and presentation. When I say safety, it’s shocking how many hotel rooms I’ll go into. And in the last 90 days, I’ve seen over 400 rooms where you’ve got the stand-up lamps, and you’ve got five, 6ft of extra cord just dangling all over the carpet. And the first thing I think of is, why didn’t anyone think of getting a zip tie and putting it in a proper presentation? Or someone or that woman that’s wearing a high heel that’s getting ready to take a photo and trips on it and bangs her head and becomes ownership of a hotel. You got to think about what could happen in the room. It’s all the way down to engineering.
I’ve gone to hotels where they haven’t changed the AC filters. As soon as you enter and look up in over a year, why it’s all about that. So my goal is to take each hotel and make them number one in their location.
It doesn’t happen overnight because it starts with when you arrive, cleanliness, safety, presentation, the guest engagement, never saying no to the guest. There’s an art to delivering your excellence in rewarding your guest or if you’re sold out, et cetera.
And the goal guests are your social advocates on the OTAs for writing good, great, or poor reviews. And you want to get awards because those awards get you bragging rights, and those bragging rights get you a higher average daily rate.
And once you get up to number one or become a Hall of Fame property, you’re in a whole other world. But you got to stay there. Don’t deviate from it. Oh, I got there. Now I can kind of go back the other way. It doesn’t work that way.
You always want to be thinking outside the box. What can you do differently in your environment to stay number one in the surrounding area? Because it’s a very competitive arena globally today.
Jason: Right. Well, where can people find you, Lonny?
Lonny Wolfe: People can find me on LinkedIn. I’m a very big on LinkedIn, and that’s where you and I connected. And I’m happy to say, probably the number one advocate fighting for housekeeping in hotels globally today.
And I can be reached also Lonnie Wolf at the Art of Housekeeping.net. And my goal is to take each and every property to number one in the surrounding area. And can it happen 100%? Absolutely.
But it starts from the top and works its way down. If you have a GM that has no interest to run the property properly, then you’ve got the wrong person in there. You’ve got to find the right talent to make it work, because I go to too many properties and the GMs show up late, leave early, stay behind a closed door, never engage with their team, don’t even thank their team. That’s not how it works. You got to be part of the whole organization. 365.
Jason: Yeah, that’s good stuff. Well, I want to thank you for joining me, sir. Have a good day.
Lonny Wolfe: Bye.