April 16, 2006
Maid to order
Special to The Seattle Times
JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Over her 20-year career at The Westin in downtown Seattle, Kim Williams has puffed more pillows than she can count — but her job is anything but cushy.
As one of the 14,157 housecleaners serving hotel and motel guests in the greater King/Snohomish counties area, Williams is part of the team that has the often grueling task of tidying rooms for many of the nearly 8.73 million overnight guests King County sees each year. In downtown Seattle alone, this covers 9,797 nightly guest rooms.
Now, with a number of new hotels in Seattle and Bellevue nearing their openings within the next year, another 1,500 guest rooms will appear on the region's lodging landscape. This means a surge of hiring opportunities for workers with a knack for neatness.
Already, hiring managers at Hotel 1000 — the 120-room boutique hotel and condominium complex at Seattle's First Avenue and Madison Street — are preparing their Web site and planning late April and early May job fairs to attract room cleaners for the luxury hotel's June 26 planned debut.
Call them room attendants, housekeepers or maids — but as a whole, they are what Hotel 1000 general manager Brian Flaherty refers to as "the heart and soul of every hotel.
"It's not just about cleaning or providing janitorial services," says Flaherty. "In a luxury environment, such as ours, it's about preparing a room like you would in your home for a loved one or a close friend."
More rooms, more jobs
A number of new hotels have opened or are opening in the Seattle area, providing job opportunities.
Westin Bellevue: 337 rooms within the lower 19 floors of downtown Bellevue's new 45-story Lincoln Square.
Marriott Courtyard: 251 rooms in downtown Bellevue.
Pan Pacific: 160 rooms set to open this summer, in what is part of the 2200 Westlake near downtown Seattle.
Hotel 1000: 120 rooms in a boutique hotel and condo complex, at First Avenue and Madison Street, to open in late June.
Silver Cloud — Seattle Stadium: 210 rooms to open in July across from Safeco Field.
Coming soon after:
Marriott Courtyard — Kirkland: 150 rooms. To open in fall 2006.
Sheraton Seattle: Beefing up its downtown Sixth Avenue offerings with a second 25-story tower featuring 415 rooms. Opening April 2007.
Source: Colliers International
That, he says, means fastidious attention to detail.
Depending on the size and the demands of the hotel, these attendants often are expected to whip 16 to 30 rooms into spick-and-span shape each eight-hour shift.
Typically, this means vacuuming, dusting, mopping and making beds — a process that takes about 20 to 24 minutes per room, according to Williams. Efficiently making a neatly tucked bed takes these pros no more than three minutes.
In some hotels, the workload requires cleaning fewer guest rooms, but includes care of lobbies, halls and general restroom facilities.
But hotel housekeeping can also require "physically demanding" work if guests leave the rooms in poor condition, says Williams. "In that case, basically, we have to strip the room down — from bed skirts to bed pad. But it doesn't happen very often."
Like many hotels, The Westin teaches its housekeeping staff how to tackle the tough work "how to bend properly, in a way that is easier on your body. There's a lot of pulling and stretching, so if you're new, you're really sore the first couple of days."
And there are opportunities for new people in this work. Figures from the state Employment Security Department show nearly 483 job openings in hotel housekeeping projected in 2006 for the Seattle/Bellevue area.
Since housecleaning tasks are often considered an entry-level job into the hospitality industry, room attendants can be hired with little or no previous experience.
On-the-job training is common. Most hoteliers agree, however, that applicants with experience and a friendly personality have an edge.
"We're dealing with all kinds of people from all over the world with all kinds of situations," says Williams.
"If you clean 16 rooms, you may meet five to seven guests that you come into direct contact with. If they have a problem, you need to listen to the guest and help solve it, so it's really important to be a people person."
It also requires patience — even in the face of a slovenly suite.
Salaries vary, depending on the employer and length of service. In Washington state, all earn at least minimum wage. Hourly wages range from about $7.68 to more than $12.91; the average is about $9.87.
While full-time housekeepers and room attendants are preferred by most Seattle-area hotels, Flaherty says, some part-time opportunities exist.
Full-time workers maximize potential benefits, adds Jay Larson, human-resources director at The Westin in downtown Seattle. Their perks may include big discounts at other hotels in their chain.
That means a room attendant "may be paying about $49 for a room right next door to someone paying $269," Larson says.
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