If guests at the Verona five-star hotel are treated like royalty it’s partly thanks to the team of chambermaids and porters captained by Michela Barbirato. Here the housekeeper reveals the tricks and secrets of the trade.
Do you remember your first day as housekeeper?
It was January 2010: our manager asked me if I was interested in taking on the job and I accepted with enthusiasm. I had begun working at the Due Torri Hotel in 2009, first as a linen maid, then as deputy housekeeper. Becoming housekeeper was the natural evolution of an experience that began at hotel management school and then involved various jobs, in the kitchen and the dining room, and eventually as a chambermaid.
Describe a typical day in the life of a housekeeper? How do you manage the personnel and interface with the other services at the same time?
In the morning I plan the work of the employees, the chambermaids and the porters, basing it on the guest room data: arrivals, departures, short stays and so on. I assemble the girls and give them a detailed briefing about their duties for the day, after which the chambermaids go and tidy the rooms under my supervision. I feel a connection with every single room and for me it’s very important for them to be always impeccable. I then give the porters their orders for arrivals, departures and events: it’s their job to prepare rooms for meetings, setting out chairs, tables, flowers, gadgets and so on, and see to all sorts of minor details, such as removing marks from the glass in the lift and changing light bulbs. I check that everything is perfect. In the meantime, my phone never stops ringing, with people telling me who has arrived and who has left, who has left their keys in their room, who has forgotten their adaptor, who wants clothes washed or ironed and the like. I love my job, and even if it takes place behind the scenes its results are appreciated. In client satisfaction questionnaires, we regularly get the highest rating. The girls often receive cards from guests thanking them and congratulating them. My greatest satisfaction, professional and human, is precisely the team I’ve created, and I feel a bit like a mother for them. They listen to me, they work hard, and they’re painstaking in what they do. If everything works, it’s thanks to them.
Cleanliness is fundamental as a “visiting card” for a hotel like the Due Torri, a service as invisible as it’s essential. What are your secrets for making a guest feel pampered and for ensuring a high level of comfort?
It’s the details that count. For example, every evening we perform a turndown service in which we check every inch of the pillowcases, mattresses, quilts and mattress toppers, make the beds, close the curtains, switch on bedside lamps to create a soft atmosphere, and set out the “goodnight booklets” with client satisfaction questionnaires and an ordering card for room service breakfast. We ensure that the room itself is arranged in such a way as to induce restfulness. According to category, guests staying for a few days may find small surprises in their rooms: a gold box of sweets, say, or a bottle of wine, a basket of fruit, fresh seasonal flowers and so on. We are also at their disposal for every eventuality, and on request we are happy to supply toothbrushes, toothpaste and combs, to sew on buttons – or provide mending kits – and offer a laundry and ironing service.
Do you ever receive special requests that require special attention?
We do our best to meet every request. And we are careful to take note of guests’ dates of birth when they register. We like surprising them with a small thought, a cake, for example, if they happen to be celebrating their birthday while they are staying at the hotel. On one occasion, we helped a father and mother to make their son’s birthday special by decorating the room with messages and filling it with helium-inflated balloons. There were so many of them it was almost impossible to enter. The boy was speechless.
Let’s end with a trick of the trade. When you walk into a hotel, what are the first things you look at to assess its level of cleanliness?
My advice is to run a finger over the furniture and the picture frames and behind the bed. I know from experience that in old, historical buildings dust forms very easily. When I walk into a room, I always remember to look up to see if there are any small cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling: it only takes a few hours for spiders to produce them. Cleanliness is a healthy obsession and it comes before everything else. It’s all a matter of professional bias on my part.