How outsourcing hotel laundry can improve operations, safety

Photo credit: Getty Images/KasiaJanus

Today’s hotel operators can appreciate the importance of managing a reliable laundry and linen program. Hotel guestrooms, along with food-and-beverage departments, simply can’t function without it. Travelers trust that hotels are providing them with clean bedding, bath towels and table linens 365 days a year; if that trust is broken, loyalty will disappear as well. Unfortunately, running a hotel laundry is far more complicated and costly today than in years past. Maintaining periodic automatic replenishment levels, protecting staff from chemicals spills, rising labor costs and shrinking allocations of physical space are just a few of the many challenges. The alternative is to outsource to a commercial laundry, preferably one that features considerable automation. When sheets, pillowcases, towels and table linens can be folded by machines, it reduces laundry operating costs significantly.

Here are just a few considerations impacting owners’ decisions to outsource their laundry processes:

  • Labor represents 50 percent of a hotel’s laundry operating costs. In cities where the minimum wage is exceeding $15 per hour, it is cost-prohibitive to staff an on-site laundry.
  • As new hotels are being built, owners and developers are allocating less discretionary space for nonrevenue-generating areas like laundry and linen storage. In some cases, onsite laundries are excluded from the planning altogether because it is deemed an unnecessary expense.
  • Larger hotels, especially those in the full-service and luxury segments, are removing laundries during renovations and using the empty space to lease to a dry cleaner or they are finding that it can be used as meeting space, depending on its location in the building. If location is a problem, the vacant area is ideal for engineering offices or inventory storage.
  • Do-it-yourself laundry machines are proving to boost satisfaction for guests in the select-service and extended-stay segments. Adding this convenience for guests requiring onsite servicing is taking the pressure off hoteliers to manage the process themselves.

Automation Lowers Costs

Technology is one of the main reasons that hoteliers are choosing to outsource their laundry operations. Not only do commercial laundries eliminate investment risk and lower costs across the board, they are more adept at using chemicals properly. Owners can avoid costly workers’ compensation claims and remove risk and physical damage from chemical spills, while extending linen life at the same time. Improved wash formulas use new chemicals to combat premature wear and tear of linens, and they do a better job of removing stains and extending linen life. With greener technology and better chemistry, hotels are less likely to discard linens prematurely, especially when there is less damage from overdrying. According to TRSA, a group that represents companies that supply, launder and maintain linens and uniforms, newer technology is extending linen life by 20 to 30 percent.

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Before switching from an internal operation to an external one, the commercial launderer will do a fiber analysis of the hotel’s linen to ensure that the textiles are not consumer grade. If a linen manufacturer claims that a textile is tested for 100 washes, the commercial laundry will verify those claims. Validating the life cycle of a textile is critical, and hoteliers need to be knowledgeable about the textile fibers and how those fibers work together to extend linen life.

Another way a commercial laundry can help extend linen life is by ensuring that a hotel has adequate PAR levels. The recommended formula for success is maintaining a four-PAR inventory for bedding and towels per guestroom—one set in the room (per bed), one set on shelf, one set is dirty and being pulled out of the room, and one set is being washed. A lower PAR level does not mean lower linen costs. On the contrary, if a hotel doesn’t have sufficient inventory, it will take longer for rooms to be turned over, risking disgruntled guests. Also, if linen is badly stained or damaged, it will need to be replaced. That too can slow room turnover and it could also require the hotel’s linen supplier to make multiple deliveries in a day or week, adding more costs to the linen program.


How to Choose a Commercial Laundry

Differentiation between laundries comes down to the facility, its output capacity and its customer service. Cost also is a huge factor, especially with most commercial laundries investing in eco-friendly machines with water reclamation that require greener chemicals. In most geographical areas there are typically only a handful of facilities to choose from; in secondary markets there may only be one option. The relationship between the hotel and the launderer is key, and the facility must be willing to work within the budgetary and quality requirements of the hotel and its affiliated brand. If a hotel opts to extend beyond a geographical area to use a laundry farther away, it will incur higher delivery costs. Sustainability also is an important factor in laundry facility selection. Most operators today are mindful of selecting facilities that have green practices in place to ensure the chemicals used are safe for the environment. Modern equipment senses moisture so textiles are not overdried or burned and newer chemicals require less water and less heat.

Before making any determination to move the laundry process offsite, a hotel should work with its procurement partner to conduct a cost-study analysis to determine if outsourcing makes sense. The purchasing entity also can help hoteliers select a commercial laundry, as well as negotiating the contract, articulating hotel requirements, specifying legal and business terms (including adding an indemnification clause), and managing the relationship if issues arise with performance.

Chris Kim is VP, Ed Hawkins is director and David Hill is managing regional director of Avendra’s Strategic Sourcing Division. Avendra is a hospitality procurement services provider for North America.