Saturday, November 03, 2012

IT NEVER SLEEPS


 
It never grows out of you, either.  Having spent precious 20 years of one’s productive life working for it, it is next to impossible not to be reminded of it, much less to forget about it completely.  It grows into one’s skin, demanding attention and remembrance.

 Thus serving as cathartic potion it is best to talk about it, to get it out of one’s system.  To record the remembered events that transpired in the many years spent, pursued with all seriousness and dedication in discharging the varying missions and responsibilities of the different positions held while in its employ.

I worked in one multi-starred hotel in San Francisco for 20 years, occupying various positions and working on different shifts.  Not only unarguably a historic landmark of this revered city, it epitomizes what a luxury hotel ought to be.  Prominently occupying an entire block and nestled in front of Union Square, the premier square of the city, it stands proudly brandishing its polished reputation and renown for all to see and admire.  Exhibiting all the grandeur and pomp of its structures, its tower stretching up to 32 floors, it casts a big looming shadow on the city skyline.

Because of the nature of its business, it is one that never sleeps.

Having worked all the possible work shifts, I am then quite conversant with the eventful things that occur on a 24-hour cycle, as this behemoth toils along its day with mostly seamless precision, with as many as 3,000 customers occupying its 1200+ rooms and suites, about half a dozen function rooms, and an equal number of outlets serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, alcohol, etc.

Let us commence at 11 pm, which is the beginning of the graveyard shift. At this time, most of the events in the different function rooms will have been winding down, unless the ballroom has been engaged to host a party or a dance, then it would close a little later. And the several restaurants are in the same process, though the bars would still be noisy and lively.

The shops in the arcade surrounding the sides of the hotel have closed earlier, maybe as early as 7pm.  Much like the rest of the shops in the city.

The various staff members in the administrative departments like Sales, Accounting, Purchasing, Personnel, etc. have long gone for the day.

But at the Front Office where a staff of maybe 30 or more  has been manning their posts throughout the day, now the night staff  has been deployed, to man a couple of front desk positions,  and one or two additional staff to collate and balance the day’s transactions.  A supervisor may already be in the computer room, printing out stuff needed to close the day’s transactions.

As we approach midnight, the hotel starts to get quiet, even the bright lights have been dimmed in the lobbies and other public areas.  For a moment, it gets deadly quiet and serene, save for the few souls, maybe about 50 of them scampering here and there – cleaning, attending to requests or orders, closing books, etc.  A far cry from the imprint of over 1100 total employees that a hotel this size employs. A few suited men crisscross the premises insuring peace and order and overall security.

 

Clearly like wraiths in the night, this spectacle of a few quiet souls gadding about is one that the hotel guests and customers typically do not see.

 

1 AM TO 7 AM

While not much may be happening in the kitchens, especially the main kitchen, past midnight, save for some room service short orders, the kitchen staff do start very early to prepare for the day, as early as 5am but definitely before 6am.  Bread and pastry will have to be baked for breakfast.  And dining rooms will have to be prepared.  In the meantime, the night cleaning crew has scoured and washed kitchen equipment, and polished the breakfast silverware and plates.

 

Room service personnel which include waiters are collecting and preparing overnight orders, including breakfast orders.  Or any food order a guest’s whim might desire.

 

A reduced size of the engineering team continues to monitor the life-support systems – like the air-conditioning, refrigeration, the light and power, the water system, and yes, the computer systems.  And the garbage disposal system, like the compactor, so the daily pile of garbage can be promptly disposed of early in the morning.

 

Another lean team this time in housekeeping mans its stations and stuffs baskets with linen and towels for the guest rooms.  And responds to requests from guests – like irons and ironing boards, towels, blankets, pillows, etc.

 

The Bell Service composed of porters, bellhops, and doormen, also operates a skeleton crew at night, but a full crew is expected before 6am, since check-out time is 6am.  And captains make careful note of arrivals and departures.  Early comers deliver fresh newspapers and other items to guest rooms.

 

By 7am, the night cleaning crew will have been finished and out of sight, with all public areas cleaned and ready to receive functions.

 

7 AM – 9 AM

The hotel wakens and things are in full swing.  Early guest checkouts have been done and those guests eager for an early start are now seated in the breakfast outlets ready to be served, while those who ordered room service are also getting theirs.  Kitchens are abuzz with frenetic activity.

 

At the front office, the night crew has slowly receded and replaced by the full complement of day staff to handle the bulk of checkouts and room clerks are busy assigning or setting aside rooms for those checking in later during the day, mails distributed, bookings taken, etc.

 

Day stewards make their rounds making sure the night crew did as expected, especially in the public areas like the lobbies and rest rooms.  Meanwhile, the room attendants are gathering together at Housekeeping waiting for their assignments, as guests are checking out and rooms are vacated.  The number of the room attendants will be dependent on the number of checkouts, and thus rooms to be cleaned and prepared for the next clients.

 

Meanwhile the night engineering shift turns over command to the day crew, which then goes about its business of preparing all life-support systems for the increased volumes and heightened activities   that will be needed during the much busier daytime hours.

 

And the Reservations Department staff members are already hunched at their desks with ear plugs on taking reservations from near and afar and as early as next week or as late as a year later.

 

9 AM – NOON

The suited administrative staff members in the different departments are already at their stations making sure their orders and instructions are carried out in an exemplary manner.  The Sales managers monitor the functions they have sold, or the groups that they sold that are in house.  Catering managers are busy supervising the waiters, chefs, etc, in the different functions around the hotel.  And other supervisors with varying responsibilities are scurrying down the halls and public rooms ensuring that their people deployed are on their toes.

 

In the Purchasing Department, its staff keeps a close watch of inventories to ensure all requirements from the different departments are filled in a prompt and expeditious manner.  It also has to receive all food items that are delivered daily to stock the hotel’s kitchens and outlets – like eggs, meat, fish, bottles of spirits and wine, and yes, even flower arrangements for the rooms and function rooms.  And remember they are also in charge of office supplies for all the departments needing them. Given the critical nature of its responsibilities, no doubt its staff makes sure ample supplies are maintained sufficiently to last for the next deliveries.

 

The Accounting Department staff is now poring over documents printed out for front office to detail the previous day’s transactions, not only with regard to FO transactions but including those of the outlets which have been charged by guests to their rooms.  The HR department staff is also busy but for different purposes, like keeping track of personnel time, records, hiring and firing, or interviewing potential employees. And overall, maintaining good employee morale and welfare.

 

Sales executives  engage in their usual brainstorming sessions plotting strategy and tactics to entice individuals, businesses,  corporations, tour groups, associations, etc. to patronize the whole panoply of hotel services, which runs the gamut from overnight accommodations to exhibitions, conferences, receptions, and banquets.  And in an environment where competition is very stiff, this is most crucial.  Assistance is sought from public-relations firms engaged for these purposes.

 

In the other departments like those of the engineers, the painters, stewards, etc., freshly-clad people take on their daily routines to ensure the smooth operations of the hotel.  Engineers do their inspection carrying out maintenance and routine repair works.  The chief steward and his crew are ever alert to the special functions happening on a daily basis – whether it is a small lunch or a big catered affair; assuring complete set-ups are done properly, from pieces of furniture or fixtures to tables and silverware.

 

And the Laundry Department has collected not only the dirty linens and towels from the rooms, but also the guests’ laundry and dry-cleaning.  So the hotel’s washers and dryers are now humming with sweaty attendants moving around.

 

In the meantime, in the shopping arcade which is composed of lessees of the hotel, the doors have been opened and are primed for business.  So guests desiring to patronize the beauty parlor or purchase highly-branded clothing or electronics do not have to leave the premises.

 

The Business Center of the hotel has also opened its doors, ready to provide secretarial assistance, cable and computer services, courier services, etc.

 

NOON3 PM

In the kitchens and outlets, the last remnants of breakfast have been cleared away to make room for the next meal, lunch.  The hotel restaurants and room service compete in the frenzy that ensues to feed the occupants and visitors of a very large hotel.  Those who prefer to dine in their rooms call room service who will then fill their orders complete with fresh supplies for fruit baskets in their rooms.  Trolleys and trays will have to be available to deliver orders to each room.

 

At the front office, since check-in time is at 1pm, new guests are starting to come in  droves, requiring more agents at he counters, and more bellboys to deliver luggage and usher guests to their respective rooms. And both introducing each guest on the usage of the new system of computerized security cards, rather than the traditional and cumbersome keys.

 

3 PM – 6 PM

As early afternoon approaches, the restaurants may be quite empty and quiet after the heavy lunch hours, but not for long since tea time also approaches; so the hotel bars prepare for the new slew of people patronizing its tea time offerings. And in the background, kitchen staff is beginning to prepare for dinner and the barmen for the evening’s happy hours.

 

In the meantime, the Housekeeping Department the biggest in size next to Food and Beverage in the hotel gather the reports of its attendants after the rooms’ cleanup.  It consults and confers with Front Office on whether all rooms are ready for occupancy or whether because of some irregularities some rooms will have to be listed as out of service.

 

6 PM – 8 PM

The working day for the administrative staff in the hotel usually ends after 5 pm, though more like at 6pm, when the cocktail hour begins and the bars begin to hum with activity.

 

The hotel’s security staff usually operates in the shadows, but they will always be available when trouble appears.  The bars would be a good place for them to direct their foot patrols.  Like the rest, they operate on a 24-hour basis, their number following how busy the hotel gets and when the times more trouble is expected.

 

8 PMMIDNIGHT

Most of the guests dining in the hotels are either in the hotel restaurants, or have ordered through room service, or are having their meals in the several functions being catered to in the different halls of the hotel.  Those wishing to have a good night of fun make reservations to the hotel’s nightclub which opens till the late hours, usually after 2am since California limits the service of alcohol to that time.

 

The front office staff has reviewed all the guests checked in and have attended to their needs, and will now prepare for the following day, printing out the arrivals for the following day.

 

MIDNIGHT

So we complete the cycle when the hotel starts to wind down, and gears down to its night shift, where things slow down and fewer people are seen working.  And the entire hotel shows this change in many ways.  The bars and restaurants are shuttered for the night, most of the function rooms are darkened and become quiet, the lights are dimmed, and the overall noise abates as most of the guests go to their sleep.  The people around even begin to speak in hushed tones, including communications over PA systems or radios.

 

It is this time of the night when breaks are characterized by a cluster of people smoking and speaking in whispered tones, interrupted by some subdued laughter at times.

 

But this big luxury inn truly never sleeps.

 

And its computer systems do the same, unnoticed by many but ever vigilant and up to the elaborate tasks assigned to them.

2 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:38 PM

    Baghdad by the Bay, San Francisco, is aptly proud of this century-old institution where kings and royalty have been housed, where politicians try to earn their spurs being associated with it, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous4:54 PM

    This renowned hotel has been known by different names in its long history. It was Hotel St. Francis for many years. Then it became Westin St. Francis when Westin Hotels acquired it. I believe it is still owned by Starwood Hotels, and is still known as Westin St. Francis. Or is it back to Hotel St. Francis?

    ReplyDelete

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