Lessons from a Full House
As building service contractors prepare to visit Las Vegas for this fall’s annual ISSA/INTERCLEAN convention and trade show, they may want to take advantage of the event’s location to network with some of the most savvy cleaning professionals in the country. Millions of square feet of casino, hotel and other hospitality space is in constant use in Sin City and the nature of the high-rollers who frequent the town requires around-the-clock cleaning, to keep everything looking its best.
In fact, U.S. casino environments are incubators for cleaning innovation as housekeeping directors and their contractors work to clean myriad surfaces with individual needs as inconspicuously as possible in surroundings that rarely are closed to patrons.
Timing is everything
Many contractors may workload their accounts with 358 Cleaning Times, a publication of established commercial cleaning times for many common tasks. But casino staff tend to beat the average in what they can handle in a single shift.
For instance, Alan Detriberiis, director of hotel operations at Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, runs a tight ship with his cleaning crew. In fact, it’s so tight that by the time Sunday check-out time arrives, the hotel atmosphere resembles the deporting of a cruise ship, he says. That’s when weekend guests return to their home cities and a whole new batch of guests arrive on special week-day travel packages.
In just three hours (1 p.m. to 4 p.m.), the housekeeping crew strips linens off the guest beds, launders them along with the washcloths and bath towels, and scrubs down every bit of porcelain in each of the 657 hotel rooms. Housekeepers jokingly call it “the great Sunday hemorrhage.”
But the sponging and sweeping doesn’t stop there. There’s also the 1,800-seat concert venue, 35,000 square-foot casino, six restaurants, 3.5-acre swimming pool area, six-story parking garage and 6,500 square-feet of meeting space. Fifty-four environmental services employees and 116 housekeeping employees take care of all of it except for carpet cleaning, which is contracted.
Whether on land or sea, casino cleaning is constrained by minimal customer downtime. At Binion’s Horseshoe Casino in Hammond, Ind. The only time housekeeping staff has to thoroughly clean 42,580 square feet of the luxury riverboat is between 5 a.m. and 8:30 a.m.
“It’s this little window of opportunity to get things done,” says Gary Sheahaan, environmental services manager. Also during that time, employees empty slot machines and prep the riverboat for when it opens again at 8 a.m. A 125,000 square-foot pavilion (with four dining outlets and a concierge lounge) also requires regular cleaning.
The downside to cleaning in a casino — versus a 9-to-5 office building or a sometimes-busy sports arena — is that it never closes its doors. Most U.S. casinos in markets such as Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno/Lake Tahoe and Tunica, Miss., are open 24-7.
“You wind up having to do things while you are in operation,” says Forrest Woodward, president of Boardwalk Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. For instance, cleaners vacuuming or using other plug-in machinery must take extra care to keep power cords out of traffic lanes as they vacuum. Many establishments also do extensive research to find the quietest motors so that vacuuming or extracting doesn’t disturb nearby customers.
With crystal chandeliers, slot machines, marble floors, table-game felt and literally miles of carpet to clean several times a day, employees must become experts in cleaning almost any surface. And managers have to become quick-change artists, learning how to stow equipment in closets throughout their facilities for easy access.
Beyond that, extensive training is necessary to ensure the right product is used on sensitive surfaces. A mistake could strip a mirror or etch marble, permanently marring an area’s aesthetics.
“You’ve really got to know your cleaning product and what it’s designed to do,” says Woodward.
Many casino guests also expect red-carpet treatment — and that red carpet better not be stained. If a rug is spotted or a toilet deemed unsanitary, they’ll report it immediately. So, casino managers try to keep on top of problems as soon as they occur.
“Our clientele want a clean environment to play in. They don’t want to be sitting at a machine that has ashes in it,” says Sheahaan.
Detriberiis’ solution is to station a housekeeping employee at any place in the casino with high traffic. This way, they can respond efficiently to a spill or stain.
“You can buy every cleaning chemical on the planet. You can buy every cleaning book on the planet,” he says. “But nothing replaces having someone there.”
Along those same lines, a restroom attendant in each of the casino’s restrooms around the clock ensures it won’t be dirty for long.
“What you cleaned a half hour ago you’re going to clean again,” warns Sheahaan.
For instance, cleaning staff are enlisted to keep fingerprint marks off the slot machines regardless of how many people frequent them each day. This need has spurred distributors to come up with products that resist fingerprints, something commercial cleaners also may find useful for high-end office complexes.
Another cleaning tool that has its beginnings in the casino world is the static-charged duster, which attracts dust to the tool rather than brushing it off of high surfaces. Years ago, casino operators discovered that if they shut down card tables to dust ornate chandeliers above them, the gamblers would realize how late it was and head back to their rooms. But if workers could dust around patrons without disturbing them the money would keep rolling in.
Because of the large crowds that pass through casinos each day, routine carpet cleaning is a must, with many facilities shampooing weekly or nightly, depending on the amount of pedestrian traffic, says Lou Richards, vice president and general manager of Waxie Sanitary Supply, a distribution company operating in Las Vegas.
Sheahaan instructs his 150 cleaning employees to use dry extraction (or dry cleaning) on the carpets, which still permits pedestrian traffic immediately after cleaning. They also use high-speed burnishers on the marble floors, a grout machine to clean grout and ceramic tile in the restrooms, and power washers to clean the building’s exterior and the nine-level parking garage. To help with servicing trash cans in the parking garage, the casino even purchased a riding vehicle for more manageable retrieval.
Human resources hassles
Turnover and difficulty attracting workers to late-night shifts are two other problems casino cleaning professionals have had to tackle, says Bob Bank, senior account executive at Sanitary Supply Specialists in Winslow, N.J. His company supplies all 12 casinos in Atlantic City, N.J. There, it is especially hard to find workers because the nearest metropolitan areas are Philadelphia (65 miles away) and New York City (100 miles away). Another problem is competing with the many other entry-level jobs casinos offer, such as desk clerking, food services or landscaping.
One challenge is staffing levels at casinos typically are heaviest during late swing shifts and early graveyard shifts. Plus, nobody gets holidays off in the casino business because that’s when the customers are visiting, says Sheahaan.
To ease labor challenges, he instituted a bonus program where cleaning employees can earn up to $100 a month, beyond their standard pay, based on a 100-point inspection system and guest observations jotted on customer comment cards.
Kristine Hansen is an industry writer based in Madison, Wis.
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