“When we walk into the hotel, we all become the Bernini.” Here Maria Grazia Raimondi tells us how the cleanliness, order and impeccable atmosphere of this five-star hotel in Florence are the product of the invisible but fundamental work of a lot of people. As the housekeeper, she has been making guests feel welcome and pampered for the last twelve years.
Do you remember your first day as housekeeper?
Twelve years have gone by. I remember being a bit out of my element. Bernini Palace is a historical palazzo whose structure isn’t that straightforward. I had to draw myself a little map to memorise the layout. I liked the environment right away. There was and there still is a family atmosphere, partly thanks to the many colleagues who have “matured” professionally in the hotel, the manager David Foschi first and foremost. I actually started out as a receptionist, then I worked my way as a housekeeper in hotels of increasing importance until I eventually had the satisfaction of coming here.
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?
My job begins even before I walk into the hotel in the morning. The first thing I do, in fact, is check that the outside and the façade are perfect, from the pavement to the flags, from the windows to the flowers. I get here at 7.30 and I inquire about the situation, about which rooms are occupied, the arrivals list, and miscellaneous other information. Then I start sharing out and organizing the work of the chambermaids, after which I hold a quick briefing in which I refresh them about the rules they have to follow. After assigning all the various chores, I go and check the communal spaces such as the hall. Everything has to be in order, from the flowers to the sofas to the furnishings. I pop along to the restaurant to check the outside and the windows, then I go up to the floors for a detailed inspection of the rooms of incoming clients and talk to the chambermaids about any problems they might have encountered in their work. I also make a random check of occupied rooms. Later, in the office, I take care of red tape, answer emails, draw up the guest register, check room occupancy, reorganise the schedule for the following day and so on. When the evening shift comes in at 4pm, I hand over all the various duties on the basis of the reports of the chambermaids from the morning. I know what time I’ll be starting the day but I never know when I’ll be leaving in the evening. In this job, if anything unexpected happens it has to be solved immediately. It can’t be put off to the day after.
Cleanliness is fundamental as a “visiting card” for a hotel like the Bernini Palace, a service as invisible as it’s essential. What are your secrets for making a guest feel pampered and ensuring a high level of comfort?
At first glance, a room has to be impeccable. Then there’s room for small extra touches, such as our so-called “midnight book”, specially written for the hotel, which we leave on beds, and complimentary chocolates on bedside tables … little thoughts that we leave for guests to discover morning and night. Surprises that are much appreciated. But the most important secret is taking care of guests, understanding how they want to be received and what they’re expect from us. It’s a gift that demands experience and the staff’s ability to communicate with each other. Guests always have to receive the same kindnesses, no matter which of us is on duty. They have to receive the impression that we never change shifts. It’s a matter of teamwork because all of us “become the Bernini” as soon as we cross the threshold.
Do you ever receive special requests that require special attention?
Some guests like their beds to be moved to different positions. Others ask us for cotton as opposed to linen sheets. Linen is a refined fabric but not everyone likes to feel it against their skin. We’re always ready to meet any request and if for reasons beyond our control we are unable to do so to the full, we try nonetheless try to come up with a solution as close to optimal as possible. The services we offer include an in-house laundry and ironing room. This reminds me of one anecdote in particular. A guest once asked us to iron a dress she needed for a wedding that was to take place three hours later. To my great surprise, it turned out to be a classic tulle wedding dress with wide skirt that was lovely but tricky to iron. I’m happy to say that it all worked out fine in the end.
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?
I always tell the chambermaids that presentation is everything, that order on its own is only a half-step away from cleanliness. Our work has to be visible but not invasive. Since we’re entering the client’s intimate sphere, respect and privacy are binding principles. I won’t even mention cleanliness because I take it as a given. You can tell the level of a hotel by the kindness and friendliness of the chambermaids. If an environment is healthy, people are happy to work there and are bound to transmit positivity and pleasantness.