Two Washington hotels, the Ritz-Carlton and the Hyatt Regency, have started applying high-tech computer-monitoring systems to their decades-old traditions of guest services, and the reactions of employes present a study in contrast -- from peaceful accommodation to bitter resistance.
In a cramped basement cubbyhole at the Ritz, Steven M. Lougee, the executive housekeeper, can command the hotel's Dimension computer for a "maid activity audit" that provides him an unprecedented level of details on the work of his 15 housekeepers.
Maids are required to punch 41 on the room phone when they enter rooms and 43 or 44 when they leave, feeding the computer a trail of their movements. Each maid is expected to clean 14 rooms a day, but thanks to the computer, Lougee said, "I know how long it takes my maids to clean, and how long it takes my supervisors to inspect my rooms. And I know how long my housekeepers have lag time between rooms.
"I can take any given housekeeper and find her rooms, and follow her performance on a day-to-day, week-to-week and month-to-month basis . . . . If I am trailing a given housekeeper and I notice she doesn't punch in at her first room until 9:30 a.m., I can ask her why she is so slow in moving. Is she spending too much time in the locker room? Did she forget to pack her supply cart the night before?" said Lougee.
Maids, like other workers, often like to work harder in the morning and then coast in the afternoon, or vice versa, he said. Now, management can observe that pace closely. "I can see when they are speeding through their rooms" and possibly not cleaning carefully, Lougee said.
"It's the single most useful tool I have in this hotel," said Lougee -- an endorsement echoed even more strongly by the Ritz's night housekeeping supervisor, Robyn Harnett, who declared: "I love that machine."
But it is precisely that kind of management control that irritates veteran maids such as Mildred Jackson, 61 and a mother of seven, who has been cleaning up after Washington hotel guests for 21 years. Because hotel rooms are sometimes relatively clean and sometimes filthy, Jackson said, it is unrealistic to expect maids to clean like clockwork.
"It's supposed to take me 30 minutes, but sometimes I can't do it in 30 or even 45," said Jackson. Making matters worse, she said, is the requirement for punching in and out. "I just have never gotten used to that. Sometimes I forget and sometimes I don't hit it unless I feel like it," she said. (Maids are often resistant to the system, and three of 10 maids interviewed have received written reprimands for refusing to punch in.)
"It's not so bad that the computer keeps track," Jackson said. "It's that you have this person watching you and keeping track. It's like an invasion of privacy."
Across town at the 842-room Hyatt, the NCR 2160 computer system has revolutionized the food and beverage cashier system, according to Michael T. Lawler, the manager. He said it improves inventory procedures and tells him which dishes and drinks are selling, which aren't, and whether the flow of customers requires more or less staffing for the 3,000 meals the Hyatt serves each day.
But when the waiters and waitresses punch one of the 110 buttons, the system also monitors the numbers of customers served and dollars rung up by each waiter and waitress, the speed of the service, and even how many bottles of wine or glasses of orange juice the waiter has sold in a given month.
"You can get the printout and see that Ed served 100 customers and Suzy served only 25, and they were here the same time . . . . Ed is generating the most revenue, but Suzy is not really selling much wine . . . . So what's wrong?" said Lawler. He said he uses the printout at monthly meetings to review employe output and at individual conferences to discuss employes' personal problems. "The smart manager will use the tool as a way . . . of gauging how the personal situation is," he said.
While waiters and waitresses voiced various complaints about the pacing and rules of their work place, few complained about this form of computer monitoring because, unlike some of the Ritz maids, they don't believe the system intrudes on their work habits. Several welcomed the system for making jobs easier in unexpected ways.
Now, when waiters such as Hai Nguyen want to send in an order, they no longer have to confront a potential language barrier with cooks such as Margaret Johnson. Back in the kitchen, Johnson gets a printout of each order, with the precise time Nguyen's order was entered. Nguyen is happy because "now the cook doesn't get confused."
The system also gives the waitress a means of defending herself, said Kathleen Williams, a Hyatt veteran, "The customer complains 'I've been waiting 20 minutes,' " said Williams, "but now you can say, 'No sir, it's only been four.' "