Meters check the gloss of floors and whiteness of linen. Housekeeping is an art, discovers Divya Kumar

They have meters to check the gloss of their marble floors and the whiteness of their linens. They have butlers and valets for their V.V.I.P. guests, and a database that tracks their likes and dislikes. Catering to the needs of kings and presidents is their job, and no detail can afford to be overlooked.

That’s the world of high stakes five-star hotel housekeeping I’ve just been introduced to by executive housekeeper of Taj Coromandel, Kannamma Babu. It’s about 10.30 a.m., and I’ve joined her on her morning inspection, wide-eyed, as I’m allowed into the hallowed precincts of the rich coral-cream-and-brown Royal suite where Queen Victoria is supposed to have stayed.

“The fold has to be sharp,” she corrects a trainee who’s making the bed, expertly tweaking the corner of the bedspread into place.

In housekeeping parlance, this is a ‘departure room’, one that’s been vacated, and is being subjected to a 45-minute cleaning before the next arrival. Occupied rooms, on the other hand, get a 30-minute cleaning. Yes, every minute really is accounted for. So is every towel, pillow case, shampoo bottle and bath mat, on the large spreadsheet-like Room Report that the 48 cleaning associates have to fill out for each room they service between 7.30 a.m. and 4.30 p.m. every day.

Besides Jagan, the associate for this room, there’s the unobtrusive Kamalakanan, gently pruning and clipping the potted plants in one corner (that’s his entire job — caring for the potted plants all over the hotel), and florist Mukund who’s taking away the Oriental lilies to spruce them up (they look perfect to me, but, apparently, they don’t meet the standards).

And, what standards they are! I’m particularly taken in by the soft coral-beige silk dressing gowns and linen monogrammed with the guests’ initials in the royal and presidential suites (the presidential suite even has a treadmill). Oh, and the floor butler waiting outside one of the club rooms with champagne and fresh juice for the guest (the V.V.I.P.s in the suites get personal butlers and valets). It’s all very old world — polished wood, plush carpets and smoking jackets.

Virtual check

But there’s nothing old world about the system that ensures it all stays in place. For example, they use a constantly-updated computer system called Fidelio to track the room-cleaning process, so the front desk always knows which rooms are ready and ‘sellable’. Fidelio even stores the preferences of the guests who’ve stayed with them. (Jagan’s room report gives the name and designation of a guest with “smoking, Pepsodent, Dettol, wine opener” written next to it. Oh boy.)

Then there’s the marble care. “It’s very important, because it’s one of the first things a guest notices when he walks in,” explains Kannamma.

That’s why there is a team of men who work through the night — every night, stripping away dirt and old polish from the marble floors. The marble gloss levels cannot fall below 85 per cent — there’s actually an audit every month when it’s checked with a little grey handheld meter. (Endless audits are a part and parcel of the housekeeping — that’s what ensures they keep their five-star ranking.)

And then, there’s the huge, state-of-the-art laundry room in the basement. You hear it even before you enter, the thrum of the massive, industrial strength washers and the hiss of the endless array of weirdly-shaped steam presses that look like clean, white Venus Flytrap plants.

Laundry from all the Taj hotels in the city comes here, meaning that 3,200 tonnes of washing is done every day, and 25,000 pieces are ironed, 24 hours a day. I watch entranced as tall piles of white linen (maintained at 90 per cent whiteness — there’s a meter for that too, naturally) are tossed high in the tumble dryer, and leave reluctantly after having asked laundry manager Balasubramaniam every question I can think of.

As evening rolls around, it will be time for another set of roomboys to begin their turn down service. Meanwhile, Kannamma has her hands full — the king of Belgium will be visiting, and she has to find out his preferences, from the sort of welcome he’ll want to the kind of flowers in his room.

And it’s time for me to leave, five star gloss and glamour firmly rooted in reality from now on.