by Morton D. Rosenbaum | October 01, 2005

Karen Mitchell"People perceive a hotel as a very public place; they’re afraid
to put their heads on the pillows."

After 17 years with the Hilton family of hotels, Karen Mitchell, head of housekeeping for Chicago’s Palmer House Hilton, runs one of the chain’s tightest ships. In this year’s Hilton customer survey of housekeeping staff helpfulness, Mitchell’s 1,639-room property was the only one in the top 10 with more than 400 rooms. M&C asked Mitchell how she and her 350 employees keep it together.

What is the toughest part of your job? Quality. People perceive a hotel as a very public place; they’re afraid to put their heads on the pillows. We have to work hard to make sure our guests know they’re in a clean space. We bleach the pillows; we sterilize the doorknobs every quarter.

What do you look for when you stay at other hotels? I look in the corners, the bed. I can tell by the carpeting whether the room is clean. And by the bathroom, of course.

We’ve heard of hotels using one washcloth for their drinking glasses and bathroom counters. Presumably this is not Palmer protocol? What? Goodness! We put our glasses through a dishwasher.

What’s the most bizarre thing you’ve found in a hotel room? Now, now. Part of being in the business is discretion. Some of our VIPs do make special housekeeping requests. Carol Channing is allergic to cleaning sprays.

What should we be tipping for room care? Truthfully, that’s up to the person, but I would say two to three dollars a day. My staff is very kind, but everyone loves tips.