How much linen should your hotel carry?
Linen inventory levels are the root cause of most of the friction between a hotel laundry operation and its housekeeping staff and management. Nobody wants to sink tens of thousands of dollars into purchasing an extra par of linen, and most managers can think of at least a few times when they purchased a bunch of linens and still had shortages. On the other hand, outsourced laundry services (and of course linen mills and suppliers) are always recommending that hotels carry four par or more.
Our opinion on this is really clear -- if you send your linen out daily, you should carry 3.25 par, with a monthly inventory and monthly replacement order. There are two important things to remember about hotel linen inventories:
- Inventory per item varies. Hotel managers and executive housekeepers talk about inventory in terms of an overall par number -- "3 par" or "4 par." The reality is, though, at any given moment, a hotel may have 3.5 par of sheets, but 2 par of face towels and 2.5 par of pillowcases. Since housekeepers need a complete set of linens in order to prepare it for a guest's arrival, a hotel's inventory level is really only as good as its weakest link; it doesn't do a housekeeper any good if the hotel has 2.5 par of sheets (and so has plenty available) but only 1.75 par of pillowcases (and so is constantly running into shortages) -- they will still have to wait for pillowcases before guests can check in.
- Inventory per item dwindles at different rates. For example, guests are more likely to walk out of the hotel with towels than with sheets or pillowcases. Pillowcases and face towels are much more likely than sheets to get stains that cannot be cleaned in the laundry. As a result, even if a hotel starts with 4 (or more) par of every linen item, within a month or two, there will be significant variation between inventory levels of individual items.
As a result, just buying a whole lot of linen all at once and taking a complete inventory quarterly, or in response to shortages, has a bunch of downsides: it costs a lot of cash up front to purchase the extra par, and doesn't do an effective job of keeping housekeepers with enough supply since it takes too long to catch the dwindling supply of high-loss items like face cloths. In short, more linen isn't the key to avoiding shortages; regular inventory and purchase is.
So why 3.25 par? Here's our take:
- One par is in the guest room.
- One par is soiled and being processed by the laundry.
- One full par is in housekeeping closets and carts, so that housekeepers are always stocking rooms from inventory rather than waiting for a linen delivery. Doing this makes housekeepers more efficient, frees a hotel from worrying about whether a delivery truck had a flat or got stuck in traffic, and gives one full day of buffer in case something goes wrong in the laundry process. This should be enough time for the laundry operator to either get a broken machine back into service or trigger their emergency plan to send linen out to an emergency vendor.
- 0.25 par is a small buffer to account for loss, damage, and wear-and-tear on linens in between monthly inventories to ensure that each item is likely to stay above 3 par by the time the next inventory comes around.
No laundry operator -- in house or outsourced -- will complain if a hotel's management wants to purchase more linen. But given a choice between serving a hotel that buys 4 (or even 5) par and inventories quarterly and one that has 3.25 par an inventories monthly, we'd take the 3.25 par and monthly inventory every day of the week.