In the first of a new series profiling the unsung heroes of the hospitality world, we talk to Jutta Asta, executive housekeeper at Claridges in Mayfair, London.
Executive housekeeper, Claridges.
How long in role?
Nearly four years, but I've been an executive housekeeper for 17 years.
What hours do you work?
8am-6pm, Monday to Friday, but I also come in most weekends for a bit.
What are your main duties?
My role is a bit like cooking Christmas lunch and having everything on the table hot at the same time with only four rings and a small oven. I'm ultimately responsible for everything to do with front- or back-of -house, so it touches all areas.
From the fundamentals of having the hotel cleaned and dealing with guest issues to making sure it all happens within the constraints of the budget every month - so, clean but not too clean, or not enough, etc.
It's also about having an open door, motivating the team and being a mother figure. I have to be a doctor, nurse, psychologist and businesswoman all in one.
What is the key to your success?
We all respect each other and are not afraid of hard work. There are no ranks ever pulled and I couldn't do my job without my number two. You'll never hear my team say "That's not my job". But it's also important I don't abuse that.
How did you get into housekeeping?
As a child I was always neat and tidy. I think it's just in my DNA.
What's the best bit of your job?
I like the team, we're a great bunch, and I like a clean and nicely presented room. But I really become alive when I get the opportunity to refurbish and redecorate the rooms - it's like putting the life back into them and a great feeling.
I also get a great satisfaction out of seeing staff develop and knowing that a few ladies have developed because we worked together - there is a part of me in their success. It really matters to me once I've discovered talent that it gets developed. It's good for them, and I love it too.
What's the worst bit of your job?
Seeing people not following up from other departments and having things parked at your door just because you're good at your job. It's basically being taken advantage of and having to make up for other people washing their hands of their responsibilities.
What keeps you motivated?
Being given a compliment or recognition from a guest or owner is great. The expectation at Claridges is so high, there's always a fear of falling from grace, so there are sleepless nights - but also a great pride in what I do and meeting those expectations. I don't take it for granted.
What's your pet peeve?
Every room has a design concept. Claridges is very proud that every room is different, and we have a permanent housekeeper on each floor and they should know each room inside out.
It's like butchery to me when cushions are out of place. Things have to be cleaned, and cushions or valances have to be put in. But I know every room inside out and it sticks out like a sore thumb if something's in the wrong place.
What's the most bizarre thing found left by a guest?
It's not so much bizarre, but the saddest is personal items, like when people leave their wedding or holiday pictures and never call to get them returned. Of course, we can't contact the guest, as you never know the circumstances, and we have to be discreet.
What's the worst thing a guest has ever said to you?
I was at the Berkeley and a Jewish guest was having a problem. I'm German and have an accent and he kept asking me what nationality I was. I knew what he was driving at and just refused to tell him, but it was very unpleasant. My heart was in my throat and I was very upset by it.
Who's your inspiration?
Miss Edith Ott, the executive housekeeper at the Kempinski in Munich. She lived in, was very glamorous and knew everything we did. She was firm but fair. There are lots of executive housekeepers who are terrifying, but with her it was more awe: you were a little afraid, but also totally inspired.
Who's your dream guest?
It was Placido Domingo. I had a total crush on him. He was my idol - I even had a picture of him in my office. When he was our guest at the Savoy I looked after him and he invited me as his guest to Covent Garden opera house. It was just surreal. We had the best seats in the house and it was the most fantastic thing ever. It, alone, was almost worth going into housekeeping for.