By Cathy Cook

I have worked in the hotel industry for 35 years (27 of them at Marriott International) where my mentors indoctrinated me to the philosophy of taking ownership of the physical hotel product. It became intuitive to me to be keenly aware of the smallest details such as spotting the one burned out light bulb in the chandelier, a paperclip on the floor, or a gum wrapper in a potted plant. Most importantly, I was trained to spot and then clean-up litter in the lobby and public areas.

Over the years I became famous at each of the Brand properties I worked at for going around and picking up the smallest scrap of paper or candy wrapper I would see. It’s just something that became engrained in me ever since the day I was told by one of my managers that it’s everyone’s responsibility to keep our property clean NOT just housekeeping!

I was always passing this message on at the properties that I worked at and was sure to lead by example. One time I had an unfortunate incident in an elevator when I leaned down to pick up some trash finding out that it wasn’t trash but it was something quite slimy and gross that I had put my hands into. No worries, I was able to maintain my composure and greet guests as they entered the elevator with a smile asking them what floor they would like until I exited the elevator to quickly make it to the restroom to wash my hand! That didn’t stop me from picking up the trash though.

Years later I began working at the Marriott Headquarters in Bethesda, and immediately I noticed that most of my colleagues there did not yet share my passion, so I made extra sure to demonstrate it daily.

One day I was thrilled to be recognized for this. While going to lunch I was assisting a gentleman that was having trouble balancing his packages on his cart on the way to the mailroom. After assisting the gentleman, I noticed some trash in the hallway and I leaned over and picked it up and threw it in the trash can. I then heard a man clear his throat from down the hall and say to me “Excuse me Miss but I just wanted to thank you for helping that gentleman with his packages and especially for picking up that trash!.” That man was Mr. Marriott himself! I was quite happy to say the least. I then went back to my office and shared the story with my fellow associates who thought I was silly for being so excited about this incident. They made fun of me for the next few weeks, throwing trash at my feet whenever I would walk by just to see if I would pick it up!

One nice benefit of working for Marriott was getting discounted Associate Rates, and then after 25 years I became a member of the Quarter Century Club and now I get comp rooms for life. So needless to say, I stay at a lot of Marriott Hotels. My husband makes fun of me because even though I’m on vacation, not only do I still pick up the trash, but I also check those light bulbs and make sure that wet floor signs are placed whenever I see a spill.

Last year I left Marriott and moved on to become Executive Director of Training for Kennedy Training Network and am on the road most weeks conducting training for KTN clients from all major hotel brands. While on-site, I always feel part of the team and therefore when I pass trash I still pick it up. I guess some habits die hard, but to me it is a good thing. Guests may not overtly notice when the lobby is clean and well lit, but they surely will notice when it is spotted with litter and dim, so take pride in your properties and pick up the trash and report those out of order/safety issues when you notice them.