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Purchasing Department of the Hotel Industry

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The purchasing department, while actually a back-of-the-house operation, is included in this front-of-the-house section since it performs a largely managerial function. The acumen of the purchasing manager and the efficiency of the purchasing department can make for the profitable operation of a hotel.

Duties of the purchasing department include interviewing salespeople, placing orders for goods needed by all hotel departments, keeping records of all purchases and payments, drawing up and signing contracts and agreements for the purchase of all goods, comparing price and quality on all bids received, receiving and checking the quality and quantity of merchandise received on order, checking receipts and shipping invoices against accounts payable and forwarding such information to the accounting department, suggesting changes in the use of certain goods where costs can be saved or quality improved, and suggesting new products.

In some hotels, heads of both the housekeeping and the chef-steward department do their own interviewing of sales representatives, placing of orders, checking, and other functions of purchasing. This will depend largely upon the hotel and its size. The systems may vary accordingly.

The head of this department is the purchasing agent, or manager. This person supervises the functions and interviews, instructs, disciplines, and discharges employees in the purchasing department. Promotion to this position is usually from staff positions in the purchasing department. Occasionally, a hotel may employ as purchasing agent someone who has had considerable purchasing experience in other hotels or other businesses.

Experience in purchasing work, merchandising, and allied fields gives you an excellent background for purchasing work. Specialization in some particular phase of purchasing is sometimes also required as, for example, the purchasing of canned goods, office supplies, food, liquor, or linens. In some hotels, employees from other departments are considered for advancement to jobs in the purchasing department. Promotion will depend largely upon the individual, his or her education and experience, and the responsibility of the opening.

Purchasing checkers handle invoice control, examine incoming invoices to check errors, check invoices against purchasing department records and purchase orders, and verify the quality and quantity of all goods received. They notify the purchasing agent of vendors' compliance with all terms of purchasing orders and contracts.

A high school education is generally required for employment here and college or hotel training courses are preferred. While there are such beginners' jobs as clerks, secretaries, and office helpers available in the purchasing department, opportunities for better jobs and promotions depend upon experience, ability, and training. Other fields in which experience can be gained are selling and estimating.

Most purchasing department employees work eight hours a day, five or six days a week. In general, office help will be on duty 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., while checkers or other helpers who are concerned with incoming shipments may work staggered or late hours in order to meet these shipments.

Since purchasing work is highly specialized, most hotels try to train staffs for this work and keep them as long as possible since they are not easily replaced. This is skilled work, and ability is generally equal to the length of time and experience spent in this work. While purchasing agents have been promoted to managerial positions, purchasing is generally considered to be a field in itself.

In 1996 (Bureau of Labor Statistics), median annual earnings of purchasers were $33,200. The middle 50 percent earned between $23,300 and $45,900. Much depends upon the job requirements or the individual's own experience and background. There are too many variable factors here to give a precise amount. The head of the department may not only receive a large salary but receive a bonus for savings made in purchasing or efficiency of operation. Sometimes meals may be furnished to certain members of this department.


A central files department is usually found only in large hotels, where files are most often kept on computer databases. In small hotels, its functions are absorbed by other departments, as the number of files doesn't warrant setting up a special section.

As large hotels have become older, their files have increased along with the years. And as these files have increased, it has been found impossible to have each department keep its own files. This would require more space for files than rooms.

As a result, this central file system was set up. It includes a central sorting and clearing center where all files are sorted, duplications weeded out, and central mailing lists set up. Today, much of this work is kept on computer. This might include general correspondence, bulletins, executive memorandums, contracts, guest files, and other information.

Added to these duties in some hotels have been those of general storekeeper and interoffice mailroom. The general storekeeper stocks and issues all office supplies. He or she keeps a constant check on inventory and sees to it that supplies are available for departmental use when needed. The interoffice mailroom distributes all interoffice correspondence and handles the mailing of all hotel mail and packages.

This central mailing center not only saves the time of different departments but also helps keep one central control over all postal expenditures. In large hotels, postage is an expensive item.

The chief file clerk supervises the work of this department, and positions here include file clerks, mail personnel, storekeeper, and assistants. No special educational requirements are needed, although at least a high school education is preferred, and an understanding of computers is helpful. Many hotels give part-time employment here to students attending hotel training schools.

Promotion from the central files is possible to other departments of the hotel. The chief file clerk's position is a skilled position, since knowledge of filing systems and controls is necessary. The chief file clerk is appointed from other file clerks or other departments of the hotel. Occasionally, a hotel will employ as chief file clerk someone who has had filing experience in other hotels or businesses.

Remuneration is generally averaged at about $17,000 a year (1996, Bureau of Labor Statistics), depending upon the hours, experience, and duties. But the central files department is the nerve center of the hotel and an excellent point from which to see the hotel in operation.


Hotel security departments range from a solitary employee in some small hotels to as many as twenty or more people in some of the larger hotels. Today's house officers and patrol personnel are primarily concerned with the protection of hotel guests and their property.

In most of the larger hotels, this department, under the supervision of an assistant manager in charge of protection (or chief house officer), operates quietly to safeguard hotel guests and property against theft or other crimes. Members of the department are stationed in public rooms, in the lobby, on banquet floors, and on the guest floors. When you realize that a large hotel is a city within a city with as many as three or four thousand guests in the house at one time and thousands of dollars' worth of furnishings distributed throughout the building, you can see why potential criminals are likely to be attracted.

Technological advances have changed the way security systems operate. For example, in many hotels a room key is not used, and in its place a key card the size of a credit card is inserted in the room door to gain entrance. When a guest checks out of the hotel, the combination on the key card is reprogrammed.

In addition to their other duties, house officers are also trained to help distressed guests to their rooms, prevent disturbances in any part of the hotel, accompany cashiers, prevent annoyance of guests, and take charge in case of emergencies.

While educational requirements for this department are not specified, some house officers are college graduates, and many are former police officers. High school and college education, as well as hotel training courses, are helpful for promotion. Promotions are possible within the security department and also to other departments such as front office, credit, and management. There are several prominent hotel managers today who started as house officers and worked their way up. The ranks of house officers have often been tapped to fill openings for assistant managers on the floor.

In addition to house officers, the security department is composed of uniformed patrol personnel in large hotels. They regularly tour all guest floors, service floors, and public rooms of the hotels. In many hotels, they punch time clocks at stations along their tour. They inspect the premises continually to see that things are in order. Other patrol personnel are assigned to the receiving entrance to prevent loss of merchandise. They are also assigned to patrol work at conventions, banquets, and when large crowds are in any of the public rooms.
The security department may also house the lost and found section where all articles left in rooms by departing guests, or found elsewhere in the hotel, are kept for return to their proper owners. In some hotels, this function is handled by the housekeeping department. Here, too, reports are made of losses and are given to house officers.

Since security is a twenty four hour operation, the three-shift system is generally employed by members of the department. In 1996 (Bureau of Labor Statistics), median annual earnings of guards who worked full-time were about $17,300. The middle 50 percent earned between $10,300 and $25,100. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $10,300, and the highest tenth earned more than $35,600. In general, earnings depend on the size of the hotel, number of hours worked, and the employee's experience. The executive positions in this department pay much more. Meals are sometimes furnished to the manager or other members of this department.
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