Hotel organization structures - Hotel Management and Operations


In hotels in the United States at the beginning of the twentieth century, the classic European hotel organization model was predominant. This structure was built around two major hotel managerial personalities: the chef and the maître d’hôtel. The chef was the chief or king of the kitchen. In many ways, he represented a feudal lord on his estate who held sway over everything that had to do with election and preparation of food in the hotel. This structure recognized the importance of the role that food and its preparation played in the hotels of the time.

Similarly, the maîtred ’hôtel was the master of all service in the hotel. It was his responsibility to manage the interaction of the hotel’s staff and guests such that guests were always served promptly, properly, and in line with the hotel’s policy. Even the titles chef and maîtred ’hôtel, translated from the French as “chief” and “master of the hotel,” suggest a strong European influence. That these terms are still in use today attests to a continuing influence, but the roles have changed and evolved. In several places in this book, we consider the ways in which people, organizations, and jobs have changed in the hotel industry. For many of the same reasons cited in the Introduction as to why the management of hotels has changed, hotel organization structures have also changed. As our knowledge of our guests and the markets they represent grew and became more precise, specialization within the hotel organizational structure increased the effectiveness with which the organization managed and delivered its services.

Hotel organization structures are not immune to the influences of the economy and business cycles, so the difficulties that befall business in general during economic downturns also affect hotel organizations. Downsizing and reengineering are terms used to describe the changes hotel companies have undergone.

In the early 1990s, some hotels eliminated entire levels of management or combined managerial responsibilities to flatten the organization. In the typical functional chart, such as that depicted in Figure, the executive assistant manager was often eliminated, making division heads directly responsible to the general manager (GM). Some hotels eliminated separate managers at the division level, with all department managers reporting directly to the GM.

However the restructuring looks, organizations are still formed around principles such as those outlined by Stoner and Wankel (1986) They said that the organizing process involves balancing a company’s need for both stability and change. They go on to comment on “organizing” as a multi-step process based on that proposed by Dale (1967):

  • Organizing details all of the work that must be done to attain the organization’s goals.
  • Organizing divides the total work to be performed into groups of activities that can be performed by one person or one group of people.
  • Organizing combines the work of an organization’s members in some logical and efficient manner.
  • Organizing sets up a mechanism to coordinate the work of the organization members such that it forms a unified, harmonious whole.
  • Organizing sets up a mechanism to monitor the effectiveness of the organization’s efforts to achieve its goals.

In the modern hotel organization, even a reengineered one, a linear line and staff structure has emerged to reflect this theoretical organizing process. Figure depicts a typical organization chart for a large hotel. Note that, with the exception of top managers, function rather than title identifies the departments. This is to indicate that job titles and associated duties vary from company to company, and, as noted, may be combined or eliminated to reflect current conditions. Looking at an organizational chart by function rather than by job title allows an industry wide perspective, for the services a hotel delivers remain the same even through financial emergencies.

Note also that in this chart the two major operating divisions are identified as Rooms Division and Food and Beverage Division. Again, on a company-by-company basis, individual functions may find homes in various divisions, but basically, hotel organizations are set up to deliver these two basic services to their guests: rooms and food and beverage. What may differ in a given hotel company’s organization is the placement of the other departments. The departments on this organization chart should be considered typical and illustrative of a generic hotel organization chart.

For purposes of illustration, the line and staff functions are defined as follows.

Typical Hotel Organization Chart

Typical Hotel Organization Chart

Line Functions

Line functions are the tasks assigned to hotel employees in organizational components that bring them into regular or semi-regular contact with guests. The line operations in a hotel organization are the Rooms Division and Food and Beverage Division. Obviously, some departmental functions within each line division have more or less guest contact than others. The underlying commonalty is that most line employees are hands-on participants in the assembly and delivery of the hotel’s services. For instance, under most circumstances, members of the hotel’s security staff do not have regular guest contact; housekeeping staff may have somewhat more guest contact, and housekeepers are obviously major participants in the production of the hotel’s services. However, in the Rooms Division, the front office staff has the vast majority of highly visible face-to-face contact with the guest.

Similarly, in the Food and Beverage Division, the employees of the restaurants, bars, room service, and banquet departments have a tremendous amount of face-to-face guest interaction. Like the housekeeping staff, however, only under special and irregular circumstances does the food production staff under the hotel chef interact with guests. Because of their importance in the service production process, they still clearly fall under the line rubric.

Staff Functions

Staff functions are generally those behind the- scenes activities that support the line functions and, under most circumstances, have little or no guest contact, although major components of the work are to influence the quality of a guest’s stay.

In this chart, for instance, engineering is included as a staff function for those reasons. The success of the engineering function heavily influences the quality of the guest’s stay and, at the same time, the engineering department supports the activities of almost every other department in the hotel. For instance, the engineering department maintains and repairs equipment that is crucial to all of the hotel’s line functions, including the food production equipment in the kitchen. Engineering staff can be called on to repair the tables and chairs in the dining room, the furniture in the lobby, and the carts the bellhops use to transport guest luggage. The engineering department thus can be considered a true staff department that serves and supports at any given time any or all of the other departments in the hotel. Other hotel organization charts place the engineering department in the Rooms Division. This may be because that is where engineering works best in the hotel’s organization, or perhaps this placement is only tradition.

This situation may also be true for other departments traditionally thought of as Rooms Division functions. Security is one example. In some organizations, housekeeping has been changed to a staff function rather than strictly rooms, for housekeeping, by definition, “keeps” the entire house.


Organizations, of course, are more than just boxes and charts. The most modern business organization structures have not changed much in form since the Roman Catholic Church first designed the pyramidal structure as a visual depiction of organizational relationships with which we are so familiar today. If you think about it, the military, government, school systems, and nearly all businesses follow the same model. What does affect organizations—not so much in their pictorial view but in the way they respond to external and internal stimuli— can be seen by analyzing several of the readings included here and those that are suggested at the end for further study. At the time of his untimely death, Professor Eddystone C. Nebel III was the C.B. Smith Professor of Hotel Management at Purdue University. He had recently spent a sabbatical leave researching and observing 10 outstanding general managers and 53 key subordinates. During this research, Nebel gained critical insight into how hotel organizations function. In several chapters of his book, Managing Hotels Effectively: Lessons from Outstanding General Managers (1991), Nebel weaves the insights gained from the GMs with organizational theory and then incorporates the increasingly important role that committees can play in the successful organization.

Another view of the peculiar dynamics of hotel organizations is provided by Mark Conklin in his essay on how the leadership can influence a hotel’s effective organization. In his position as vice president of market manage- ment for Marriott Hotels and Resorts, he is positioned to comment knowledgeably. In this instance, he proposes a radical new view—one neither the Catholic Church nor the military might be comfortable with. It does, however, appear well suited to hospitality.

While there is no lack of literature and commentary on hotel organizations, the research and opinion presented here highlight current thinking about the relationship of organizational structure, interdepartmental connections, and the organization’s people. Additional insights can be gained from suggested readings.

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