Day Two in Seattle

A good second day at the Chambered Nautlius B&B in Seattle, Washington. I was able to cover more territory with my mentor innkeeper, Joyce Schulte. It was a nice mixture of getting my hands dirty and discussing strategic issues Joyce gets to contemplate in her “free time.” Click here to read about the “Hire PAII’s CEO” contest and here to read about Day One.

The day started for me with a 6:15 a.m. rise, phone call to my wife and daughter on the east coast, quick shower and shave and then walking ten feet to the inn’s kitchen to get ready for the 8:00 a.m. breakfast. Since Joyce tells guests that breakfast is served between 8 and 9, we get some folks downstairs at 7:55 a.m. and others roll up to the table at 8:50 a.m. I find that it’s not that bad, if you do a good job prepping and picking the right menu items. In addition to a choice of coffees, teas and orange/banana juice, we served “Heavenly Bananas” (fresh bananas covered in an orange sour cream sauce), homemade granola and a “crab, artichoke heart egg puff” with Hollandaise sauce and asparagus tips on top. Oh, and some roasted rosemary pototoes. We served sixteen guests, spread out over three different rooms. Joyce did the cooking, and Rhea and I served all the guests, poured the beverages and made sure all the guests were happy. Since we prepped the potatoes and sour cream sauce the night before, as well as set the dining room table, we were able to roll pretty well in the morning. It was amazing to watch how quickly the dirty dishes piled up in the kitchen.

I really enjoyed chatting with the guests, and I found myself trying to figure out where the line was between being engaging and being a pest. I discovered one of the guests has a daughter that actually graduated from my high school back in Georgia – the same year as me! Another guest lived in Collingswood, New Jersey, which is three miles away from the PAII headquarters. It was a fun morning. I enjoyed interacting with the guests. To see how much they were enjoying themselves, and knowing that I was playing a part in that experience was very satisfying. I had an “ah-ha” moment. THIS is why innkeepers love innkeeping! Oh, and because of the food too. Joyce made a few extra crab dishes, and it was delectable. So was her granola and coffee. I’m somewhat of a foodie – like most innkeepers – so that is definitely a plus to being in this industry. Seeing and being part of all the preparation and work that goes into serving a wonderful meal in a handsome setting made me feel sorry for the guests who don’t take advantage of the meal. One of the business travelers had to miss the breakfast (like I sometimes do when staying at inns while traveling for PAII), and I felt she didn’t really get the experience.

One thing that amazes me is hearing how familiar Joyce is with her customers. She knows and remembers people very well, and that helps greatly in delivering a personalized experience. She gets a lot of repeat guests in a city that is not short on choices! It’s little wonder why our friends at named her inn among the top ten urban inns in 2007.

After the last guest left the breakfast table, which was around 10:30 a.m., we tackled the dishes. Joyce said, “It’s going to be a three load day.” When cooking, my instinct is to wash things as I go, which includes loading the dishwasher as I am finished with something that needs to go through the machine. When serving breakfast for 16 people, it’s not always possible to do that, so there is quite a pile waiting for your attention. But I also learned that it’s not always best to “load as you go,” because you really can’t maximize the space in the appliance. When you have a kitchen full of dishes, you can pick and choose more carefully what dishes should go where. Since the washer takes about 50 minutes to wash and sanitize, I didn’t happily succumb to the idea that it would take three hours to conquer all the dishes. I’m sure if Joyce had room in the kitchen for a second dish washer, she’d probably get one.

After cleaning and straightening all the rooms downstairs, Joyce and I went through “the list.” We had to prepare for a few check-ins and work on tidying and turning the rooms. At 11:30 a.m., she had her monthly conference call with Allison and Scott Crumpton of Whitestone Marketing to review the results of Joyce’s marketing plan. I sat in on the call and was able to view some pretty sophisticated reports that show where Joyce is getting her online business from, which online directories seem to be working well (and which are not), the effectiveness of Google pay-per-clicks and more. I was impressed by the work Whitestone is doing for Joyce. She runs a successful business, but is not resting on her laurels. The Crumptons are helping Joyce stay fresh and on top of the internet marketing game.

After our conference call, I secretly wondered when we would be having lunch – but my gut told me it would be a while…if at all. Joyce and I then turned our attention to housekeeping duties. As an urban inn, most (if not all) of Joyce’s guests leave the property for most of the day. Rarely does she have someone hanging around, so it makes tackling the rooms a bit easier. Rhea took on all the “turns,” or the rooms which needed a more thorough cleaning and changing. Joyce and I took on the “tidies,” which involves a lighter cleaning and straightening of the rooms in which guests are still staying that same evening. We straightened beds, fluffed pillows, cleaned showers/toilets/floors/sinks in the bathrooms, emptied trash, replenished bottled water, and vacuumed.

The shots many of you were waiting to see: the PAII CEO on his hands and knees cleaning a bathroom floor. And yes, I hunted for, found and disposed of any stray body hairs our lovely guests decided to leave behind in the bathroom. Not the most savory aspect of the job, but a necessary one. This will surely be brought up during my annual performance review with the PAII board of directors!
And…a nearly perfect triangle of tissue paper. Always a nice reminder to the guests that we were here…we cleaned your mess…and we took the time to make the TP look nice for you.

After our cleaning duties were completed, Joyce and I sat down for a bite to eat. I think it was close to 3 p.m. by time I “forced” Joyce to sit down and join me for a meal and some conversation. We chatte
d about her local and state B&B associations, and of course – PAII. At 3 p.m. sharp, one of the new guests arrived – someone affiliated with the University of Washington. Joyce has done a phenomenal job building relationships with many of the departments and divisions on campus, and the Chambered Nautilus has become a favorite choice for many academics and other visitors to the university.

I had to ask myself, as we continued to conquer the day’s labor, “what is most appealing to me about running an inn?” I already mentioned the interactions with and being a source of happiness for the guests…and the good food that is part of your life. What I also find very appealing is the constant problem-solving nature of the job. I don’t just mean all the curve balls that get thrown your way during the day; I mean the pursuit of a more efficient, productive way of accomplishing the tasks you know are coming your way. I gained a new appreciation for all the sessions we host at the PAII Conference & Trade Show on time-saving techniques or ways to better organize your life and inn. How could I do this more quickly and better, without sacrificing quality? What recipes lend themselves well to a very busy kitchen? For example, I wanted to set all three tables the night before, but Joyce said to only set the dining room table. It didn’t occur to me that guests would likely mess with the other two tables before the next morning, since they were in the common areas. It’s something relatively minor, but saves a lot of time the next morning. Only through experience could you learn something like that. To that point, I noticed that Joyce goes back and forth between paper and computer to run the inn. The system works for her, but we both wondered how much time could be saved if she could manage more electronically. Time is the most precious commodity. If we could free up 15 to 30 minutes in her day on account of finding redundancies or other pockets of inefficiency, it would be a major coup. If I had more time with her, I would want to figure out how we could integrate all of the information-tracking into a simpler system. I don’t think our industry could ever have too many efficiency experts!

Another thing I have had the good fortune of observing: just because an innkeeper has “staff,” doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t work just as hard as an innkeeper without staff. Joyce busts her butt all day long, even though she has about four people who help her throughout the week at different intervals. Well, at this point, that is what my intuition tells me. I am strongly considering making this experience a once or twice per year thing for me. Next time, I will likely choose an inn with fewer rooms and that is run solely by the owner/operator – just to see the contrasts and similarities. I think my intuition is right, though, on this point. I think the level of dedication and work ethic has more to do with the innkeeper than the number of rooms or staff people.

So my day ended with the duties of folding a ton of sheets and pillow cases, ironing the napkins and placemats for tomorrow, setting the dining room table and sweeping some of the exterior areas. Oh, I almost forgot to share one of the highlights of my day. Making the cookies! I am a cookie nut, so I had been hounding Joyce about making sure we keep the cookie jar fully stocked – which meant ensuring we replenished the back-up stock. If this picture below doesn’t make you want to pour a large glass of ice-cold milk, I don’t know what would!

I was able to knock off work “early” today, after eleven busy hours. The subsequent three or four hours are now being spent on this blog and preparing for a meeting this Thursday with the Seattle B&B Association, at which I will deliver a “state of the industry” speech to about 30 innkeepers. There is no doubt in my mind this experience is making me a better CEO for PAII. Money and time well-spent.

Author: Jay Karen

Jay is the President & CEO of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International.

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