Seattle – It’s a Wrap!

So, yesterday morning I thought it happened. I thought that some innkeeper got to Joyce and convinced her to play a practical joke on me. It might have been her interim innkeeper, who suggested that I experience an electrical blackout at some inopportune time, like just before fifteen guests are coming downstairs for breakfast. I was ironing my shirt around 6:30 a.m., when the electricity in my room went out. I’m thinking there is no way we’re going to be able to fire up the oven and serve a hot breakfast. Here is the curveball innkeepers around the country were hoping Joyce would throw. Did she really get up early and kill the electricity, just so I’d face a real challenge? Would she do that to the guests in her house? No way, I thought.

And I thought correctly. When I looked outside my quarters, I noticed the rest of the house was well lit. Something in my room must have tripped the breaker. Thank goodness! But, the effect worked well on me – thoughts raced through my mind about how we would have to improvise to take care of the guests. What was the lesson? Have a back-up plan for breakfast. Had the electricity REALLY been out, we would have scrambled to get something on the table. Possibly fruit salad, granola, etc.

Breakfast went smoothly. For our guests we served a tropical fruit salad, homemade granola and stuffed French toast with orange syrup. One guest requested to come a bit early at 7:45 a.m. to grab her meal for an early departure. She showed up a bit earlier than the appointed time, and we’d forgotten she was coming early. So we had to break our momentum to make sure one of the hot breakfast entrees was ready in a few minutes. It worked out fine. Just another example of the frenetic flow of things.

I’ve decided that some aspects of innkeeping really appeal to my sense of organization and standards. The thought occurred to me as I was placing the coffee mugs at the place settings. I was compelled to make sure that the handles were all pointed in the same direction from the vantage point of the seated guest. I liked seeing how Joyce has her recipes organized in a three-ring binder, each enclosed in a plastic protective sheet. I like how there is reasoning behind some decisions I heretofore would have not considered. For example, in some rooms the beds have six pillows, two of which are in shams. By having six pillows, it is more likely the guests will use the four pillows in the pillow cases and not wear out the shams. If there were only four pillows (two in cases, two in shams), then the more expensive shams would likely see more wear and tear. Standards and good organization help with efficiency, but also help with keeping sanity. And, if there is constant turnover of staff and the use of interim innkeepers, training can be a cinch.

I also learned that positive and immediate feedback is the fuel that keeps you going as an innkeeper. One couple stuck their heads into the kitchen to say goodbye to Joyce and tell her how wonderful their stay was. It is richly satisfying to know you had such an impact on someone’s well-being. Because two seconds later, you’re turning your head back to the kitchen, where you see a room full of dirty dishes. With having just heard that feedback, the dishes somehow don’t seem as dirty.

Once the after-breakfast duties were addressed, I was able to take the apron off and get ready for my afternoon meeting with the Bed and Breakfast Association of Seattle. They were having a meeting at the Shafer-Baillie Mansion in the Capitol Hill area of the city, and I was the featured speaker. I rarely turn down an invitation to join a gathering of innkeepers, and so I was looking forward to this event. We were expecting about 40 people. Folks from the Washington B&B Guild were joining the meeting, as well as other innkeepers from outside Seattle.

With Nathan Allen, president of WBBG, and Joyce Schulte, president of the Seattle Bed and Breakfast Association.

I spoke on industry performance and trends in consumer behavior and preferences in the lodging and hospitality industries. As usual, I had too much material and had to run speedily through all of the great stuff happening in our industry that innkeepers need to hear. The feedback from attendees was that the message was on target, which I like to hear. I spend a great deal of time scanning articles and news that could impact innkeepers, and try to glean the most relevant and salient message.

I enjoyed getting to know many of the area innkeepers. Our hosts at the Shafer-Baillie, Ana and Mark, were gracious and warm. I hope we see more of them at some PAII meetings. I met a few aspiring innkeepers, as well as some folks who have been innkeeping for more than 20 years. After the meeting, Joyce and I went over to the Bacon Mansion, where owner/innkeeper Daryl King gave us a tour of the 11-room inn. I really appreciated my time with Daryl, hearing the story of the building, the issues he deals with, how he approaches customer service, etc.

I capped off the day with a wonderful meal with my mentor/host and her husband in a downtown restaurant. The view was amazing!

Just to show you how good this view was, the red arrow points to the Space Needle, which is supposed to be the best observation point.

One thing I was amazed and pleased to see was how Daryl was using his mobile device (an apple iPhone) to keep track of his availability and room count. On this hand-held device, Daryl showed me how he could bring up his Webervations page…and speak with an inquiring guest…at the same time. This allows Daryl to be anywhere in his inn and handle reservation requests, rather than having to run down to the office to take care of it. Innkeepers are always on the move, and this was inspiring to me!

The Bacon Mansion availability on an iPhone
All in all, this was a fantastic experience. I’m glad I created the contest to “Hire PAII’s CEO” and put myself to the test. I was able to get a good feeling for the long list of issues an innkeeper faces every single day. I have a much better appreciation for comments I read on the PAII forum about how to handle difficult guests and inquiries. I understand how exhausting a day can be. But I’ve also seen how rewarding it can be. The great feeling of a job well-done, when you look back at a room you just scoured clean. The satisfaction you see on a face, when you place a plate of ginger
spice pancakes on the table. The energy you feel when walking around a grand house…with the fire lit, the cookie jar full, the New York Times sitting squarely on the table, beds made, guests out and about, flowers coming out of the ground outside.

Joyce and the Chambered Nautilus were the ideal innkeeper and inn for this experience. She spent a lot of time showing me the ropes. And while she sent me off to do a lot of work, which is exactly what I requested, she spent a great deal of time talking to me…over meals…over chopping fruit…over folding sheets…in between taking phone calls. The relationship she has with her inn is equal give and take. She pours herself into the role of hostess, cook, “aunt” to her housekeepers, marketer, bookkeeper and association volunteer. And the inn gives back to her an energy that is hard to explain in words. I suppose it is similar to what I feel as a parent of a two year old daughter. It’s a heck of a lot of work to keep up with her needs, and yet it is supremely satisfying to lay her down at the end of the night, then kick my feet up onto the coffee table and soak in the feeling of being a happy parent. Joyce is a good and happy innkeeper in a tough, challenging profession. I learned a lot from her, and I hope I made a mark on her as well. I am sure I will be a better leader of this association and industry for having done this.

Me with housekeeper extraordinaire, Kristen.

Me with innkeeper extraordinaire, Joyce.

See you in Anaheim!


Author: Jay Karen

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

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