by Sandy Soule, BedandBreakfast.com
PART ONE (of a two-part series)
At a recent gathering of new friends, the usual conversation began with questions such as “what do you do?” As usual, when I described my job, heads turn. Often, people exclaim “what a great job” and enthuse about how they love to stay at B&Bs when they travel. But not always. The other day, the comments were different: “We live in a destination town with a ton of B&Bs. Friends came to visit, and we had a houseful, so we put them up in a nearby B&B. They didn’t like it a bit, and were disappointed by the sagging bed, disappointing breakfast, and so on. Another guest chimed in: “Our last B&B stay was not pleasant. Our room didn’t have a single comfortable chair to sit it, the lighting was terrible, and there was so much clutter than it was impossible to find a spot for our own things.”
How does your B&B measure up? Here’s our 20-step checklist to guest comfort to help you with a self-assessment!
1. Check into your own guest rooms. Innkeepers have been told for years to sleep in their own guest rooms. It’s good advice as far as it goes—but it doesn’t go far enough. Try to experience your guest rooms the way your guests do, by packing (and unpacking) two suitcases, putting away toiletries for two, showering, shaving, putting on makeup, and so on. If at all possible, you and your spouse/partner/friend should experience your guest rooms together, since typically two guests occupy a room at the same time—you’ll get a better feeling for how the room lives. You’ll quickly realize the need for good lighting on both sides of the bed; for nightstands on which you can set reading glasses, water, tissues, a book, and more; a bathroom with good mirrors, lighting, and open shelf space; and closet, bureau, and open space for your clothes and other personal items. If you want to attract business travelers, try to use a laptop and telephone to check on your inn’s business.
2. Stay at other B&Bs. As they say, when you have your own business, you can do anything you want but leave. Nonetheless, staying at other B&Bs is an essential part of your ongoing market research. Some innkeepers do this before getting into the business; others have never stayed at a B&B before opening one. Either way, you can’t be a good innkeeper until you’ve been a guest. By overnighting at other inns, you’ll get new ideas, and will learn what works and what doesn’t work at other properties. Whether you chose to reveal that you are yourself an innkeeper is an individual choice; we suggest trying it both ways. The key point is too see what it feels like to be a guest, so that you’ll be equipped to empathize with their needs, concerns, desires, and misapprehensions. Stay in some B&Bs in your area, as well as those in competitive destinations.
3. Stay at other lodging properties, including boutique hotels and motel chains. Years ago, conventional wisdom dictated that motels were no competition for B&Bs. No longer. Standards have risen tremendously at the average motel/hotel property, although rates remain extremely competitive. Between $64-99 a night gets you a clean comfortable room with a good bed, TV and telephone, inoffensive furnishings, average-size bathroom, so-so linens and towels, a simple but adequate breakfast, sometimes afternoon tea and cookies, usually an exercise room and swimming pool. Though not memorable, the experience is rarely objectionable, and the price is right.
4. First impressions count. Although there will always be factors that are beyond your control, like weather and traffic, build up a reservoir of good will in your advance communications with guests. Answer emails promptly with a complete signature. Respond to phone messages in a timely fashion. Go the extra mile when taking a reservation by offering to assist with dinner reservations and/or theater or concert tickets.
5. Don’t forget about the outside of your B&B. Is your parking area well marked and well lit? Is there a well-lit and smooth path between the parking area and your inn? Are the grounds well-tended, with lots of flowers in season? Are the windows clean, with enough lights lit to make it look welcoming?
6. What about the second “B” in Bed & Breakfast? It’s the rare innkeeper who eats his or her own breakfast. “We ate that way the first year we owned the inn, and gained 20 pounds!” is the usual explanation. Perhaps weekend guests enjoy a splurge meal, but your midweek guests are probably just as concerned with their health as you are with yours. Many recipes can be made lower in fat and calories while higher in fiber with no increase in effort and cost, and no decrease in flavor. Offering choices for personal taste and preference is as easy as putting the fruit or pancake syrup, in a separate pitcher rather than pouring it all over the waffles in advance. Keeping multi-grain, low-fat breads and muffins in the freezer to heat up on request is easy to do, as is offering apple or tomato juice to the folks who don’t care for OJ. Fresh or baked fruits are essential, and yogurt keeps for along time in the refrigerator. Most importantly, breakfast should feel like a special experience; you can bolt down a bowl of cold cereal at home. Flexibility in serving time, type of food, and serving style should reflect sensitivity to guests’ needs which vary tremendously from the midweek corporate traveler to the weekend honeymooners to a vacationing couple who enjoy breakfast conversation with the other guests.
7. Afternoon/evening refreshments: Do you welcome guests with hot/cold seasonally appropriate refreshments? Are those refreshments available at all hours, for the early riser looking for a cup of coffee, to the guest who likes a steaming mug of herbal tea at bedtime? Do guests have a place to chill a bottle of their own wine or store a chunk of cheese? If your rates are on the high side, do you include these extras in the rates, or do you make the guests feel like they are being “nickel and dimed” to death by requests for 50 cents per soda?
8. Death to clutter! A guest room is not a stage set; it needs to “live” as good as it “looks.” Many innkeepers want their guest rooms to look perfect when they show them to guests, and often, to the innkeepers’ eyes, an empty table or dresser top looks bare without a figurine here, or a china bowl there. Concerned about the time and expense required for fresh flowers and plants, artificial ones sprout on walls, canopy beds, and other horizontal and vertical surfaces quicker than kudzu grows in the South. Be merciless! Keep horizontal surfaces clear of anything but essentials (lamps, radio, telephone, etc.). Walls and windows are enhanced by lovely fabrics, paintings, and wallpapers—as long as it’s done with a light touch. If you must use artificial flowers as a decorative element, keep them dust-free, and replace them frequently.
9. Test-drive your beds. Unless you provide turndown service (and make the extra pillows disappear), place four usable pillows (in pillow cases) on each bed, and forget the mounds of decorative pillows. Don’t expect guests to know that you’re not supposed to sleep on pillows with shams on them. Make sure (by sleeping in them with your significant other) that your beds don’t sag or squeak. Even with top quality bedding, queen-size beds will often sag without extra supports. Wood-frame beds need to have their bolts tightened frequently, or they become annoyingly noisy.
10. Make sure your inn has at least one TV. Even if you’ve decided in favor of a no-TV policy in both the guest rooms and common areas, have a TV available for major events and emergencies. Whether it’s the World Series or the World Cup, a hurricane or a blizzard, or an imminent announcement of war, there are times when guests’ need to watch TV is more important than your vision for the inn.
PART TWO will appear in the Spring issue of B&B and Country Inn MarketPlace Magazine providing the final 10 CHECKLIST STEPS to Guest Comfort.
Sandy Soule published America’s first B&B guidebooks in 1982. She’s gone on to write her own guidebook series, inaugurate the Internet’s fist inn directory, and establish her own website. At BedandBreakfast.com, Sandy writes the BedandBreakfast.com Report, a free e-zine for inngoers, and the Innkeeper News, a monthly email newsletter for member innkeepers.
Please address article comments to: Claude or Mariette Gagne ~ The B&B and Country Inn MarketPlace
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