Thursday, July 19, 2007

I Love My Dishwasher

I didn't realize how much I loved it until it died on me last Friday. We purchased it in 2004 and bought the extended service contract, but since we live at the end of the universe Sears only has service out here on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I called a local repair person, he told me he couldn't get there any sooner than Tuesday, either, so we might as well wait and get the service we didn't have to pay for. So for five days we washed all the dishes by hand. Granted, I grew up in a house where we had no dishwasher, so washing dishes is not a foreign concept to me, but there were only four of us!

The good news is that the service tech did come on Tuesday, the culprit was the motor. If we hadn't purchased the extended service the repair would have cost nearly $400. We're now back up and running and life is good.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Unclear on the Concept

Bed & Breakfasts are, pretty much by definition, small businesses. They are individually owned and the owners often do a lot of the work themselves. Some B&B's have assistant innkeepers, a few even have full-time, live-in innkeepers who are not owners. Each establishment reflects the personality of its owners. Decor varies widely, breakfasts run the gamut from continental to multiple-course gourmet, amenities may be quite simple or they may rival the large hotel chains. I've heard of B&B's that have themes, made-to-order ice cream sundaes, all sorts of romance packages, various types of animals on the property and so forth. The point is that if you can think it up, there's probably a B&B out there somewhere that has it. There's only one thing I've never heard of a B&B having: a 24-hour reservation desk.

Anyone who has ever stayed in a B&B can plainly see how it works. The innkeeper is up early, makes breakfast, helps guests with plans for the day, checks people out, cleans up from breakfast, cleans or supervises the room cleaning, does laundry or supervises staff doing it, does all the paperwork, greets and checks in new guests, sets up for the following morning and goes to bed so they can get up and do it all again. Somewhere in there they may have time for a meal or two. It's pretty clear to the guests that it would be inappropriate to call for a reservation in the middle of the night, so when we do get calls like that it's pretty obviously someone who has never stayed in a Bed & Breakfast.

Fortunately this isn't a nightly occurrence. It happens a few times a year. It happened twice last night, once at about 11 p.m. and once just after midnight. Fortunately (or not) we were still awake, but we usually explain that we're in or heading for bed and ask them to call back the next day. I kind of wish I'd tracked these calls to see if any of them ever call back, but if I had to guess, few if any do.

Some B&B's do not answer the phone at night. We feel strongly that we must, since someone may be calling with an emergency for one of our guests or for us, since it's the number most of our family & friends have for us. In eight years, however, we've never had a late night call that was an emergency - they've all be people calling for reservations. I'm guessing none of them has ever stayed in a B&B before. I'm also guessing that they won't be staying in mine.

Don't even get me started on the ones who ring the doorbell after midnight...

Monday, July 16, 2007

A First

It isn't a good first, either. Last week, for the first time in our eight years of innkeeping, we had to ask a guest to leave.

This was a last minute reservation that took a 3-day slot, two days of which had been a cancellation so we were glad to get the booking. They arrived early (see my previous post on this subject) but I needed to get out of the house for an appointment so I agreed to check them in. Fortunately my husband arrived home when I was about halfway through the process and took over; they seemed to want to chat and I didn't have the time as I was rushing to get rooms cleaned. We both agreed the couple was a little "odd", but other guests have struck us that way and have turned out to be perfectly nice people. Not so this time.

At breakfast the first morning I asked the couple where they had gone for dinner the night before - a standard conversation opener around here. The answer I got back started out as a rant. He was unhappy that the restaurant/club they had been to for lunch had closed their kitchen at 9 p.m. and before the music started. They had wanted to have a late dinner and hear the band. He expressed surprise that nobody had told them about this policy at lunch (why would they?). I mentioned that most of the restaurants around here stop serving around nine and named the exceptions, all of which stop serving at ten. Also the fact that as far as I knew, the places that offer live music in this town all close the kitchen prior to the band starting. I don't know why that is, it's just local custom and I've never thought to question it.

The guest would not drop the issue and became angrier and angrier. He accused me of being "argumentative". It was starting to get ugly when another guest came to my rescue and changed the subject. I stepped into my office for a few minutes to cool off and thought seriously about asking the couple to leave right then and there, but when I returned to the dining room a lively conversation on another topic was going on and everyone seemed happy, so I let it go. When my husband returned in the afternoon to spell me for a bit I mentioned the incident to him just so he'd have a heads-up. He told me I should have called him and he would have asked them to leave, but at that point I thought it was overkill and that everything would be fine.

I left the inn for a couple of hours and when I returned I discovered that this same guest had gotten in my husband's face less than an hour before and for a different reason. He'd then called me "rude" and his girlfriend had agreed. That was pretty much the last straw for my husband, who immediately issued them a refund for the remaining two nights of their stay and sent them packing. The result was some lost room revenue but peace of mind and peace in the house. A worthwhile trade-off, but one I hope I don't have to face again. By far the majority of our guests are lovely people who make us want to stay in this business. I don't know if I'd feel that way if this sort of thing happend more often.

As a side note, the guest's choice of club and music that had set off his morning rant was an unusual one. During the day it's a restaurant/bar popular with families. At night it's a popular and well-known local music spot, but mostly for the 20's and early 30's crowd, as the music rarely starts much before 11 p.m. I've been there a couple of times and felt old (I'm in my 40's). This couple is at least twenty years older than I am. So strange.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I know I'm early but...

It doesn't happen every day, but it happens often enough. I'm in the middle of cleaning rooms, or worse, still cleaning up from breakfast, when the doorbell rings. A couple is standing inside my vestibule and I open the door.

"Can I help you?"

"Are you Janet? We're xxxxx. We know we're early, but we wondered if our room was ready...?"

Um, no. Not usually.

Okay, I really do get it that most people have very limited vacation time, that traffic is lighter early in the day, it's perfect beach weather and my guests want to get as early a start as possible. I sympathize with that, I really do. But please understand the math.

Breakfast here starts at 8:30 and goes until 10. That's nominal. Sometimes people linger, sometimes I'm engaged in conversation with them. It can easily stretch to 10:30. Check-out is 11 a.m. Yes, people often leave earlier but not always. It takes me a half-hour minimum to clean up from breakfast - that's bare minimum: clearing the dining room, loading the dishwasher, putting away the perishables, clearing the sink. I usually need to eat something myself. Then I start rooms. It takes roughly 40 minutes for me to get a room ready for new guests. I may have several rooms to change over. Check-in starts at 2 p.m. which is actually quite early. Many places don't start check-in until 3, 4 or even later. Each time the doorbell rings, it interrupts my rhythm and everything takes longer. It can be quite frustrating, particularly on a day like this past Sunday where every room in the house changed over and the guests for all but one room rang the bell between 11:30 and 12:30.

I really can't check you in that early. Check-in is a process and it takes a little time. I also may get to chatting, which I enjoy but it's keeping me from finishing the rooms. Occasionally my husband is home and if the room is ready he can take care of checking in an early guest while I continue to work, but it doesn't happen often. Even on days where I have help, it's important for me to have that time between 11 and 2 just to feel ready to greet my new guests.

Here's what I can do before 2:
- let you use the first-floor bathroom;
- get you a proof-of-stay so you can purchase a beach sticker and go to the beach;
- direct you to a restaurant where you can get lunch.

Feel free to ask me for any of these things. I will be as polite as I possibly can while asking you to come back after two.

Monday, July 2, 2007

It's a small, small world

This small world story actuall pertains to me... well, more specifically, my husband.

I was conversing with one of our guests this morning at breakfast and she was telling me about her grown sons, who have rented a house nearby with their families and who she is here to visit. In passing she mentioned a town in New Jersey where one of her sons lives. It turns out to be the town my husband grew up in, and with which I am somewhat familiar, so I asked where in this town. She named a section of the town, which is the same as where my husband grew up, so I asked the street name. She couldn't remember but she said it was near [local landmark]. Just for grins, I asked "It isn't [name of street my husband grew up on], is it?" You know where this is going. She knew the house number and I called my husband to double-check. Her son owns the house my husband lived in from the age of six until he was eighteen. They bought it from my mother-in-law. How very strange.

I don't have the connection to that house my husband does, obviously, but I did spend a fair bit of time there the first few years of our marriage. We held our wedding reception in the back yard of that house and there was a huge family & friends party there in June of every year until it was sold, so I know the house pretty well.

We're hoping to meet him later in the week, I'm sure they have questions about the house my husband will be able to answer. We already know my mother-in-law wants to ask them about "her" apple trees and a few other things.