Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Art of Innkeeping, 101

Guests often ask me, “So when do you get away? And do you stay at a hotel or B&B?” I smile and usually admit that it’s a rare occasion that I leave the inn, but just such an opportunity arose this week.

I attended the Mid-Atlantic Innkeeping Conference held at The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA. While I normally frequent other bed and breakfasts, my second choice is always an historic hotel. My love of history seems to pull me there, and this impressive grand old hotel has many charms.

The minute my foot landed on the marble steps of the front portico, I could feel the history pull – almost expecting my shoe to disappear into a high-topped ladies’ boot of 1901. The massive wings of this brick and building curved forward in both directions, almost enveloping you in their arms.

I was most impressed by the beautiful marble and tile underfoot, and the massive carved columns and majestic lights overhead. Furnishings are all coordinated and the designers touch is here, to be sure, but the workmanship that this building demanded and the fact that it took five years to build is what impressed me most. I’m not saying that I don’t stand in awe of the engineering needed to build shiny new superstructures that reach to the sky, but the buildings of old are the ones that tug at my heart. They speak of a sacrifice we can scarcely comprehend – what it must have taken in time and labor to build a grand hotel in the middle of the mountains, with the vision of catering to folks who would come here to relax and take to the waters. I thought it was the perfect place to hold an innkeeping conference - what better place to learn about hospitality than an inn originally built in 1766? It has stood the test of time, reaching out to weary travelers through three centuries, surviving a Civil War, a Great Depression, and our current economic situation.

So what are we to learn here? Perhaps the lessons of history are that people, from all walks of life, through the years, are the most important part of an inn. That time today is no less valuable and precious than it was two hundred and fifty years ago. That people need to get away now and then to slow down and take time to be grateful for our role in life – whether that is the important work of raising a family or contributing to the welfare of mankind.

I came away from The Homestead thinking that every innkeeper should strive to give each guest special attention and respect. Though today’s world demands that innkeepers spend time on the latest technical gadgets, and that we now must be concerned about social media, websites and management programs, the basics still count as most important.

After 13 years in the bed and breakfast business, I am supposed to be burnt-out. They tell me that seven years is the limit. Yes, there are days when I am tired, or overwhelmed at the amount of work that needs to be done – whether that means a pile of laundry or trying to change something on the website. But here’s the thing that makes it all worthwhile – the smile that is the same the world over and throughout history – whether it’s on a child’s face from England, on a couple from Tasmania, or on the repeat guests from Delaware who have become close friends. I feel privileged because they all walked through my door and enriched my life in some way. It is my reward as an innkeeper – and what makes my heart beat fast.

The Homestead was a study in graciousness. From the smile of the Jamaican man at the front desk who was studying hotel management, to the waiter that remembered what kind of tea I liked, to Traci, our dinner server, who told us about her nephew that just made the Olympic team. To sit in the lobby while someone attends the fire, another person plays the grand piano and yet another serves you afternoon tea takes you back to an earlier era when people scheduled relaxation as part of their day.

That is the feeling that I hope to create at my small inn, a 160-year old Federal-style home in Terre Hill. And though it is only a fraction of the size of The Homestead, I’m grateful to be able to provide a place where people can celebrate their relationships with each other, create memories, and slow down to relax. What I re-learned this week is that it’s important to be real, to be yourself, and to share the history and beauty of a place I call home.....Lancaster County.


Pat said...

You have a wonderful outlook about this....and I'm determined that we will visit your inn someday in the not-too-distant future!

Jan Garrabrandt said...

Pat - That would be great - don't forget about American Quilters Society coming here in March....