Building a Good Innkeeping Support Staff

As always, thoughts flow through my mind like clouds float across the horizon, as I trudge through the woods. There is no question about liking these hikes, but even so, as I get ready for a hike my motivation varies. Yesterday, my memories floated back to the many models that innkeepers have shown me of maintaining excellent staff. Deedy Marble from the Governor’s Inn in Ludlow, VT, was one example. She hired high school students, and gave them, aside from a salary, a mention in the local paper for their excellence in performing their duties. She also gave stipends to continue their education. Students loved the acknowledgement for being an excellent employee.

One of my greatest learning experiences was a visit with Phil Jenkins, then owner of the 1842 Inn in Macon, GA (now you may know Phil Jenkins as the head of Select Registry). Observing him, seeing how he motivated and taught his staff, was to understand the details that innkeepers provide for the guests. Does your staff know the value displayed in each room: the paintings, the silver candlesticks, the 600 thread-count linens, the oriental rugs, and understand how to clean and take care of these items?

He knew that many of his staff did not have silver candlesticks in their home and taught them how to clean the silver without breaking off their stems. Nor had they eaten in restaurants that the guests were directed to for lunch and dinner, so he took them there to show them their town and the eateries. The day we visited, he invited them into a room to help choose from the different wallpapers he was considering for that room. Their participation to make that decision helped them feel pride in being an important part of the operation. His staff was courteous, informed and very motivated to give us, the guest, a most enjoyable time. He taught me that staff need to be appreciated, valued for who they are and whence they come!

Innkeeping Support Staff
An innkeeper needs support, even of the furry variety.

In my own experience at the Three Mountain Inn, it was a major task to build the right team for to care for our 15 rooms and maintain all the public spaces in our inn. It was a journey of appreciating the complexity of employer/staff relationships, of building trust in each employee’s dedication to doing their best, embracing the high standards we set and the pride we all felt for our clean rooms. Finding that head housekeeper took me almost 3 years. It was an accomplishment. I learned a lot about the ability to delegate (or not) and how hard it is to let go! It is not only about liking an employee, but assessing their capabilities and appreciating their seeing the details in the way that you as an owner see them.

My reward system had to do with paying my employees well, having weekly meetings and reviewing the rooms daily, allowing for appropriate positive strokes as well as honest feedback on the things not perfectly executed. For a period of time it was a give and take dialogue until the head housekeeper and I had reached an understanding and then she hired and trained the new housekeepers we needed. She stayed long past the time we owned the inn and the new owners appreciated her as much as I had.

Boiled down to its essence, I can offer these words of wisdom:

  • Hire only people you trust
  • Be honest about employees’ performance
  • Assess their abilities and challenge them to have pride in their performances (even cleaning that toilet)
  • Be fair in compensating them for their efforts. And lastly,
  • Celebrate with them your success!

I know there is much more to say on this subject; but really hospitality in any phase demands that you to be passionate in what you are doing. Either do it well or don’t do it!

I am out of the woods; it looks like rain… Have a great week and best wishes to you all.

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