When we owned the Three Mountain Inn in Jamaica, Vermont, I was confronted with the fact that I had never been an innkeeper, and really had no idea what the daily schedule for an innkeeper would look like. I quickly learned how to smile (and mean it), be it on the telephone, or greeting a guest at breakfast.
I drove those 26 miles to Jamaica leaving my home before 6:00 a.m., at least six days a week — no walks in the snowy woods for me during that jaunt. My first task was to make a roaring fire in the large field-stone fireplace outside the dining rooms, to get the ambiance going. Offer guests fresh coffee, the local paper (as well as the New York Times, when available), while the smell of fresh baked muffins or scones wafting, whet the guests’ appetite.
We owned the property with our son, David Hiler, who created a Four Diamond restaurant at the property and taught me about the WOW factor of hospitality. The WOW factor works like this: record what is important to your guests during their stay; for their next visit surprise them with a special request from their last visit — a cappuccino, steaming, foaming, with scalded milk and maple syrup for example. Their genuine appreciation will be your reward.
Did you ever think of your guest room like the stage for a luxurious experience? Those fine cotton-thread sheets and pillow cases, crisply ironed with an inviting air of elegance and pristine care. Everything in their guest room is simple, but tastefully displayed; robes and soft towels, accents of impeccable cleanliness. Details, details, details!
I loved taking the guests to their rooms, hearing their sigh of contentedness, knowing I had done my best to anticipate their needs. I loved our motto: “We give you Vermont.” We hung half curtains in the rooms that allowed you to look on the mountains of the state park behind our Vermont inn. We had shades for the windows that went from the top down or the bottom up, allowing you to see out or seclude yourself fully. And we opted for electric fireplaces and placed them on a painted platform so guests could get the mood of the fire while lying in bed.
We honored their requests at breakfast, brewed for the Europeans their tea in a tea-pot, steeping it as requested. We served local eggs and apples, and named the owner from the farm or orchard in our menu. Often guests wanted to visit the farm to pick up goods to take home. We had maps ready to direct them. Our chef engaged a local woman to teach him to forage for mushrooms out in the woods, and our menu featured: toast points with local sautéed mushrooms. It was a great hit!
We had an arrangement with a local gallery to display their artist’s work in our public rooms and dining rooms, and we had a sculptor’s statue on display on our coffee table in the living room. The galleries referred to us for dining as well as accommodations, and we directed our guests to buy a painting or invest in a sculpture. It was our way to give back to the community; it was a win-win situation.
I learned to love decorating the inn and supervising construction projects. I also loved setting the tone of an understated, elegant 1790 Country Inn, with weekly fresh-cut flowers everywhere in the public rooms. Even after 5 years, I left the inn with many more ideas unfinished. An innkeeper whom I deeply respect, Bev Davis, from the Captain Lord Mansion, once told me that a room doesn’t last more than 7 years, so I guess I had done alright.
Innkeeping challenges us to maintain our graciousness, while not missing the beat on moving forward with a new perspective for today’s guest. While working to build relationships with customers, remember to WOW yourself and have some fun!