On Being an Innkeeper, etc.


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Published: November 6th 2006
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It’s that time of year again. In a few weeks, the rainy season should be just a memory and the next six or seven months will be filled with bright sunshine and few clouds. The bumpy dirt road leading to the B&B will become nearly dusty, the green fields surrounding us will eventually turn from a vivid, deep green to something approaching a yellowish brown, and the days will get a bit warmer. As my friends and family in the northeastern U.S. begin to settle in for winter, here we’re getting ready summer.

While it wasn’t a particularly bad rainy season, likely due to the lack of hurricanes, thankfully, in the Gulf of Mexico, waking from the rainy season isn’t unlike the arrival of spring in the U.S. It’s as if everything gets a fresh coat of paint. And, the people here seem friendlier too in the dry season (not that they aren’t already very friendly).

There are other signs that summer is coming as well. Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the corner and there’s a definite up tick in tourists throughout the country, including here at the B&B. It is still a bit odd to me equating Christmas with summertime, however, I guess the weather doesn’t take away from the joy of the season (though I do miss at least some snow). The roads become more passable after being victimized by heavy rains, big trucks and the inevitable potholes that return during each rainy season.

Inkeeping….

At the B&B, it’s also a time of change. In addition to welcoming many new guests—and returning guests—as the season approaches, it is a time for coming out of a mild hibernation of sorts, making sure everything works, giving our rooms a deep cleaning (and in some cases a fresh coat of paint), and preparing the grounds for much more activity than in the rainy season. It’ll also soon be time to prepare yet another vegetable garden, hoping our lessons learned last year will result in a more abundant bounty this year.

The other day I had an email from someone in Colorado asking me about what it takes to run a place like ours. So, here goes. Now that I’ve had a decent amount of time under my belt as an innkeeper, including two rainy seasons, I’m beginning to discover the routine inherent in this profession. Or, at least I’ve now been able to step back and make some mental notes on what it takes to be successful. Yes, there are many things that need to done in the day of an innkeeper. Here’s a partial list:

• Try to get up before any of the guests do;
• Turn off the outdoor lights from the night before;
• Make coffee, and early;
• Prepare breakfast—varying the choices each days—and the do the dishes;
• Check guests in and out;
• Read email several times a day for reservations;
• Prepare rooms for arriving guests (or clean rooms after departing guests);
• Respond to huge array of guest requests from arranging for a taxi to planning sightseeing activities;
• Dust, mop, wipe, polish, and any other activity associated with cleaning;
• Wash guest sheets and towels—an almost daily activity;
• Shop for food, cleaning supplies and other items needed for the B&B; and
• Many other things!

In the end, however, no matter how grand or modest one’s inn, hotel, B&B, guesthouse or whatever else you want to call it is, as long as the basic things are done well, it really does comes down to how the innkeeper interacts with his or her guests. While a client pays for a room and breakfast, staying in a place like ours, it’s true that they tend to come for the broader “experience,” and yes, to interact with the innkeeper. Whether its just a passing interest in the business, a burning desire to do what I’ve done, or just simply to meet new people, clients come for the people—the owners, other guests, and neighbors—as much as just having a place to rest one’s body and soul.

Actually, cleaning, preparing breakfast, taking reservations and all of the other tasks involved in running a place like ours is a relatively uneventful, and possibly even mundane, series of activities. One way or another, these activities will get done, hopefully well, and they are fairly automatic. However, the “people interaction” is the singular activity one needs to have the personality for and interest in (or get used to), if one wants to be in this business. A B&B is open 365 days a year, and while there are some days without guests, you must always be “on” to run a successful operation. Now, this doesn’t mean faking your interest in one’s guests. It means that while you may be inviting guests into your home, your home is your business and you need to treat it as such. Not feeling well? Breakfast still needs to be made. Sorely need a few days to get away to the beach? It is sometimes tough to schedule with guests always coming and going. Want to spend hours by yourself reading or doing something else one’s own? Not gonna happen very often.

Despite some of the negatives, running a B&B is still a terrific opportunity for anyone who wants to meet interesting people from many places, learn from others, and just take pride in providing a good service.

Other news & notes….

Osita and Reina (our terrific dogs) are about 16 months old now, and from the looks of it, they’re almost fully grown. They are still a bit raucous, but I am now seeing signs that they are finally moving from being the children I inevitably have to clean up after, to adults. Like humans, they’re finally sleeping through the night and they are actually beginning to follow my orders, particularly when its time to put them back in their pen. I’ve also noted that they are not chewing up everything in site! While owning dogs isn’t always easy, I’ve decided I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just seeing them wag their tails like crazy (and even Osita moaning with joy) each morning when I first see them to feed them, is reason enough. They’re probably the best ambassadors of the B&B!

Several people asked how our new chickens are doing. We recently acquired 10 new chickens to replace the non-producing ones. I’m happy to report we’re getting on average, eight eggs a day! We’re also “free-ranging” the chickens, letting them roam the property each afternoon. They definitely seem happier being able to run around the yard—and they’re great for the garden. While I don’t have a lot of prior experience with chickens, I’m finding that while they are not “man’s best friend,” by any means, they actually do appear to feel some connection to their owner. Lately, I’ve noticed them following me around as I move about the yard and they seem not to fear me.

I’m discovering things I’ve never known about animals since living here. A few days back I stopped on my way out along our driveway, as I often do, to say hi to our neighbors—cows—who roam along our driveway (on the other side of the fence though!). I don’t really know what one does with cows. With dogs, you can put your hand out and it’ll sniff you and get to know you a bit, but I just have no experience with cows besides knowing the as entrees! So, the other day, I put my hand near one cow’s nose, and sure enough, he sniffed my hand, and then, licked my hand! Cows have rough tongues!

It’s been an amazing experience these past 6-8 months preparing to kick off our Boomers in Costa Rica Tours (www.boomersincostarica.com). With several clients coming in December and through February, it is going to be terrific for me and Alex to show people this wonderful country and impart our knowledge on moving here, living here, and buying real estate here. When we assess the many things we’ve learned in our time here, even small things, it is truly amazing how much we now know (and didn’t know before getting here) compared to people in North America or Europe who are just now pondering a move here. We were in the same boat not too long ago. We read everything online we could get our hands on from real estate sites to online forums to books. We studied the different locations, possible businesses, types of real estate and so much more. However, once we got here, we learned what it takes to live here, and live here well. It’ll be fun to share this with others, and in particular, share out excitement about being in Costa Rica.

In preparing for the tours, I have been struck by how things have come together so nicely among many of us who are like minded in our small city of San Ramon. It seems, almost haphazardly, that we’ve formed a terrific network of people, all working together and all having complimentary businesses and services that feed off one another. And, most importantly, it is a network of people with businesses all of us would recommend to others without any reservations. That’s the key issue I think in living here and having a successful business: finding the right people—people with integrity—who share your passion and can help you be better at what you do.

Summer’s almost here so come on down and see us sometime!

That’s all for now. Keep your comments coming!

Pura Vida!

Andrew
andrew4cr@gmail.com
www.AngelValleyFarmBandB.com (the B&B!)
www.BoomersInCostaRica.com (4-day/3 night relocation/retirement tour!)
www.CostaRicaRealEstate.typepad.com (Boomers in Costa Rica blog!)

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