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November 2006

Our Members Speak Out

Butler House on Grand, Des Moines, IA

Question for December: "Potential guests often ask me, 'Is it a quiet room?' I find that most difficult to answer since everyone's idea of quiet can be different. How do other innkeepers answer this question, and how do they deal with sound-proofing issues?" Raynell Dunham, Garden District B&B, New Orleans, LA

Email your responses to If we publish your comments, we’ll thank you with a $25 credit in our Featured Properties Auction program!

Question for November: Have you had any wonderful or horrible Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday experiences with your guests? Tell all!

“We offer an 18th century Thanksgiving package with a frontier holiday dinner that we serve wearing period clothing. One year, a father was very interested in history and our frontier dinner, our period clothing, and hearing about the Revolutionary War era. Shinnston has a two-story log house that was built by 1778 – the original structure on the original site. Their daughter was thrilled to be able to help make the homemade noodles for the turkey noodle soup and the rolls for supper Thanksgiving night. When the father was presented with a copy of the NWTA Field Guide, the “icing” was put on the holiday. We were told it was their best Thanksgiving ever.” – Kathleen A. Panek, Gillum House Bed & Breakfast, Shinnston, WV

“One of my favorite stories to tell, which I think describes why it is that I love what I do, is about one of our regular guests, JoAnn. JoAnn now hails from St. Paul, but grew up in our Des Moines neighborhood. She would stay here several times a year when she came to visit her mother, who was in senior housing nearby. One Christmastime she called and moved up her reservation by about a week because her mother was not doing well. I was up late on December 23 working on Christmas gifts for our daughter, Darby, when JoAnn returned late from a visit with her mom. I welcomed her in and immediately knew from her face that all was not well.

“Her mother’s life here on Earth had come to an end within the hour before. I hugged her, asked what I could get her, and offered eggnog. She nodded, so I offered a 'kick' in it (which I can offer to family and friends of course, but not to guests, as we have no liquor license). A slight smile, another nod. JoAnn and I sat up and drank to her mother, to life, and to friends, telling each other stories, laughing and crying, for a couple hours. I had no idea how I was going to function the next morning.

“As JoAnn was going up to her room to go to bed, she hugged me and told me that she had no idea how she could have left her mother’s that night and returned to a sterile, plain hotel room, without someone to greet her who understood what she was going through. THAT is my explanation of why we do what we do, and why it is so valuable to our guests! Even though JoAnn’s mom is no longer here, JoAnn still “comes home,” stays with us, and visits friends and her haunts from her school days growing up in Des Moines.

“Thinking of Christmas reminds me of another Christmas a year or so after the above story, when my husband Clark was up late working on a present for Darby (a handmade dollhouse) when he accidentally cut himself with the Exacto knife. This required a late-night emergency room visit on Christmas Eve resulting in several stitches and him not prepping breakfast, doing dishes, cleaning, etc., the next week. I told him that I knew he did that just to get out of work on a holiday week! (I am just kidding though, because he handles breakfast prep, dishes and cleaning better than stitches any day!)” –
Lauren, Butler House on Grand B&B, Des Moines, IA

“Last Christmas, The Plains Bed and Breakfast hosted a Christmas Party for President Jimmy Carter, Rosalynn and family. What a wonderful event! Three of the Carter children were in attendance, plus many grandchildren, nieces, nephews and cousins. Everyone brought food, drinks and presents. After they had eaten all they could, a white elephant gift exchange was held in the living room around one of the 10 Christmas trees in the B&B. President Carter was number 17 of 32. In this group, the former President was not given any preferential treatment; the gift he had chosen, an electronic IQ device, was quickly stolen from him and a pink stuffed toy on a key ring was given to the former leader of the free world. Maybe he’ll do better this year, and he can always re-gift the lovely key ring!” –
Jill Stuckey, The Plains Bed and Breakfast, Plains, GA

“One of my first guests when I opened two years ago was a friend named Cathy who asked if I was going to allow children as guests, to which I said yes. She then booked the small house with two bedrooms for four days! Then she let me in on the plan and asked if this would be OK.

“Cathy’s mother lived a few states away in Indiana. All of Cathy’s children were tweens and teens, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to convince four young people to give up a week of holiday vacation and time with their friends, to visit family.

“So, Grandma was flown in and enthroned in the 1896 brick cottage. Each day, one of the grandkids came over to spend the day and night at Grandma’s house, spending one-on-one time, baking cookies, and just sharing. Grandmas had some time alone to rest and relax, no chores, and quality time with each of the young people. She had a great relaxing vacation, spent quality time with the entire family, and four young people were extremely grateful for the Guest Haus.” –
Dorris Keeven-Franke, The Guest Haus, Washington, MO

“I had a guest who wanted to rent all my rooms for three or four days at Christmas. I agreed, but as the phone calls for information kept coming, I realized that they were expecting to use the whole house and had planned a party for 40 additional friends who were going to join them one night for a party in my dinning room.

“I explained our laws in Pennsylvania regarding liquor and asked the guest whether he could supply an insurance binder at $1 million limit to serve his guests and what he thought was a reasonable charge for us to expose our dinning and the clean up services.

“The reservation was rescinded.” –
Kathy Cushing, The Columns on Clinton, Philadelphia, PA

“Two Christmases ago we had a call from four French women who were attending University of Delaware on an exchange program. They wanted to experience a real American Christmas, including Christmas dinner.

“In the meantime, a very good friend told me she was going to be away for Christmas and her elderly (in their 90s) parents were going to be alone the first Christmas in the extended living home. I told her they should come here and help us entertain four French girls.

“My husband and one of the French women went to pick up my friend’s parents and brought them back here. This 90-year-old man put on the charm, and the 23-year-olds were so sweet to him and his wife. It was wonderful to see how lovely young people can be to the elderly.

“We all had a delicious dinner, and the girls helped (at their request). They wanted to cook all the American traditional food. Dessert was served around the tree with Christmas carols playing and everyone singing.

“When it was time to take the couple home, the girls had to draw straws as to which would accompany my husband back to the assisted living home. They all wanted to be with their 'new grandpa and grandma' for as long as they could.” –
Wendy and Richard Duvall, Country Life B&B, Greenwich, NY

“We don’t usually take guests for Christmas, but against my better judgment, we did in 2005. We had a man and his wife, and his sister and her husband down to celebrate together. On Christmas morning the wife told her husband she was leaving him and was filing for divorce when they went home. Not a happy Christmas.” –
Sharon Neely, Park Avenue Inn, Rock Hill, SC
“There is a couple who have stayed here for New Year’s seven out of the nine years I’ve been in business. A couple of years ago, at breakfast, the conversation turned to Holocaust survivors. Danny told the story of his mother, who had been a young teenager in a camp. Another woman, a historian from Austria, was writing a book on survivors. When she heard the story, she said, ‘I know the woman who took care of your mother in the camp!’ She had just interviewed her for her book. After confirming that this was the case, he gave her his mother’s phone number, and she went to Los Angeles to meet her. ‘Coincidences’ like that often happen around the breakfast table…as an innkeeper, I just keep out of the way and let the coffee flow!” –
Greta Zeit, Backyard Garden Oasis B&B, Middletown, CA

Golden Rule of Innkeeping, revisited

“We all have to start somewhere in our quest to please the guest. Our B&B should be an extension of our personality and character. How can we not make assumptions based on who we are? I certainly agree that we should invite each guest to feel enough at home to be able to tell us what we can do to make their experience better. (Especially if something is wrong!)
“We give each guest a mini-tour of our public areas and all the rooms that are unoccupied. This gives us a chance to learn more about them and see their reactions to various amenities and areas throughout the inn. We have received many compliments on our hospitality - when in fact, we simply try to make new friends and share our home. Linda is always asking questions about the guests’ experience. They love all the attention and we never stop learning how to make things better.” –
Dan & Linda VanPelt, The Angel’s Lair B&B, Bay City, MI

“The guests’ comfort and enjoyment are critical to this business. When we replaced our heating system two years ago, we installed individual controls in each room. Our old system was poorly balanced, resulting in some rooms warmer than others by significant amounts. Now each couple can set their own temperature. We always ask about dietary restrictions or preferences prior to our guests’ arrival so we can be sure to take care of them. By asking ahead, we can be better prepared, and reduce the number of crises in the kitchen! It has paid off for us, with wonderful comments from our guests and their repeat business and referrals to friends.” –
Julie & John Rohleder, Fitch Hill Inn, Hyde Park, VT

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