It’s inspection time at your inn. Will you be ready mentally? Will your inn be ready? Let’s talk about getting you and the inn ready so you can make the most of the experience. My credentials for sharing this information are that I am a former innkeeper, an active guest, and a former B&B inspector. I understand this topic from all angles.
What is the purpose of an inspection? To insure you meet the standards of the association or establishment you want to be associated with. In my mind, part of the reason for wanting to be affiliated with any particular group is that you like what they represent and want to be part of that success. Standards aren’t meant to make each member identical but to verify that each member has compatible approaches and mind sets. Each member represents that standard but with their own personality and style. Guests can select any member and be guaranteed that the hospitality, cleanliness, and safety/security, meet the minimal standards. That consistency is the strength of the association you want to join. That becomes part of your success. That is why you want to conform. That is why you are inspected.
What is “mental readiness” and why do you need it? It is the state of mind you achieve when you have done everything you can to make the inn shine for your B&B business — and thus the inspection. It is also being centered so that the comments the inspector offers are received as gifts, not criticisms. From my perspective as a former innkeeper and former inspector, this is the perfect situation because you get feedback that your guests may not share. This feedback lets you polish your inn product so that guests want to come back — one goal of being in business. And you are not in danger of losing future business by what the inspector finds and reports, as you are with guests.
You’ve worked hard creating your B&B and making it a special place. It’s difficult to hear anyone offer suggestions about improving your inn. Anything less than praise feels insulting and offensive. You are so close to your inn you can’t see “see the forest for the trees” — details, some minor and some not, that your guests see and react to. You are only one person with one perspective while the inspector can bring various perspectives to bear because of their experience with inspecting so many different B&Bs. Who better to get feedback from than the inspector? An inspector isn’t a paying guest but a professional who’s seen more inns and situations than you have, and so has a broad insight to share with you. The inspector’s intentions are good, so take the comments in the spirit they are given. There is a wonderful book, “A Complaint is a Gift” by Janelle Barlow and Claus Moller, that I highly recommend everyone read. The mind set that book talks about is one I hope you’ll have in business in general and for inspections in particular.
I feel the basics of any inspection cover cleanliness, hospitality, and security/safety. These are basics all guests should be able to rely on. These are the basics all innkeepers should offer. Yet there seem to be various interpretations of what the basics mean. As the innkeeper you have done your best to provide the basics of a wonderful stay. But it’s important to realize that there are perspectives other than yours when it comes to guest comfort. Associations set standards to ensure consistent guest experiences throughout the association’s membership.
Get your inn ready by following some basic guidelines which we’ll talk about here.
- Safety and security is really quite simple to do, once you realize that we all have different levels of need and perception of safety. Your guests are coming to you from different life experiences that they don’t just drop when they enter your doors. Accommodate those different experiences by preparing your inn carefully. I have stayed at B&B inns where the innkeepers knew they were offering me a safe and comfortable experience, but I wasn’t as comfortable as they thought I would be. At one B&B, as a woman staying alone in the building (the innkeepers lived in the house adjacent to the inn), I locked all the exterior doors as well as my guestroom door. They were locked out the next morning when they arrived to prepare my breakfast. The innkeepers got quite the laugh at my “carefulness”, and said that they were in a very safe neighborhood. I’m sure it was. But, when guests don’t know an area they don’t have the same comfort level as the locals do. There is also the point that you never know when “the boogeyman” is going to come into your neighborhood (as happened in remote, safe Woodland Park, Colorado, when a gang of escaped Texas murders holed up in town earlier this year) — so you can never be too careful.An innkeeper needs to offer locks for guests so they can make their own decisions about safety and comfort. If I had not been alone my comfort level would have been higher than it was. High enough to not lock exterior doors? I don’t know. But being alone, my need for locked doors was very high. I have also been at B&Bs where there were no curtains on the windows. The innkeeper’s response to my suggestion of adding them runs along the lines of “nobody can see in those windows — you don’t need them”. Again, that’s my decision to make as the guest, not the innkeeper’s. Creating a nest can be important to travelers at night. Closing curtains contributes to that feeling of coziness and comfort. Curtains also let late sleepers sleep in dark and peace. Are your halls dimly light at night? Is your parking lot lit well enough that you can see people in the area? Are there locks on the exterior doors (and do you use them)? Do the guestroom doors have both security and privacy locks? A guest should be able to lock their room from either side. What about emergency lighting and smoke detectors? Have you provided secondary egress from guestrooms? If your guests feel safe they will spread the word about what a great B&B you have.
- Hospitality is making guests feel welcome. This might be the most difficult aspect of innkeeping because you have to be “on” all the time, with every guest you have, regardless of what’s going on in your life. I firmly believe that “stating the rules of the game” creates boundaries so guests and innkeepers can operate comfortably. Be flexible to accommodate various guest needs and keep your sense of humor. Communicate the various hours guests need to know: check in/out, breakfast/tea time, office hours, turn down service time, and the like. Communicating “dos and don’ts” like smoking/kids/pets as well as what areas are restricted or public helps keep the air clear too. Do you strive to learn about your guests’ ADA needs, food restrictions or the reason for the visit, and then apply your knowledge to their stay? Placing a guest letter in each guestroom is a simple tool for repeating your communications.Providing options for your guests so they can create their own comfort is gracious. Options including extra pillows and blankets in the rooms, alarm clocks or even an alarm clock with CD/tape player, ready access to an iron and ironing board, adequate lighting (greater than 60 watts and 3-way bulbs in the bed side and reading lamps), and food choices at breakfast go a long way to creating a pleasant stay. Do you want to go to the next level of comfort? Individual climate control in each guestroom, coffee pots, refrigerators, and TV with VCR are appreciated by guests. If a guest has had a pleasant time they’ll return and/or refer their friends and family to you.
- Cleanliness may be the most important aspect of innkeeping in that it is the most visible aspect of innkeeping to the casual observer. If an innkeeper cares enough to keep a clean inn, then they probably care enough to be hospitable and keep their guests safe. I’ve heard many excuses for dirty inns, including not having time to clean and that the inn is in a dirty area because of the dry air and dusty roads. Do you dust and vacuum the common areas daily? Do you double check your housekeeper’s work so that a “fresh set of eyes” sees what might still need to be done? Do you check the cleanliness of a guestroom that hasn’t been used for a few days prior to a guest checking into it? How clean is the outside of your inn? Do you sweep the walks and drive/parking area? Do lawns/gardens get raked in the fall? What about those pesky webs that collect bugs and are always located near doorways — do you wipe those away often? Have you trained your housekeepers to dust and vacuum behind bedr oom and bathroom doors? What about under beds, desks and dressers — do they get dusted regularly? Do you make sure that picture and mirror frames get dusted frequently? AAA inspectors even check the tops of door frames and light bulbs for dust — will you be ready for thatinspection? Yes it takes time to clean thoroughly. And that time costs money. But that’s the cost of doing business. That’s the cost of bringing guests back time after time.
In my experience, if you satisfy safety/security, hospitality and cleanliness you can “get away with” other things. You could have smaller rooms, minimalist baths, simple breakfasts, or no views and still have a strong following. I think that’s true because in today’s high-tech/low-touch world people are craving contact, interactions and feeling as if they matter. Visiting a B&B inn that’s safe, clean, and has a gracious, hospitable host gives people what they feel they are missing in their lives. They come back for more. You become and stay successful. That sounds like an ideal situation to me.
Think about hiring a B&B consultant to “play inspector” with you so you can bounce your concerns and issues off the consultant, making you more ready for the inspector. Or attempt using the check list that the inspector will be using so you can perform a self-check on your inn, not only before your initial inspection but also between inspections. By not only doing your best daily but also by double checking your readiness, you and your inn will be ready when the inspector arrives. Strive to have the mind set of wanting to hear suggestions of making your inn even better and valuing the comments you get.