The days are much shorter here in the winter in Maine. The mornings are dark and often very cold. I feel like Santa Clause each morning when I wake at 6:00am to set the breakfast tables, put on the coffee, start the tea water, turn up the heat, start the fireplace and have my own cup of coffee. I tip toe around the house to make sure I do not make any noise. The house is very quiet and warm. This morning. I took a picture of our Christmas tree that I have in the dining room. My daughter strung some cranberries and made moose ornaments. Our guests will slowely wake and they will be treated with a lovely breakfast. Every day should be like this! The Bed and Breakfast lifestyle is pretty amazing.
I walked into a friend’s store the other day and everything was different. She had changed the aisles and got rid of a lot of products. I asked if she was going out of business, she said she was getting rid of the things that did not sell and “re-imagining” the store. She definitely was not going out of business but re-inventing her business. This was very refreshing.
Ever since that experience with my friend, I have been looking at my own “store”, my website and my bed and breakfast. Our website was re-designed this winter. I contacted a web designer last fall and was quoted twenty thousand dollars for a redesign. Needless to say, we decided to do it ourselves. I am pleased with the way it came out. Jesse and I are constantly learning new things. 10 years ago I never would have guessed Jesse and I could write computer code. It is amazing what you learn when you are a small business owner.
Another re-invention, our menu…
Our guests are always a source of inspiration to us. More and more we are hosting vegans for breakfast. Each year we see changes in dietary habits and we have always been able to accommodate our guests. First it was diabetics, then gluten-free, peanut-free, then vegetarians, now vegans. I am waiting for someone to say they are on the raw diet. Recently a guest wrote on their reservation that both he and his wife were vegans and hoped that we could accommodate them. The first morning of their stay I handed them a menu and said, I understand you have restrictions, but we can accommodate you with these options. As I was saying it I realized that it was not the guest that was restricted, it was my menu that was restricted. From that moment on I have seen food in a new way. It is very easy to convert most breakfast items into a vegan, and also a gluten-free option. I investigated new ingredients and we still have almost the same menu but there is a little (V) next to the items that we can make Vegan.
I am so proud of myself for looking at things a little different this year at the Bed and Breakfast. I am 38, been doing this for 7 years now and still willing to re-imagine this business each year. I hope you will like the new things happening at Windward House.
I love this job. I get to meet so many interesting people. Everyone with their own unique story. Although all have a unique story, recently I have noticed a common thread in their stories. Most B&B guests are looking for a little adventure in life. I know this sounds odd that they would look for it at a B&B but if you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Here we are, a loving family that provides a safe shelter for travelers in Maine – what better backdrop to focus on something new. Stepping out of your comfort zone for a little adventure is hard, and when you have a friendly smile, a great breakfast and smooth comfortable sheets - adventure is much easier.
I will start with Betty:
I received a phone call from a young woman that was looking for a ground floor bedroom with 2 twin beds. I explained that our Coastal Garden room is a nice option. It is ground floor, 2 twin beds, has a TV, air-conditioner and fireplace, private bathroom and shower. The young woman was polite and said she wanted to see what everyone had and would call me back. After calling and looking around town , the young woman called us back and booked the room for 5 nights in July. She could not put a deposit down right away because she had to speak to her grandmother, the woman that would actually be staying in the room with her friend. A few days later she called with her grandmother’s credit card and one month later I got to meet Betty and Gisella. Betty and Gisella showed up beaming and very excited to see their room. They were accompanied by several members of their family. We offered them coffee, tea or juice upon arrival, but they did not want anything, they just wanted to relax before their grandchildren came to take them to dinner.
The next morning, the women, dressed very well, came to the breakfast room and were delighted they had a choice from our menu. They took out their glasses and read the menu to each another. Later that day I spoke to Betty and she said she was having a wonderful time and that she was enjoying the Inn and my family.
The 5 days came and went. Upon check out I said to Betty and Gisella that I hoped I would see them again and Betty said, “well I don’t know about that, I am 91.” She looked marvelous for 91 and I think she still has a good number of years left. After they left, with the help of many family members, I was speaking to Jesse and didn’t realize that he had also had some conversations with the elderly ladies. He told me that he spoke to them and found out that they wanted a little adventure. They normally live in an assisted old age home and wanted to “escape” for a while. They did not want to stay with family, they wanted to be independent again. We are so pleased that the grandchildren listened to their elders, found a comfortable and safe place for them and granted Betty and Gisella their moment of adventure.
Next Adventure: The 50th birthday party
We see many birthday celebrations at the Inn. Sometimes a person will treat themselves and come by themselves, sometimes with a partner and sometimes with a group of friends. This past weekend we had a group of friends that were trying to ease the emotional pain of their one friend that was turning 50. Three couples traveled from NJ to Maine to celebrate. The weather was beautiful and the rooms were so comfortable for them. They sat on the Brass Room deck and drank wine and then walked down to the restaurant for dinner. You could see they enjoyed each others company and were having a great time. You could tell they felt at home. At breakfast I would hear that they stayed out a little too late. One man with them said he was feeling so adventurous while he was out that previous night, he tried the fried twinkie that was offered at Cuzzy’s bar. He said he had heard about them and always wanted to try one. Well, he tried it and loved it. He said he probably would never have one again, but was happy to at least try it. The newly aged 50 year old woman laughed at her husband and looked like she was a school girl again.
Next Adventure: The Bucket List
One day I got a call from a travel agent. Which is pretty common. But this travel agent was asking so many questions. Not just about the rooms and amenities, which are standard questions, but about the quality of the lobster, the pricing and the availability of the places to get lobster dinners. One lobster question after the next. I was delighted to share all my lobster knowledge with the travel agent, and by the end of the conversation, the agent booked a room for 2 nights. I was curious why she was asking all the lobster questions, but I did not ask why. The next month the guests came with an itinerary that I had somewhat dictated to the travel agent about where the best places to eat lobster were. I helped the nice southern couple find the places and they were pleased. At breakfast the gentleman brought down his leftover lobster and asked if we could cook it up in some eggs for him. What a great idea, we did and he enjoyed eating it for breakfast. Upon leaving the inn, the man said, “thank you for helping me take – eating lobster – off my bucket list. ” He never realized that he enjoyed lobster and at the age of 60 he found a new food to enjoy.
Last but not least… the new B&B guest – Adventure
Every year we get a dozen or so first time B&B guests. They always look the same when the come in the front door – scared. They ask lots of questions and walk very slowly. Sometimes I ask if they are first time B&B people, but most of the time, they offer right away that they had never done this before and that they don’t know what to expect. Sometimes they ask to see the room before they pay. Implying that if they don’t like what they see, they are out of here. It is really cute to see the new B&B couples hold each others arms and look to each other for comfort in this new experience. A step out of their comfort zone, something different, a little adventure. We are so happy that we could make the new experience as painless as possible and have seen many non- B&B guests leave saying they will be back.
We recently had a guest that wasn’t a first time B&B guest but a 2nd time B&B guest. The couple came in and you could tell they were nervous. The wife said – “Honey – only pay for one night, in case it is like the last time we were in a B&B”. Jesse tried to get out of them their past B&B experience, but they weren’t talking. After seeing their room, they decided pay and see how things went. The next morning they were all a glow. The guests seemed very comfortable and were willing to share with me at breakfast their last B&B experience. They said that the last time they went to a Bed and Breakfast the Innkeeper was not very friendly. The room was dark and there was only 1 thing for breakfast. They were so happy to see that we had a selection and that they could have whatever they wanted. I was surprised that they experienced such bad hospitality at a B&B. Finally I asked when this experience had happened. The woman said 20 years ago. I almost fell on the floor. This couple wrote off B&B’s for 20 years because of 1 bad experience. They said they were willing to give it another try – they were feeling adventurous and they were happy they found us.
So when you are ready to step out of your comfort zone, need some adventure, look online for a nice couple that own a B&B. Not only will their hospitality make you feel welcome it will open the door to new adventures.
Jesse says we should finally unpack our bags. We moved here to Camden Maine 5 years ago from NY. I was in my early 30′s and none of my children were in school yet. Everyday was a surprise in this new state. Things are definately different here in Maine. My kids are “growing up Maine”. They know things about hiking, sailing, hockey, & hunting. They are also watching their parents try to make a living selling rooms in an historic home. They see us get up every morning and prep for breakfast. They watch us interact with guests. They are learning alot, whether they know it or not. After 5 years we finally feel like we are home in this 1854 house.
Come January we will be doing some renovations to the Inn, but also renovating the owners quarters to make it more warm and comfortable for us and the kids. Most Bed and Breakfasts use every square inch for the guests, to generate revenue. Some innkeepers live in the attic or the basement. We are lucky, when we found windward house, the owners’ quarters consists of a large part the house. We have 4 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms. The former owners however did not focus on making the owners’ quarters warm and comfortable, and that is the challenge Jesse and I will go about tackeling this winter.
But, not to neglect our guests for the next season, we are making improvements to our guest rooms also. We are tiling a bathroom in Windrose, adding a beautiful accent wall of wood in Coastal Garden and extending the bathroom wall in Quarterdeck. We will be able to offer our guests two more King sized bed options and one more two twin bed options, and the King bed in Chart should look spectacular with posts and a canopy. All great things to make the guest rooms even more comfortable. We will be the only Bed & Breakfast in Camden Maine that has 3 ground floor rooms with King sized beds. We are also finding more ways to be green by bringing lines of amentities that are environmentally and socially good.
We are excited and nervous about all the new things we are trying to do. The economy, as everyone knows is still giving people the jitters, but in a sense it makes a Maine vacation, and our rates, which haven’t gone up, but have gone down in the last five years, a real great vacation or weekend getaway or Camden Conference or PopTech or Maine Coast Fall Leaf Peeping good deal! And with more King beds, there’s more room to stretch out.
So we have many reasons to be optimistic and thanks to our guests, and providence we keep moving forward. We hope you will come to visit in the spring and summer to see our improvements and enjoy Camden Maine the way we do. There will be no price increases in 2011, just more added value. Happy Holidays and see you in the New Year.