By Stephen Tallon
When checking in to an inn recently, I was surprised nobody was there to greet me. Surely in today’s best of the best inns in America, guests should at least be acknowledged on arrival?
It’s an age-old innkeeping conundrum: Do you really have to greet guests in person…especially those who arrive after hours? One innkeeper I know posts a note on the front door directing guests who check in after 11 p.m. to the nearest Holiday Inn if they arrive after 11 p.m. Given innkeeping is a marathon, not a sprint, this is certainly understandable. But is it hospitable? Certainly, there could be an alternative, such as a welcoming note telling guests how to get to their rooms and a telephone number for emergencies like a softer pillow!
I am fortunate enough to spend a considerable amount of time visiting with innkeepers across America and can honestly say that it is a pleasure, for the most part, to experience what true hospitality is all about. But I’m amazed at how often making a good first – and last – impression is overlooked. Yet reputation is the No. 1 reason guests choose one inn over another. If you don’t believe me, just check out Trip Advisor, Yelp or Facebook. If a guest decides to tell the world they got a lousy first impression (millions do!), it can have far-reaching consequences. So it’s worth frequently revisiting your check-in process – and taking a look at what others do.
Recently I visited three inns – in Virginia, West Virginia and New Jersey. Each inn offered the same check-in process that included a wonderful greeting with a glass of bubbly, plus bags placed in accommodations while I was being given a brief tour of the property. lt happened that all three properties shared what they do with each other at a conference for innkeepers (yes, these conferences can have value) and the net result…all three inns received compliments on the Big Gorilla’s website.
So what about check-out? Is it OK to let the guest simply disappear after gobbling up a yummy breakfast? Some innkeepers will tell you that all of their guests prefer it this way and therefore we don’t want to challenge them. Well…recently I was leaving an inn in Maine and thought that I should check with the innkeeper to make sure my account was all settled up and that there was nothing I owed….to which the reply came: “Not unless you were thinking of stealing the robes.” Although funny, it was a missed opportunity.
What about a question on how my stay was, what could we have done to improve your stay or even a hug? (While not for everyone, some loyal guests love this about inns and clearly this is an amenity no hotel offers. One innkeeper in New Jersey is the town’s “official hugger” and the innkeepers proudly hang the plaque in their hallway.)
If this is not possible, a simple and sincere thank you for visiting with us will suffice. At an inn in California, I was surprised to be invited to an exit interview with the owner. I was duly impressed by her questions: On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate your visit with us? If less than 10, can you tell us where we could improve? Have you seen our kitchens or is there somewhere on property you would like to see before you leave? Can we offer you a complimentary gift certificate value for a future stay?’ ‘We enjoyed having you as our guests, we would really like for you to review us honestly online when you get back home and we will send you a link if this helps.
Check-outs are still an opportunity to make an impression even if your guests are in a rush. An innkeeper in Florida who knew we had an early check-out prepared a small snack and printed out our flight status and left these just outside our room for early departure. One innkeeper told me recently when visiting their property in Texas that they loved the idea of a relationship with their guests beyond the check-out. So they created a Facebook community with their guests that include ideas on recipes, special places to visit when next in town, and bedding recommendations to mention a few. This way the guest becomes an extended loyal member of this B&B family.
Many innkeepers love to share their stories and we encourage you to send us your best ones and we promise to feature them. Until next time,
Next issue…. Top Ten ways to impress your guests!