Friday, August 12, 2011

Glass Half-Empty or Half-Full?

Above, a photo of a charming family that visited from England. They spent six days here and thoroughly enjoyed their stay. If only all guests were as amiable and discreet! They took full advantage of all Wellfleet has to offer. These days innkeepers must spend extra energy worrying about how happy guests are, more so than ever with the growing influence of Trip Advisor. To illustrate this point, let me tell you a little horror story. …

In July, a guest was negligent with leaving food out in the cottage kitchen. It was like sounding a gong for all the local mice that live in the woods. When I discovered the situation two weeks later, at 11 a.m. on Sunday, Sven placed mousetraps in appropriate places. I warned the new guests who arrived at 2 pm sharp and explained the mousetraps were primed for action. The wife bubbled over with excitement, like the bottle of champagne I almost put in the refrigerator for her 40th wedding anniversary but didn’t. Although both she and her husband could not say enough treacly things about the accommodation, I guess I had a hunch something would go wrong…

I was tired after cleaning both the cottage and Liberty Coin Suite, so went to bed early.

At 10:30, Sven woke me up. “They’re leaving,” he announced.

“Who’s leaving,” I mumbled, rubbing my eyes.

“The cottage people. She’s hysterical about mice getting guillotined.”

I got dressed and encountered the couple as they packed up to leave. There was an empty bottle of wine in evidence.

“Won’t you spend the night in our personal guest room?” I asked, still rubbing my eyes.

“No,” the man said. “We’re driving home.”

They lived at least four hours away. I tried to convince them to think it over, but no. And, they wanted their money back. Otherwise, and I quote, “This could get nasty.”

By “getting nasty,” the man implied a very bad review on Trip Advisor.

I asked a friend in rentals the following day how I should have handled the situation, and she said that since they had been forewarned and we had done our best to provide a remedy and alternate lodging, there was no need to return all that money. We killed three mice and that was that.

Sven can shrug off such experiences, but not me. I found the whole thing very upsetting.

I already described an occasion where Chez Sven was given a bad review in May. I had an awful cold and was pushing myself to receive guests in the best way possible. The couple seemed happy. They ate up all the food I served, including a special request for toast with almond butter. They made no complaints to my face, wrote something nice in our guestbook, yet posted a negative review to Trip Advisor.

Now, I know potential guests take the reviews with a grain of salt and read a bunch of them, but such nastiness is unnecessary and offensive. I checked the other day and 29 people had said this review was “helpful,” ie. they chose other accommodation.

Fortunately, we also have guests who raise my spirits and make innkeeping feel worthwhile, guests who return several years in a row, like Betsy and her two lovely daughters, or contact me years after staying here, like Elise did yesterday:

“I have been reading your blog regularly since my sweetie and I stayed at Chez Sven in 2008. It was a magical vacation for us. Your hospitality and our days on the ponds (and Mary Oliver's poetry) made it a visit at which we are still marveling. Thank you.

I am writing because I understand your tiredness at working so hard for so many hours each day. While the idea of having a B&B seems so romantic, the work of it is intense. My friends and I, of our age (55 - 60's), are feeling scared and worried about our future. I would like to transition from my job to something else but am frightened at not being able to get affordable health insurance. I feel stuck and worried and stressed.

Chez Sven is an amazing place and your blog is doing an incredible support to educating people about the idea of the importance of small changes and thinking locally.

Perhaps there is a way that you can continue your B&B, but not have to deal with people who don't appreciate your sensibility?

Thank you for your ongoing public thoughts. Thank you for giving me a memory of an incredible vacation in Wellfleet.”

You have to take the good with the bad. The unpleasant experience remains rare.

Sven was a teacher for over 40 years. He tells me that you can’t please everyone. “In a class of 30, there were always one or two who disliked me, for reasons unknown. Sometimes you see the glass half empty, and I see it half full.”

Which type of person are you, half-empty, or half-full?