Friday, June 03, 2011

B&B Etiquette: How to Pick and Choose

Above, another photo of Seagull Cottage. As a writer, I am very sensitive to words. The way a request for accommodation is phrased often indicates what type of person seeks accommodation. My goal is to attract guests with a similar mindset because both guests and innkeepers will have a more pleasant experience. For instance, there’s no doubt in my mind that over the past few years, we have accommodated more Democrats than Republicans. Of course, political affiliation is not obvious from a brief email, but liberals do seem more tempted by Chez Sven than conservatives. Now, in 2011, with two local B&Bs having shut their doors, the supply/demand equation works in our favor. Knowing this, to some extent, we can pick and choose. How, you might ask? Look for clues in the wording of a request for accommodation. Here’s a lesson in reading through the lines:

• “I've just found your lovely B&B after much searching around for one that accepts children but is still beautifully decorated and comfortable. We were hoping to come to New England in August with our (then) 26 month-old son and myself several months pregnant, for a relaxing break. Unfortunately you seem to be pretty much fully booked for August 2011. Is that right? I'm hoping beyond hope that it's a computer glitch and you are going to tell me that you have availability for the dates of 15th - 24th August in either the suite or the cottage. But I doubt very much that you are. If you have a cancellation, please do let us know.” I would have loved having this person stay but have learned not to offer Liberty Coin Suite, with its steep stairs, to pregnant women, and that was the only room available for the dates requested. This potential guest writes from the heart. She does not confuse us with a hotel. I suggested bookmarking Chez Sven for a future year.

• “Earliest check-in: 6/24. Latest check-out: 6/29. Two adults. Attending family reunion. Please confirm deposit/cancellation policy. Thanks!” From this terse email, I do not get the impression that the writer has seriously examined our Web site. Fortunately, we were already fully booked for these dates so the inquiry was easy to answer.

• “We need a spillover …” This message, on our answering machine, was hard to decipher, leaving both a garbled phone number and an email address. Last month I explained we specify on our Web site preference for emailed requests. The caller went on to explain he had rented a house in town and did not have room for his son’s friend. Anyone who sees Chez Sven as “spillover” does not get what we are about. Experience has taught me to guide this type of caller to a motel. In this case, since the rental house was on Chequessett Neck, I was able to help secure a reservation at Aunt Sukie's, nearby.

• “My wife and I are touring New England in May and wondered whether the Liberty Coin Suite at Chez Sven might be available for the night of May 12th?” This was an emailed request, but the words were chosen so well that you could almost hear the tone of voice. I regretted telling these people that we do not do one night. Why not? I'm 64; Sven is 74. We do everything ourselves and have realized one night stays create too strenuous a rhythm. Also, had I said yes, I would have been obliged to turn away other guests, looking to book longer periods that week.

• “Is there a reason that you do not post your telephone number on your website?” I would like to reserve the General Green Room for this Sunday night. I would like the opportunity of speaking with you.” Who wants to be challenged straight away on policy? Not I. A small intimate B&B is very different from a hotel. At Chez Sven, we treat guests like family friends. There is no maid service, no staff. I have discovered our guests from Europe understand that they are being invited into our home if they choose to stay here. The attitude of Europeans is a world away from guests who confuse a B&B with a hotel. (I refused this request because it was for one night.)

• “My husband and I are looking for a place for 3 nights. We saw that you have availability, but we are concerned about the breakfast. Both of us are vegan - we will starve before we consume any product that inflicts pain, suffer, torture and death on innocent animals - including meat, eggs, dairy, honey etc. We would like to know if this is something that you know how to accommodate, and what type of food is offered to vegan couples.” I'm always happy to work with guests who have special food requirements and emailed back and forth with these folks until they felt reassured.

And – and ...

• “Hello, Alix? I’m calling for the vouchers.” Dead silence on my part. First off, no one calls me Alix. That’s not my name. Second, vouchers? Does he mean gift certificates? Third, grrr! Yet another phoned request, rather than email! Actually, the call turned out to have nothing to do with the B&B. It was about two watches I had left for repair in Boston!