1) Bed and Breakfast…and COFFEE!
We’ve always thought coffee represented “low-hanging fruit”–easy to improve upon and impress guests at inns (and hotels for that matter). It’s obviously a big part of our culture (especially among young people), so WHY is the coffee so completely boring at 99% of the inns we visit? Sadly, the quality is so poor we often secretly bring our own. Typically, we’ve found the quality of the coffee and brewing techniques deteriorate the further you move away from The Pacific Northwest or New England. Generally speaking, the coffee in the South is the weakest and least interesting. (Who are we–the coffee gods?) During our shoot in December of 2013, it was great to see what Joe Finnegan and his team at St Francis Inn in St Augustine have “brewed up”. They offer delicious cappuccino and espresso to guests, using their sparkling new cappuccino/espresso machine–a serious machine which the staff operates. We loved the fact that the specialty coffees are complimentary, and everyone LOVES them! Joe says it has been an overwhelming hit with his guests. Read a guest comment on Trip Advisor.
2) Adding a Contemporary FLAIR
In 2013, we saw many inns adding a contemporary twist to otherwise traditional spaces. It’s amazing what a little paint, new furnishings and bedding can do to make a room feel fresh and new. Sometimes it’s as simple as a new way of making the bed or arranging the pillows.
3) Re-Thinking Breakfast
If one word could sum up breakfast trends at inns in 2013, it would be CHOICE–regarding where you eat, what you eat, and when you eat. Early, more health-conscious buffet offerings and increasing dietary requests are on the rise. The age-old debate of THE ONE BIG BREAKFAST TABLE vs individual tables was addressed by many this way: “lets do both!” Hard-core socializers can hang out at the big table while folks who crave privacy have the individual option. Still think that menu choice is a luxury applicable only to large inns? Well, five-room Greenlake Guest House in Seattle offers a hot entree of the day as well as eggs to order, oatmeal or granola with fruit and yogurt, plus a fruit course and fresh bread offering. Provincetown Hotel at Gabriel’s in P-Town, MA, serves breakfast in your guest room,on your private deck, “fountain-side” in the garden, or at an individual table or a large communal table inside. In New England, lots of innkeepers do a buffet with cold/quick items and also offer a full hot breakfast. This is one of my favorite approaches as it caters to guests that might want something quick and then get on their way.
4) Innovations in the Dining Room
Speaking of dining, we loved the breakfast experience at Harbor Light Inn in Marblehead, Massachusetts. For one thing, the room was over-the-top comfortable and elegant with soothing colors and banquettes around the perimeter, highlighting a view of the pool. They beautifully integrated a flat screen monitor in the wall, where they display gorgeous photos of local sites and activities–a great way to stir up breakfast conversation about the possibilities for the day. As an added bonus, the monitor makes the room effective for conferences, small parties, etc.
5) Expansion Ideas: Think PREFAB
Iris Inn in Waynesboro, VA wanted to expand their inn by adding new accommodations. While there on a shoot a few years ago, we told them about our experience adding cottages at our former inn, The Woolverton Inn and how that transformed our business into a truly profitable enterprise. Dave and Heidi decided to expand and took a very interesting and cost-effective approach with pre-fab construction. They customized these pre-fab units with high end finished to create something new and exciting with tons of appeal. To see more pictures and read all about what they did, check out this blog post we wrote last summer.
6) Oatmeal is Hot
As we mentioned above, CHOICE in breakfast offerings is a trend we’ve seen a lot this year. An easy way to offer choice is to provide a hot breakfast cereal like oatmeal as an option. In our experience, the best oatmeal we’ve encountered is actually made in advance (once or twice a week) and warmed to order, adding milk or water. The Swag in Waynesville, NC does just that, as does The Sayre Mansion and Settler’s Inn both in Pennsylvania. Oatmeal, especially long-cook Irish Oats actually taste better after being warmed up. Another fun thing about a hot cereal is you can get really creative with different whole grains…Irish oats, faro, wheat berries, quinoa…you name it. Then add another layer of customization by providing a choice of toppings–brown sugar, maple syrup, currants, candied walnuts, dried cherries…use your imagination. Here is our favorite recipe, “Rustic Grains” from the Genzlinger family which owns and operate three fabulous inns: Settlers Inn, Sayre Mansion and Ledges Hotel, all in Pennsylvania:
1 Cup Steel cut oats (Irish oats)
1 Cup Rolled Oats (such as Quaker Old Fashioned Oats)
1/4 Cup Wheat Berries
1/4 Cup Barley
1/2 tsp salt
4 Cups water
4 Cups milk
Soak the dry ingredients overnight in the hot water. Cook the next day in the milk for 1 hour at a simmer. Stir frequently. Add more salt to taste. Thin as desired with water or milk.
Leftover may be reheated. Will keep for three days for reheating. Serves 10.
*Note – we make ours dairy-free (just substitute water for milk) and just added dairy the day we reheat. This will extend the shelf life a few days in the fridge.
7) Re-Branding a Country Inn Restaurant
Innkeepers Celeste and Chef Alain Borel have been at the helm of L’Auberge Provencale in White Post, Virginia for over 20 years…but instead of becoming complacent, they constantly embrace
change. Case in point: during their recent website re-design process, the White Stone Marketing team suggested renaming and re-branding their nationally-known restaurant, formally known simply in conjunction with the inn, L’Auberge Provencale. The restaurant was relaunched with a new name, logo and stand-alone website, now known as “La Table Provencale”. This major change offers great new synergies and internet marketing opportunities for both the lodging and dining aspects, allowing for “cross-pollinating” when folks search on either the inn or the restaurant. A major benefit of this separation is that it will help to drive more local restaurant business. Oftentimes, country inn dining can fly under the radar of locals who have little reason to search on lodging right down the road…or it can be associated with less-than-full-service or a less professional restaurant experience. Giving the restaurant a stand-alone presence and identity will elevate the visibility and perceived quality of the restaurant experience. This is a trend we have been seeing quite often in the city hotel, cruise ship and resort worlds, and we think they will see great benefits from marketing and branding with this new strategy. Check out the new stand-alone restaurant website for La Table Provencale.
Dan and Michelle Brown at Swift House Inn in Middlebury, Vermont made a similar move several years ago, when they re-branded their fine dining restaurant “Jessica’s”. They added lower-priced menu selections, jettisoned the white table cloths, added a deck for dining, and offered craft beers. Now they get reservations they might never have gotten on sites like Open Table. Dan reports that the result has been a 40% increase in gross dining revenue at the Inn. They also created a stand-alone restaurant website – Check it out here.
8) Delicious Alternative to Maple Syrup
When we shoot for Deb Mossiman at Swiss Woods Bed and Breakfast in Lancaster County, we look forward to breakfast. In August 2013, we visited again and fell in love with her signature syrup–a sinfully delicious alternative to pure maple syrup. Maple syrup is classic, but expensive, and perhaps even a little pedestrian. Deb’s brown sugar and butter based syrup is rich and AMAZING…and surprising! She gets constant rave reviews about it. When was the last time your guests “raved” over simple maple syrup??
Swiss Woods Syrup
“This is a rendition of my mother’s sticky bun syrup which, as kids, we ate on everything from corn fritters, ice cream and French toast to actually using it to make sticky buns. This version is somewhat tamer with less butter. The guests continually rave.. someday I may try to bottle it!” Deb Mossman, Innkeeper, Swiss Woods
This recipe makes a bunch, but it keeps forever in the fridge. Warm it up to serve.
46 oz Old Barrel Dark Syrup OR light molasses
3 cups brown sugar
6 Tbsp butter
¾ cup boiling water
Mix all the above ingredients together and bring to a boil. Boil for 7 min.
2 Tbsp Vanilla*
*Add to the syrup as it is cooling
Let the whole mixture cool. Pour into a large container and store in the fridge. Reheat portions as needed.
If you like this, check out another recipe we posted from Deb’s kitchen this summer - Parmesan Heirloom Cherry Tomatoes
9) Outdoor Showers
In 2013, we made our annual pilgrimage to The Swag, near Waynesville, NC to shoot three new private outdoor showers…and rumor has it they are adding more in 2014. It’s a fabulous amenity at inn…there is just something very exotic and fun about showering outdoors in a beautiful place. Check out our post on The Swag’s outdoor showers and pictures from the shoot.
10) S’mores Package
Ideas like this are what really separates inns from hotels, and truly makes them “a better way to stay”. On our recent shoot at St Francis Inn in St Augustine, Florida, they asked that we shoot their s’mores package. They have a gas-fueled outdoor fire pit in their courtyard and pass these packages out (complimentary) to their guests during cool winter evenings. These are the things that make memories, make guests return and make for great stories back home. It also minds us what a fun industry this is and how lucky we are to be asked to document it!!