Over the past several months, our world has been flipped on its backside. Societies across the world have changed in tremendous ways due to Coronavirus. Lockdowns, isolation, death and despair to name only only a few effects from what many people claim to be one of the worst periods in modern history. To add fuel to the fire, the United States of America is coming to realization that we are not quite as united as we once thought and it is literally tearing us apart. At a time when we need our family members most, we are unable to be with them for fear of a spreading virus. While we are desperate for distraction that come in the form of entertainment, things like going to the movies, going on vacation, eating out at a restaurant, we find businesses shut down or if they aren’t closed, we feel tremendous guilt or discomfort partaking. Literally everything we do is a double edged sword.
In our line of business, the Bed and Breakfast industry, we find ourselves wanting to push marketing to grow our business. Especially while we embark on our second year of business here in Whitefish, Montana. It is 2021, confidence is low that things will go back to “normal,” whatever that means anymore. We have no doubt that business will boom again, but the question is, when? The follow up question to that is how long can we hang on? Sure, there have been financial programs that have helped us out a bit since this pandemic all began. However, with our political party in such utter disarray, it is hard to feel confident that more funding is on its way. I wonder how many businesses have already called it quits and how many will remain when this thing is all over. The vaccines are starting to roll out to the most vulnerable groups first and with any luck, those of us who are the least vulnerable, will come next early Summer 2021. Basically, that is what it all boils down to for the hospitality industry, a vaccine.
As a new business owner who was equipped to start following business patterns and trends, it is a really strange place to find ourselves not being able to piece together any bit of professional advice. Some financial experts say one thing and other business leaders say to expect something totally different. The truth is no one really knows. If the vaccine works and is provided to everyone fairly quickly we should be well on our way to recovery. So it’s just a waiting game.
So how do we stay productive in the meantime? One of the benefits of being a new business owner, is that I have so many projects and ideas flowing. The hardest part of completing them is lack of time to execute them under normal circumstances. But with low occupancy rates at the moment, we are able to accomplish some pretty incredible tasks. Besides some of our more costly projects at hand like shower retiling, a new roof and freshening up some of the tired furnishings throughout the lodge, we have spent a great deal of time focused on education.
I love to learn. It’s kind of funny to say that now because as a kid, I really struggled to find the fun in learning. I hardly gave it my best effort in school in my younger years. But now as an adult, I crave learning new skills, especially now that I am a small business owner. When you learn something new and are able to share your craft with someone else who appreciates it, it solidifies your passion and leaves you wanting more. I absolutely adore my job at our Inn, for so many reasons, but to be able to share my skills with others who appreciate them, it takes my enthusiasm to another level.
Here at Good Medicine Lodge, we have about six other employees. Most of them are young women in their early twenties. I would be lying if I said that they were an easy part of my job to manage. I think quite honestly managing staff is the hardest part of this job and from what I have heard, for many others who own their businesses too. There is a pretty big learning curve when it comes to Innkeeping. One minute you are leading the morning breakfast shift, which takes a lot of skill. Timing with the ovens and stove, quality control, plating and service. And the next minute, you are juggling several laundry lists of to-do’s. There is endless cleaning, checking stock in various locations, perfecting the creases on the beds, stacking firewood, testing hot tub levels, and it goes on and on. Above all else, we strive for perfection. Employees must wear several hats, remember all the little details while also swaying with the moving seasons. We can be crazy busy one minute to very slow the next.
We expect a lot from our employees and we try to push them to their full potential. It’s a lot of work on our part. But it is also incredibly rewarding to see the results when they finally get it. Even if they don’t get it perfect each and every time, there will be a moment when everything just snaps into place. To see them light up when they create a beautiful dish, or spectacular pastry or prepared a stunning room for check-in. It’s a job well done and there is no better feeling. It’s an awesome team dynamic and that excitement spills over to the guest experience. How we know is from heartfelt reviews and we receive many of them. So it’s a formula that is working.
In the Bed and Breakfast industry, we have the luxury to create incredible skill sets in the kitchen. I never had a desire to attend culinary school….maybe some cooking classes but I never had interest in a full on degree in the field. Since I have started cooking here at Good Medicine Lodge, I have found a tremendous curiosity to push beyond my limits and I want that for the staff as well. I want to provide the wow factor with each menu item we serve. More than that, I want the staff to feel excited when they are plating an entree that will be delivered to a receiving gues,t who will not only be blown away, but who shows their gratitude for receiving such an awesome experience. That moment shared between guest and server, when if only for a moment, both people are sharing in a pure moment of joy. It’s really something magical. It’s something that everyone hopes for when they are on vacation and we are the lucky ones who get to experience it time and time again.
One of the ways we thought we could enhance guest experience is through educational workshops.
We decided to come up with some really cool activities that will really help us sharpen our skill sets. We began with learning how to cook the perfect poached egg. Over the past year or so, we have featured several breakfast dishes featuring poached eggs and one of our employees had mentioned wanting to learn how to make poached eggs in an efficient way. So one morning, we had the team listen to America’s Test Kitchen on how to master it. After only a half hour, our team had created several perfectly poached eggs. We were giddy and thrilled. This was a game changer for us in the kitchen. No more stressing about checking the yolks for doneness, no more juggling the timing of all the different items that you have on the stove at a time. This was success and we wanted more of it.
The next workshop we chose was knife sharpening. Now I will admit that I knew tackling this one would be much more difficult than poached eggs. I knew there would be a much steeper learning curve. We would be using a sharpening stone while watching “Beginner’s Guide to Whetstone Sharpening,” by Ethen Chlebowski on Youtube. There is definitely a technique to it, but over time I was confident that each of us would get it. Our knives were in terrible condition and desperately needed sharpening. It’s a pretty critical skill to know in the kitchen and I would say this one will be something we revisit. But for now we were able to get the knives to a place that we can safely use them.
Another workshop we chose to do was pie crust. Ryan, my husband and partner in crime, has reached out to his old personal training client from San Francisco, named Richard Johns. Richard has shared his passion for baking over the years and Ryan thought he would be a good resource to teach the staff how to bake the perfect pie crust. So he set up a large screen TV in our commercial kitchen and set up a zoom call with Richard. Each employee will have a station with pie dough in hand at the worksurface and they will learn the how to’s in a great pie crust that can used for several recipes.
Check out the results:
Even though things are really tough for small business owners right now, I would say there are still many silver linings. As far as we know, this is just a waiting game. If you can wait it out and survive, you’ve done it. So we push forward and in the still moments while we wait, we keep busy. We keep doing even if there are only a few guests because you must keep sharpening your skills. Because there will be a time when guests come and you better be on your A game. Not just for the sake of being competitive but to keep you moving towards positive goals. For every single day can be measured even in the darkest of times. If you have challenged yourself and learned something, then you have succeeded.