by Shelley Sharp
So, you toy with being an innkeeper? You and your husband (or sister or best friend) have been traveling, chatting over a glass of wine, when one of you has said, “Wouldn’t it be great to wake up in our own house, cook breakfast, water a few plants, take a few phone calls, and bake a few cookies?”…Doesn’t it sound lovely to get away from the drudgery of office life, tied to a desk, pumping out work for a faceless conglomerate or thankless manager? …Wouldn’t it be wonderful to set our own schedules, work when we want to, and have enough time to travel and spend time our grandkids?”…”Sweetheart, can’t you just see that if we became innkeepers, we could supplement our social security and have some income to spend on the things we love to do?” This was me. And this is how I became an innkeeper.
You Love the Idea of Reinventing Yourself
So, now you’re thinking, “Oh no. Do I just have a romantic vision of owning and operating my own bed and breakfast?…Aren’t the Hallmark Channel’s and the Bob Newhart Show’s depictions of hoteliers interacting with quirky guests and quirkier locals accurate?” The good news is, this is mostly true. Patrick and I do cook and serve breakfast, water and do yard work, take guest reservations and answer emails, bake cookies and check in our guests. And we do get to interact on a daily basis with (mostly very normal) food vendors, fix-it guys and work crews, neighbors, and local business owners. We have a great variety of work throughout the day that allows us to switch gears between standing, sitting, and (literally) running. We are fortunate that we have the most time off we’ve ever had in our working careers.
It’s Not Just Roses and Doilies
Now the news you might not want to hear. This is not the Bob Newhart Show and Daryl and Daryl are not our neighbors. We are not mirroring a Hallmark Channel movie of the week where we can jam for the county fair or help our breakfast chef find the love of her life (she just wouldn’t have it). Think of being an innkeeper for a property like the San Juan Island Inn Collection like this…You have upwards of 50 guests who all come with a variety of sleep preferences, dietary restrictions, energy levels, and expectations for having the time of their lives. You run a property that covers a city block with six buildings with over 25,000 of interior square feet. There are 20 toilets, and thousands of feet of pipes and electrical cables.
And, of course, your lovely home is a business at its core. There is marketing and social media, insurance, payroll, credit card reconciliations, taxes, compliances, and, of course, health department rules and regulations. There is maintaining and updating, replacing, and fixing. There are reviews to answer and tours to book. There are late night phone calls and doors to unlock. There is keeping up on the industry and creating partnerships with local businesses. All of these behind the scenes job duties are what keep the business going. And while Patrick and I don’t own the Inns, we do participate in many of the daily operations.
Don’t Give Up Hope Just Yet
But despite the long days and need to constantly shift gears at the drop of a hat, there is much to love about the lifestyle choice of becoming an innkeeper. Every day I am glad I switched career gears, and will never look back to life behind a desk. Every day I go to sleep feeling blessed for many things about my job that has allowed me to blossom as a combined hostess and co-manager.
- I get to start my day early
- It’s exercise made easy
- I make lifelong friends
- I get to cook for people
- I can bring my dog to work
- I can wear comfort shoes
- I get to eat good food
- I work with people I really like
- I continuously learn new things
- I have the daily ability to make people happy
Some Gentle Suggestions
My advise: you should do it. You should buy that charming Victorian fixer-upper, beach house, or rustic mountain home and turn it into an amazing bed and breakfast that you would want to stay at. You should bring out your favorite cookie recipes and invite your friend down the road who’s looking for work to come help you cook breakfast and do some laundry. You should reach out to your local high school to see if a few kids want some summer work. You should find a place to become a part of a community where you want travelers to visit.
My biggest piece of advise is to start small. We began by managing a five room inn with a housekeeping staff of two. It was a great place to learn the ropes. We cooked and maintained over 100 acres of land. We shopped, did payroll, paid taxes, did some marketing and interacted with our guests on a daily basis. If you want to operate an inn during retirement, four or five rooms in a lovely home is the way to go. And rest assured, you will find your own set of blessings that go along with the richly rewarding lifestyle of innkeeping.