Contactless service may sound like the opposite of what bed-and-breakfast service is supposed to be.
After all, staying in a B&B is all about contact! Being friendly with the other guests, getting to know the owners, enjoying a plate loaded with warm cookies on the table by the fireplace, and communal meals served family-style at a long table are what make staying in a B&B the kind of personal, unique experience that so many enjoy.
Just like the rest of the world, though, the B&B industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 regulations. Here’s how the owners of some of these quaint oases are adjusting their time-tested service models to make their post-shutdown comeback.
Every cookie in its place
Gone are those cookie jars or plates of pastries from which hungry guests in the past could just help themselves. Instead, snacks are individually wrapped and displayed so as to ensure every cookie remains untouched by other guests.
Gone too, in many cases, are those communal breakfasts.
Instead of family-style platters, meals are individually pre-plated. Instead of one, long table for all, smaller tables may be spaced throughout the dining room area, or seatings might be staggered to allow for more space between diners. For those establishments with an outdoor garden, dining al fresco might be an option.
The iconic atmosphere that many of us visualize when we think of bed and breakfasts is one of doilies and figurines and quaint, old-world details. Rooms may be festooned with pillows and shams, brocade, antiques, and lace. But when it comes time to clean and sanitize things between guests, all those baroque touches can become more trouble than they’re worth.
While some inns are going so far as to institute two-day sanitation turnaround times for each room and sanitizing every individual card, dice, and token in their board games between uses, many have moved instead to a more minimalist, restrained, easily maintained aesthetic.
Monica Edwards, who with her husband, Daniel, runs Morehead Manor Bed & Breakfast in Durham, N.C., tells the Washington Post that she thinks many of these coronavirus changes may turn out to be permanent. “One of the things it’s doing is making us realize what was necessary versus what wasn’t necessary,” she says. “With a lot of tchotchkes and doilies, you can’t really clean the way you need to clean.” In the future, she says, “I think frilly Victorian inns will be few and far between.”
The challenge for B&Bs, as opposed to standard hotels, is that social distancing must be observed without eliminating all the social touches that make the B&B experience so special. Also, B&Bs generally don’t have giant dining rooms in which tables can easily be removed (nor can they afford to take rooms out of service when they may only have four rooms to begin with).
Not wanting to lose the social interaction that made so many of them want to open their doors in the first place, many inn owners are using every last ounce of creativity and inspiration to find ways to build those guest relationships without all the handshakes and hugs.
This is another area in which outdoor gardens or terraces are proving to be life-savers. Owners, it seems, are not the only ones who value the social aspects of B&B stays, and many of them report that guests are more than happy to take those interactions outside (with masks and proper distancing in place).
Of course, some inn owners may just not be ready to reopen. Some may be in locations where more stringent restrictions remain in place, or they may simply want to ride out the storm and reopen when things have returned to some semblance of normal.
For these establishments that aren’t quite ready to reopen their guest rooms, a stop-gap option has been to reimagine the services they provide and find creative ways in which to provide them.
For some, that means creating a limited take-out menu filled with guest favorites and wines that can be delivered via curbside pickup.
For others, it means transitioning into a kind of general store providing produce, beer, wine, snacks, and maybe even creative “survival kits” of essential items for riding out the quarantine. Still others opened their rooms for free to accommodate essential workers as they battle against the virus.
One thing’s for sure. We’ve all been locked up for a very long time, and the thought of getting out for a few days is an attractive one, indeed.
While B&Bs may seem like the “little guys” at a disadvantage in relation to the huge hotels, the truth is thatas we venture out of our bunkers, many of us are going to be eager to return to these smaller, individually owned bastions of old world comfort.
And when that happens, the B&Bs will be ready.