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  • Debbie J. Elder

My Inn Keeping Adventure Ends

Now that summer is over and the steady-paced guests who packed the lodge all summer are no longer visiting, my job has come to an end. Fall has arrived and I am happy to soon return to my life with John in Greater Phoenix, Arizona.

This has been a fascinating and exciting adventure. I wanted to share some of what I learned over the past four months. My top 10 take-aways from this solo journey working at a country inn:

1. Guests visiting a romantic bed and breakfast are happy people. They rarely complain (unless there is a valid reason). In most cases, they arrive a bit stressed or harried, but leave in a relaxed state of mind after a few days of rest, fresh country air, and good food.

2. Working at an 12-bedroom lodge is hard work. Hours upon hours are spent standing. I averaged 8-10 hours daily. At least two, sometimes three days a week I worked 14+ hours. Each week consisted of working 5 and many times, 6 days in a row. On the "off" days, I rested or went on day trips to explore the area.

The new Fitbit I purchased before departing Arizona verifies these statistics. From the first day until the last, I walked 1,029,248 million steps using up 238,900 thousand calories. This is almost equal in miles to walking from Kansas City to Denver! It was a big challenge for someone who didn't get much exercise before this job. The good news is through all of these steps, I have managed to loose 25 pounds.

3. Going along with these statistics, taking care of my feet was critical. Wearing shoes with professionally designed inserts, or orthotics, was an absolute must. I developed plantar fasciitis during this assignment. In case you are unfamiliar, plantar fasciitis is a disorder of the connective tissue which supports the arch of the foot. It results in severe pain in the heel and bottom arch of the foot. Typically it is most painful with the first steps of the day, or following a period of rest. To help relieve this pain, I used a variety of tools from ice packs to spiky roller balls. Foot stretcher gadgets, soothing foot masks and reflexology treatments were helpful. And, special foot socks that I wore to bed to stretch out my foot. I also purchased expensive custom foot orthotics to place in my shoes. All of these tools and products helped a little, over time.

4. Feeding this many people requires hours and hours of prepping and cooking. Serving a daily two-course breakfast, and optional full gourmet dinners to 10-30 guests a day takes hours and hours of prepping, cooking and baking. Numerous upgraded food packages that were delivered to guests like picnic lunches, chocolate covered strawberries, homemade cookies and local cheese trays were also daily deliverables. Since there were no options of where to dine in this rural area, most every guest booked their evening meal at the lodge too. The lodge had 10 routine main course dishes for dinner service and each one of those had special sauces, toppings and methods of cooking. The lodge truly operated as a restaurant, but without the much-needed kitchen staff. The cook on duty did all of the preparing, cooking and plating of the food. At times this could be overwhelming and stressful. Having never worked in a restaurant kitchen, it was a big accomplishment for me to be able to charge through and make it all happen. I felt very satisfied that there were never complaints by the diners on the quality of the meals I prepared. The praise at the end of the meal was definitely well-received and very much appreciated.

5. The percentage of special meals served in a restaurant today is large. The lodge specializes in special meal requests which gave them the opportunity to make a lot of guests very happy. No menu request was off limits. At nearly every meal, there were special requests. These ranged from Gluten-free eaters, to vegans and vegetarians. Others were dairy-free. Then, there were those that had allergies to "this or that." And, guests that didn't like nor eat onions, peppers, mushrooms, salt, or "anything green." This took a lot of effort to cook every dish separately so as not to accidentally serve gluten products to a gluten-free guest, for example.

6. Organization is the key to success. Cooking for this many guests daily required lots and lots of advance preparation. I found it critical to make a written timeline and to do list every day of what needed to be accomplished, and what time to start/finish each task. There was always rolls to bake, desserts to make, fresh veggies to process, proteins to prep, and sauces to make. The list of daily cooking tasks were endless.

Then, when dinner service began, the timeline was critical. For example a night's menu might easily look like this:

*Group dinner at 6:00 for 10 served buffet style (Rolls, Brisket, Roasted Potatoes, Zucchini Saute, Caesar Salad, Strawberry Shortcake with Whipped Cream). Oh, and 1 guest is Salt-free. So that guest's dishes must be cooked and plated separately.

*Then, 4 guests arrive at 6:30, 2 eating Prime Rib (cooked Rare and Medium-well), and 1 Chicken (baked) and 1 Sea Bass (sautéed).

*Then, 4 more guests arrive at 6:45, 1 Sausage Pasta (no onions), 1 Filet with Mushroom Sauce (Medium-Rare and Gluten-free) 1 Chicken Pasta, 1 Filet, no mushrooms (Medium).

*Then, 7 more guests at 7:00, 1 Salmon (baked), 1 Pork Tenderloin (roasted), 3 Chickens (baked, but 1 Dairy-free with no cheese), 2 Prime Ribs (Medium and Well-Done).

*Plus all of the sides for each diner. Total served: 25. Then clean up. . . whew!

The other challenging factor in preparing meals is guests that did not arrive at their designated reservation time. Some may be early, others late. Cooking in this manner is very tricky and quite a juggling act. I was constantly in a "hurry-up" or a "slow-down" mode of operation. A hectic pace for certain.

7. Housekeepers deserve your appreciation. Thank goodness I wasn't asked to help in housekeeping. The number of sheets, pillowcases, comforters and towels that had to be laundered, dried, and pressed weekly was huge. With 13 bedrooms to service, and the fact that the washers and dryers were not commercial grade, the machines were constantly in the "on" position. Folding towels the proper way, and ironing cloth napkins and placemats went on for hours by the housekeeping staff. Plus, that doesn't even count for their time stripping and remaking beds all day long, cleaning bathrooms, and dusting and sweeping rooms and the lodge. Takeaway: Tip your housekeepers directly and generously when staying at a hotel, motel or inn. They deserve it!

8. Fresh garden veggies and fruits are a key to a delicious meal. The lodge's 30,000 square foot garden provided tons of fresh veggies this summer. It was a delight to use these in the daily menus. From tomatoes to berries and peaches, green beans to garden-grown herbs, guests could always tell and they appreciate the difference. Fresh produce truly did elevate the meals and it was fun to have this abundance of produce available to showcase the bounty of the season.

9. Spending four months in my home state was a refreshing change of pace. I loved being back in Kansas. The weather was heavy with rain and thunderstorms many of the weeks during my stay. The familiar landscape was green and gorgeous.

I enjoyed decorating and living in my 1880's Italianate apartment in Fort Scott. Finding deals on furnishings was a fun hobby.

And, it was fascinating to explore new places in the area, from beautiful country gardens to unique shops and local food farms and new barbeque spots. I especially loved having the time to reconnect with my friends, former co-workers and family members. I made some fun new friends as well who will continue to be in my circle.

BBQ beef brisket from Q39 in Overland Park, KS

10. There's no place like home. As much as I have loved being on this adventure, I have missed John, my friends/family and my home in Arizona. And, they have missed me. Together, John and I have done a great job of Face Timing each other numerous times a day. I am thankful that he has been such a trooper in this endeavor, encouraging me to take on this assignment. I know that he has learned a lot, too. Fending for himself by learning to cook again, doing laundry and keeping the house clean are tasks I hope he'll continue once I return home. We both agree with this line in a 1600's poem (by Anonymous) and we're looking forward to being together daily once again:

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

Thanks so much for being my companion and traveling along with me on my Kansas adventure. I've appreciated your many messages, calls and support. Until we meet again, happy trails to you!