Bison calves have been seen in the park for a few weeks now, but I've been so busy refinishing chairs and getting ready for the summer season that I had yet to see one. I set out this afternoon determined but was waylaid by a red fox on Swan Lake Flats who spent the better part of an hour moving three small kits from one side of the main park road to the other. She was bleached almost white across her muzzle. Beautiful creature.
Last night we had a late night call from our neighbors who reported a sow grizzly and cub in their backyard and heading our way. We stood out on the deck in the gathering dark and tried to spot her but she evaded our efforts. The wind and rainy day erased any sign of her by today.
IT IS SPRING! (kinda)
As you may have guessed, or as you certainly know if you have stayed here, our business is run by our family. This means that occasionally, the phone is answered by an eight year old. With no corporate staff to rely on (said 8 year old gets paid in quarters and does not have a benefit package) when things go wrong it’s up to my husband and I to deal with the consequences.
Running a bed and breakfast is considered by many to be a romantic proposition. Whenever I get asked what it’s like to run a bed and breakfast (usually by people who DREAM of doing so) I always say:
1. I love it. I meet some of the nicest people on the planet through my work and I always find that my faith in humanity is completely restored by the end of a summer season. I really enjoy our guests and taking care of them is a pleasure as a result… AND
2. You can’t please everybody. Every now and then, I do deal with someone who is unhappy. Those encounters are usually pretty memorable – even if they are rare. After a few years of running this place, I can actually deal with unhappy people without crying or requiring intense “talking it out” sessions afterwards. You have to cultivate a certain level of confidence… AND
3. You must be very patient. No matter how many recipes you’ve clipped or bedrooms you’ve designed or paint colors you imagined, running a bed and breakfast is about hospitality and about taking care of people. Great people – but people all the same.
4. You must be more than willing to apologize. Things don’t always go perfectly.
I read an article about Temple Grandin recently. Temple is probably the best known person with Autism in the world and, around here, she’s well known for her work designing systems for people who work with cattle. In the article, she wrote about five things that she considers being personal truths. My favorite truth was: WHEN IN DOUBT, EAT THE WHOLE CROW.
Temple Grandin writes:
“Long ago, I made mistakes on the designs for a project I was working on; it was half my fault, half the plant’s fault. I walked into the boss’s office and took all the blame – I ate the whole crow because I knew it would save the project. My attitude is: I did something wrong. Suck it up so we can move on.”
Last spring I was fielding a large number of calls from folks who were booking reservations and planning vacations. I took several calls from John, a student who was coming with two friends from a university outside London. He was a nice enough kid – but he had a very difficult time making up his mind about which dates he wanted to book. He wanted lots of trip planning advice – literally hours of it. How long, exactly did it take to see Norris Geyser basin? How many times should he see Old Faithful during his trip? Where, specifically, were the places where he might see a black bear? What time of day was the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone the most beautiful?
I was happy to help him out but I started to get irritated (slightly) when we came down to booking his dates and he indicated that he didn’t have a credit card number to hold the room with. Taking pity on his student status, I gave him a couple days to figure out a solution. When he finally did call with a card number – it was reported as being stolen. John had an explanation, of course.
I know what you are thinking. Looking back, of course he was trying to scam my business in some way. But, truth be told, John was charming (I think it was his accent that got me) and I felt a little sorry for his confusion and need for some parenting. I continued to exercise patience.
My patience was exhausted, however, when he called with a new credit card number at 2 a.m. Since I get up at 5 a.m. to start breakfast, I was more than a little irritated. I decided that I could not work with him any further and resolved to let him know so. I told him that I just couldn’t wait any longer for his booking and that I suspected that he was trying to take advantage of my kindness – perhaps even scam my business. I asked him not to call back – ever.
Less than an hour later, the phone rang again. I looked at the number and recognized it immediately. It was John! I picked up the phone and let him have it! After his initial hello, he never got a word in edgewise. I told him he was rude and dishonest and that he should never call our number again. With a feeling of triumph (and quite a bit of adrenaline) I slammed down the phone. I was quite sure I would never hear from HIM again. HA!
Imagine my complete horror when I later checked my email and found an email from a very nice British man named James who wondered why he had been treated so rudely on the phone. The call was NOT from John! I was completely humiliated by my own behavior!
After very graciously accepting my apology, James and his lovely girlfriend spent a night with us (on the house). He came bearing gifts and was more than ready to completely forgive me for my extremely rude behavior. In fact, I still keep the Harrods’s tin he brought me near my computer – a reminder that patience is something that is required. I find that I’m actually a better customer after the experience.
So, thanks to James
and his extremely forgiving point of view, I find that when it comes to
customer service, I’m willing to eat the whole crow. I can’t always control the eight year old
(really), but know that while you are a guest here I will do everything I can
to make you feel comfortable. And, if needed, you can be that I’ll be eating
that crow. Every bite.
It's been a wonderful Mother's Day weekend so far. It's a busy time - lots of planting wildflower seeds, getting garden plots ready (but not planted), cleaning off lawn furniture, replacing gas grills...finishing all the big things we thought we'd accomplish sooner.
One thing I've been meaning to address is writing an environmental policy for our business. We do all the basics - we use natural cleaners where possible, we recycle, we make a huge effort to purchase as much of what we use in the local area. We grow our vegetables and herbs organically and we feed our chickens organic feed and lots of kitchen leftovers. We plant native seeds and keep track of everything from erosion to grizzly bears. In short, we take our job as guardians of this place very seriously. As employees of Yellowstone National Park, we've spent our careers dedicating ourselves to the protection of the environment and this doesn't quit once we walk through the doors of home.
Several years ago we were under review by a large travel organization who we PAID to be listed with. (I'll give you a hint - First letter and last letter A, middle letter A), Reviewing lodging is very lucrative business. I find that many people aren't aware of their for-profit status. During our annual review and were told that we needed to replace the plastic hangers with wood ones and that the lamps in our rooms were outdated. When I asked if there were any suggestions offered about what I should do with the plastic hangers and the lamps, our reviewer suggested THE LANDFILL.
The truth is that I don't like plastic hangers and, once they are in need of replacing, I'll definitely be looking for wood ones. We've made it a policy not to just throw things away. Towels that are getting frayed are offered as swim towels for Boiling River swimmers and, eventually, they are cut into rags and used and used again. Sheets that are too worn to use make great coverings for the early vegetable garden at night, clean the windows and make great playhouses on the back of the lilac bush come spring. Teacups and mismatched china are in use here - as sugar dishes or cookie plates...and, when in pieces, as mosaic stones for the garden. Everything that is usable goes to our local good will - which turns over $15,000 a year of profit back into the community. Even our dump has a section for things that somebody else might need. When its 90 miles to town, nothing is discarded lightly.
Don't get me wrong. When a Montana girl needs retail therapy she's as likely to find it as the next gal. For me, it is the Saturday yard sale or thrift store that calls my name. Today I thought about how sturdy the chairs I was refinishing for the Mountainview cabin were ($100 for 6 chairs and a table at the local goodwill). I thought about how much I loved the wood chickens, the cast iron grates, and the trout print I found at yard sales this morning.
And I thought about how good it made me feel to give these old, charming things a new home. So if you come for a visit - forget the landfill, ignore the plastic hangers. Ask me about the great deal I got on the wooden chickens!
"We are not to throw away those things which can benefit our neighbor. Goods are called good because they can be used for good: they are instruments for good, in the hands of those who use them properly." Clement of Alexandria