Friday, October 30, 2009

What can we do in the winter?

Because Narragansett is a beach town, guests often ask what people do when they visit us in the winter. Some veteran visitors remember the days when the year-round residents rolled up the sidewalks after Labor Day.

While many of the shops go to reduced hours and some close in February, most of the best restaurants stay open so you can always find an excellent meal. The Towers, our big event venue overlooking the beach offers dance classes and live music on Thursday evenings.

While you wouldn't want to take dip in the ocean without a wetsuit, many people enjoy a brisk walk at a time of year when beach access is free, and you don't trip over someone when you skip away from an incoming wave. For those who like extreme competition, there's a surfing meet in February and the Polar Bear Club takes its annual dip on New Year's Day.

Both shore and boat fishing continues year round. Your innkeepers will happily take the catch off your hands or help you find space in the guest fridge to save it for your trip home.

It's not too late to enjoy the local Corn Mazes craze. Several mazes are an easy drive away and can be a fun diversion. The associated farm stands are always a good stop. Although the foliage is just past peak you can still enjoy a lot of color in the local nature preserves.

One of the best things about our state is that nothing is very far away. When you stay at our inn you are 15 minutes away from sporting events and concerts at URI's Ryan Center. Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello were among the headliners last year.

Newport is only 20 minutes minutes away, with high-end shopping, fine dining and clubbing. Special events like Christmas in Newport, First Night and the Winter Carnival draw visitors needing to unwind from all that holiday stress.

It will take about 15 minutes more to get to Providence, but the RISD and Brown museums are worth the trip. There are original productions at the Trinity Preparatory Theater, touring Broadway shows at the Providence Performing Arts Center and live music at dozens of clubs in the downtown area.

For more information visit: South County Tourism, Art Tix, or the URI events list.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A Little Thing That Meant a Lot

One of my favorite guests was newlywed from a small town in Kentucky who stayed with us for four nights a few years back. Her father had made the reservation, and she and her new husband were clearly traveling on a budget. But money was the last thing she was worried about. She couldn't have been older than 23, and she had once of those radiant personalities that make you want to smile whenever she walks into a room.

When I was fluffing their room on the first morning of their stay, I noticed a set of a half-dozen or so sheets of computer paper stapled together with the words "My Honeymoon Journal" printed neatly on top page. At lunch I mentioned to Seely what a shame it was that she didn't have something a little more sturdy for such important memories.

Like any good customer relations specialist, my partner sprung into action. She headed down to the Dollar Store and bought a small diary with a bright flower print on the cover and left it on top of the homemade journal as an alternative.

The next morning at breakfast our new bride was ecstatic, and made sure everyone in the dining room knew how thoughtful their hosts were. She promised us everyone back home was going to get the whole story so they would know where to stay when they visited New England.

And she was as good as her word. She wrote a glowing review on trip advisor, bought souvenir mugs and in the following year we got two more reservations from that little town. Not a bad return for a 10-minute shopping trip and $1 purchase. Of course the smile on our newlywed's face would have been enough to make the effort worthwhile.

Friday, October 23, 2009

What about my allergies?

Probably THE most frequently asked question on a regular basis is about special orders for breakfast. Because we have a small kitchen without commercial appliances, our policy is to make one dish for the whole house.

There are exceptions, however. Obviously we don't want to feed a guest something that would trigger an allergy or violate religious restrictions. We always ask both at the initial reservation contact and at check-in whether there are foods that guests can't eat for health or philosophical reasons.

As long as you give us enough notice, we will do our best either to modify the whole house menu or prepare a special dish for you. David has used rice flour for folks with wheat gluten allergies, soy milk for the lactose intolerant and has prepared kosher meals for one of our favorite regular families.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for a special menu was a wedding group of Vegans (strict vegetarians that avoid all animal byproducts of any kind). There were 20 people in the party and the only dish we serve with no meat or dairy at all was our coconut French toast. That worked fine with fresh fruit, whole grain bread and and diced, seasoned potatoes for one meal.

For the second morning, Seely did an exhaustive intenet search and found a vegetarian fritata that used polenta for the crust and combined a half-dozen veggies (black beans, sprouts, sun dried tomatoes, peppers) into what looked a bit like a pizza with everything on it. We served the usual fruit with hash browns on the side and even the guests that weren't Vegan found it "better than the usual stuff they eat."

Just one word of warning for those seeking special orders who don't make their needs known until they arrive at the table: Be prepared to wait. Finding out at 9:15 that someone can't eat the cheese in Asiago scrambled eggs, means that we have start your special order with no advance preparation, so it won't get to the table quite as fast.

Monday, October 19, 2009

One Small Detail

The first summer we were open for guests, 1999, was a unique experience because we were still renovating parts of the building even as we began our new careers as innkeepers. The dining room wasn't finished yet, so we served breakfast at a small table by the window in the living room at scheduled times, since no more than four could be served at a sitting.

When breakfast was done we whisked away the dishes, put a fresh cloth on the table, topped with a vase and we had a living room again. We then changed out of food service attire, put our construction clothes on and went back to renovation work. We had two rooms open in May, two more open by Fourth of July and were working on the Whirlpool Suite, which had been rented for the first weekend in August.

With the deadline looming, we began working until well past midnight, taking care to do the quieter tasks while the guests slept. We were still painting in the bathroom the day before the guests arrived, but by 3:30, a half hour before check-in, we were congratulating ourselves for getting everything ship shape.

That is until I opened the windows in the Suite sitting room and realized that we had neglected to put in the screens. One window didn't have a screen to start with. The others had been taken down to be scrubbed and rinsed, but we had neglected to put them on the list of things to be done before check-in so they were leaning up against the garage where I had put them to dry.

Since we had no air conditioning in those days, opening windows was essential for air circulation and cooling in the evenings. Unfortunately the mosquitoes were quite content to spend their evenings indoors with the warm bloods. Fortunately, the guests headed for dinner immediately after arrival, allowing us enough time to haul out the ladder, put the screens up and hammer few nails into the window frame to hold them in place. If the guests noticed either the deficiency when they arrived or the improvement when they returned, they were polite enough not to mention it.

Eventually we gave up on restoring all of the original windows and installed energy efficient (and bug proof) units. And everyone except the mosquitoes has been happy ever since.

Posted by Innkeeper David

Friday, October 2, 2009

Where should we go for dinner?

Being an innkeeper is a deep responsibility. A frightening responsibility. Especially frightening when people want guidance to the "best" place to eat. What if they don't like the foods I like? What if they are more into ambiance than flavor? What if they go to the place I tried to discourage them from using and then complain that it was a waste of time and money? What if they hate the place I suggest???

Unlike a hotel concierge that often gets kickbacks from the restaurants I don't have any vested interest in any referrals. Heck, I doubt that most of the places I send the guests to enjoy have any idea that a Blueberry Cove Inn exists in Narragansett, RI.

So how do we decide which places are "guest worthy"? We offer a basket of menus for guests to browse through which helps. We sometimes hook them up with the restaurant's web page. We encourage guests to bring home menus if they try something we've never heard of. We quiz guests about their dining experiences. But, best of all, we actually get out once in awhile to try new places and revisit favorites to make sure they are still on the ball.

Just this week I went to the Midtown Cafe in Wakefield, RI. Yes, it is all of a five mile drive but you won't be disappointed. Located in the heart of the shopping district (which deserves its own blog) the window tables are a great spot for people watching. The interior is fresh, clean and wide open without being austere. Selecting just one item off of the lunch menu was difficult especially when I could glance at my fellow diners and see all kinds of yummy things being served. (One had the most beautiful grilled veggie plate I've ever seen and I don't even like some of the veggies being served.) I settled on a hanger steak sandwich with an incredible horseradish mayonnaise. The biggest surprise was the side of rosemary roasted potatoes. Cut like fries but roasted into sweetness they aren't something you see very often. As this was a business excursion I was compelled to try dessert. Although tempted by the chocolate offerings I fell in love with the raspberry and almond tart. The presentation was beautiful but my cell phone camera wasn't co-operating so you have to take my word for it.

Most of our restaurants are open year round. (A few take January off and very few close after Columbus Day.) Most of them offer specials or prixe fixe options. Come and visit and we'll try to hook you up with a good dining experience.