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Inn crowd

Cheryl-Anne Millsap cheryl-annem@spokesman.com The Spokesman-Review

Owning a bed and breakfast is one of those occupations you consider through a soft-focus, rose-colored daydream. After all, who wouldn’t want to live in a beautiful house, earn a salary and never have to leave home? How hard can it be? If you ask, B&B owners will be happy to set you straight. It’s hard work. A lot of hard work.

When you are a full-time host, the day starts early. You can’t just wake up, scuff down to the coffee pot, open the morning paper and relax. Breakfast needs to be made. Rooms have to be prepared, cleaned and sanitized. Phones have to be answered, reservations made, supplies purchased and maintenance done. You clean a stranger’s bathroom right in your own home. And when night falls, before you hit the sack, it’s time to prepare for the next day.

Fortunately, most B&B owners don’t mind the work. In fact, they find it rewarding. Professional hosts like Irene and Poul Jensen, owners of Fotheringham House Bed and Breakfast in Spokane, enjoy taking care of the needs of others.

Before the couple left California in 2001 and moved to Spokane to buy the inn, Irene Jensen was a flight attendant who made overseas trips, and today she sees a lot of similarity in the two professions. “This house is just like my 767,” she says. “Full of people who need to be taken care of.”

For Virginia and Blaine Coffey, owners of The Inn on the Lake in Newport, Wash., the daily grind of making others happy, is a pleasure.

The couple, also from California, purchased the inn two months ago and although they had no prior experience in inn keeping, they brought a unique perspective with them.

“We were in the funeral service business for years,” Virginia Coffey says. “And we dealt with a lot of families. We know how to make people feel at ease.”

Both couples think a relaxed and satisfied guest is the essential element of success. A happy guest means a return booking, and a glowing reference. One good stay brings another.

For Virginia Coffey, that means anticipating what a guest might want or need before they do. “We try to think about the things they would like, like a little something to eat before bed or an extra blanket,” she says. “And that way they don’t have to come ask.”

Coffey says they engage the guests, and if a tidbit of information is dropped, they act on it. “We had a couple recently who were celebrating their anniversary,” she says. “So we made a special dessert and served it to them.”

Jensen likes to accommodate special requests. “There are times when, if you go out of your way, it makes things better for one of your guests,” she says. For example, Jensen says, it might mean serving breakfast twice to accommodate the departure schedule of a guest. “If they have to catch an early flight, we would make sure they had breakfast and then make it again, at the regular time, for the other guests.”

Both Coffey and Jensen say the key to success as the owner of a bed and breakfast is to be willing to work, often putting a guest’s needs before your own.

“It does get hard sometimes, because you begin to feel tied to the house,” Jensen says. “But, I really enjoy it.”

Health problems have led Jensen to list The Fotheringham House for sale, and after it sells, she looks forward to resting and traveling, but admits the experience won’t ever be the same.

“I want to stay in other people’s B&B’s,” she says. “But, I know I’ll miss being the host. It’s something I really enjoy.”

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