This recurring column will introduce you to innkeepers across America, revealing how ordinary people turned their dream into a reality; how their lifestyle compares with their initial fantasy of becoming an innkeeper; and what they do to make their inn stand out. Now meet Lynnette Scofield, owner, innkeeper, and “chief plunger operator” of the William Henry Miller Inn of Ithaca, New York.
What sparked your interest in running a bed and breakfast?
Like so many other people, we had stayed in them and just thought it would be a great way to live. And then this house came on the market, we bought it in 1998, and the rest is history.
What did you do prior to becoming an innkeeper?
I had worked in customer service for New York Telephone for 15 years, was the volunteer director at our local hospital where I was in charge of 350 volunteers, and I also owned a wholesale jewelry business and had 650 customers along the East Coast. I had never owned an inn, but customer service is customer service.
How did you envision life as an innkeeper?
The funny thing is, I didn’t. I knew what I would probably have to do everyday, but there were so many things that I never thought about like the fact that we would have returning guests who would become friends. That never entered my mind. And the fact that you work seven days a week. Somehow I knew it in the back of my head, but all of a sudden I figured out that somebody’s got to do this breakfast. I was always a hard worker so that was never an issue. But I think the thing that surprised me the most, really, was the returning guest thing and the friendships that followed.
What's funny is that in the beginning I had hung on to a lot of my “good clothes” so that at night I could get all dressed up and I could sit and chat with my guests. I learned quickly ‘Well, that ain’t gonna happen.’ Yeah, we sit and chat, but now I’m usually in an apron.
How did the fantasy compare with the reality?
I didn’t expect I would learn so much about the area where I live – and I had already lived here for 20 years! I was married to a man that, if we were not working at our jobs, we were working at keeping the house perfect so we didn’t go out and do the state parks and this and that. I have learned so much about this wonderful area.
What is the most pleasing aspect of running a bed and breakfast?
The people, absolutely. Just knowing that everyone who comes in here may have an issue or a reason why they’re here that isn’t always the happiest and knowing that we have the ability to make them as comfortable as we can.
What do you find most challenging?
Ohh… plumbing. Our plumber’s kid has perfect teeth. We had to put in low water toilets that don’t use as much water when they flush so, consequently, people flush them over and over again and they don’t need to. I have learned more about flushing than I thought I’d learn in my entire life.
With all of the demands on your time, how do you find time for yourself?
I think you make the most of any time you have for yourself. I used to think “What’s an hour?” Well, in an hour I can go get a massage, in an hour I can get my living room clean, in an hour I can clean the bathroom and the kitchen. You learn to use time so much better because your life becomes one big multi-task.
Where do you focus your attention when marketing and advertising?
Actually we don’t. The house does it for us because we are in Ithaca and we are so close to Cornell and Ithaca college. But I think the biggest thing for us recently is that there are eight of us innkeepers from all across the country who formed Eight Broads in the Kitchen and we do a food blog. That has done more for us than regular advertising. People are loving our food blog and are going to all of our websites.
We’re also a member of Select Registry and they have been really good for us, and we’re with the Diamond Collection of bedandbreakfast.com and that sort of thing.
What do you do to make your bed and breakfast different from others?
For one thing, we don’t put ironing boards and irons in the room. If someone needs something ironed we do it for them. It's funny. There’s a church across the street that has the best rummage sales and the best junk and for fifty cents I bought a sleeve board. My grandmother had a sleeve board and I was so excited. That’s one of the odd things about being an innkeeper. You get excited about the strangest things. “Oh look! I’ve got a sleeve board!”
And now we’re getting the homemade crackers with local cheese as part of that just to showcase the area and we also make all of our own English muffins, bagels, and doughnuts, all of our own breads and now have started making all of our own ice cream for the dessert buffet we present every night. It’s a little different. We have so many people who are taking a flight in and they’ve been traveling all day and dealing with cancellations that we just decided to do something for them at night.
What qualities should aspiring innkeepers have?
They do need to be able to multi-task. You need to think on your feet. One day we had seven folks show up at our door and say “We’re here for breakfast.” We say, “What?!” “Well, didn’t our secretary call you?” You’ve got to think quick and come up with solutions.
That’s one of the parts I love most about innkeeping, you do have to come up with solutions and that keeps your mind active.
Not necessarily good, but active.
Located in the heart of downtown Ithaca in the Finger Lakes area of New York state, the William Henry Miller Inn is within walking distance of fifty restaurants including the world famous Moosewood Restaurant. A shopping district, Cascadilla Gorge, and Ithaca Falls are blocks away and the Kitchen Theatre and Cornell University are nearby.
- • To see how two innkeepers have built a B&B business that’s enjoyed more than twenty years of success, visit The 1898 Waverly Inn.
- • For a few cost-effective ways to stand out in the crowd, visit Stand Out: Bring Attention To Your B&B.
- • It all starts with a plan. For advice on how to create a business plan, visit The Seven Steps of Writing a Business Plan.