Christmas Lessons in St. Augustine

nights of lights in St. Augustine, FLEach year, the hub and I try to give as many staff off as possible on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

When we first bought the inn, in 2010, our plan was to give everyone those two days off. I planned on making a buffet breakfast, and cleaning any rooms that were turning over. The hub was going to man the phones and supply all of our stayover rooms with new towels, and keep the laundry going while I was in the rooms.

After announcing our plan, Mary (if you haven’t met Mary, you probably haven’t stayed here–she is our North Carolinian cook, and she’s been here for 12 years, since the inn first opened) shook her head and said “Don’t make me spend the whole day with my family.” (We think she was kidding. Mostly).

For the first four years, it was just us and Mary, with Mary leaving after the kitchen was cleaned up and the hub and I holding down the fort until after happy hour, when Heloisa arrived (along with a bright ray of sunshine and angels singing) and took over, setting up breakfast for the next morning while we limped home, feeling about 95 years old.

Last year, two of the housekeepers volunteered to come in too, so we had help serving breakfast (we’ve gone back to a plated meal instead of a buffet), as well as help cleaning rooms.

But it still means a long day for me and the hub (we’re there from 8 til 8). Most days, we work more than 12 hours on our small business (between paying bills, making schedules, answering emails, scheduling staff, posting on social media, updating our website, ordering supplies, paying taxes, etc etc etc). But office work is much different physically than a long day of cleaning rooms and cooking and washing dishes (the latter of which is much harder on your back than you might think).

We may have to ask more staff members if they’d like to work in the future–this year, we came very close to having to block rooms because we could not get them cleaned in time (close, but not quite). But I think we’ll always put ourselves on the schedule too, taking on the jobs that we normally don’t do, because I think it’s good to know exactly what it takes to do each job. It definitely makes us appreciate our amazing team–especially as we can hardly walk at the end of the day.

In addition to realizing that our back is not what it used to be, here’s what *else* we learned while manning the inn in 2015:

  1. On cooking: We need sharper knives. I generally score an onion to chop it into small pieces. Our knives were not sharp enough to do that effectively, and I ended up just smashing away at the little pieces for about 5 minutes before they were small enough for me. We’ll have new knives by the end of the week, and I’m thinking about hiding some just for any prep work.
  2. On serving: Happy hour can be pretty nerve wracking. Some days, almost no one comes, and we have a ton of food left over at the end of the two-hour buffet. That’s what happened at Christmas, despite my making yummy roast turkey roll ups, spinach stuffing rounds (my absolute favorite), and cranberry brie cups. We can’t serve anything again, so the only way we can use it is if staff wants it–luckily, I loved everything I made, and I’ve had it for lunch the past two days. At Thanksgiving, however, it seemed like every one of our 15 rooms came, and they were all famished! (How is that after a big Thanksgiving dinner??) I don’t mind hungry people–in fact, I love it when people enjoy our appetizers–but when most of the food is gone by 5:40, you start really scrambling to think about what else you can put out to keep the dishes full until 7:00. We have some “emergency” dishes–a great pesto we pour over cream cheese and serve with crackers, ring bologna that can be quickly sliced for a platter–but it’s hard to know when to make it. Trying to balance having enough food for everyone, while not having too much to throw out, is a tough call. Some nights, you just have really hungry guests. We typically make about 60 of each of the appetizers we make–but if someone takes 7 of them, we are probably going to run out. Watching the trays get empty, and the clock tick, is an anxiety-causing exercise. In 2016, we hope to find more options for quick “emergency” appetizers.
  3. On cleaning: Glass shower doors make our bathrooms look much bigger, and they certainly show off the beautiful tiles that we use in our renovations. But boy they show hard water spots!! And if you’re short like I am it’s pretty hard to reach the top of the door (I asked Mike to do the final polish in room 14). I’m going to look for a brush with a sturdy handle to help make that task easier–because none of our cleaners are tall).
  4. More on cleaning: I will not complain about buying cleaning products ever again. Sometimes it seems like Windex, and Pledge Multi-Surface Cleaner, and Greenworks are on our shopping list every single day. The reason? If you want the rooms to be really clean, it takes a lot of products. I’m grateful that our team cleans our rooms as if they’re cleaning their own homes–and I will be happy to buy as many cleaning products as they want (and whatever brands they want–we actually get whatever people are most comfortable cleaning with). I personally polished off a full container of multi surface cleaner before I finished all of my rooms.

So now the major holidays are behind us (sure, New Year’s day is still ahead of us, but we’re fully staffed that day). Hopefully 365 days of gratitude and compassion are still ahead of us, and we will spend all of 2016 appreciating the truly amazing team that we have. If I’m lucky, my back will just about start feeling normal by the time Thanksgiving rolls around again.