5 Things We Learned at the NEIRA Conference in Cape Cod

resort in cape cod
Chatham Bars Inn in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Photo by Serena Kim

It’s a tough labor market in the hospitality industry, as many former hotel and restaurant workers have decided that they don’t want to come back to this line of work after the COVID-19 pandemic. So we needed advice, quick! From November 3 – November 5, Chatham Bars Inn in Cape Cod hosted the New England Inns and Resorts 2021 Annual Conference. The purpose of the conference is for attendees to meet lots of fellow innkeepers with new ideas, meet vendors who service the hospitality industry, and learn skills and strategies from industry leaders.

Matthew Robinson, Serena Kim, and Sarah Lucia piled into the Volvo and drove south for five hours to see what we could learn about modern innkeeping in New England.

Here are 5 things we learned at NEIRA:

woman washes dishes
Even a lowly dishwasher can someday hope of owning her own inn. Photo of Serena Kim by Matthew Robinson

1. Every new hire should make a difference in their work space.

Motivational speaker Brian K. Williams kicked off the conference with an electrifying speech about exceptional customer service. He reminisced about starting his career as a dishwasher at the Ritz-Carlton in St. Thomas. On his first day, the maître d’ approached him and told him that within six months, “This place should be better because you’re here.” Brian said that expectation motivated him to work harder, aim higher, and make a difference. This little anecdote reminded us that it is important to outline your expectations to your team.

Williams believes that enabling mediocrity is the top reason for talent flight. When people come to work, they plan on doing a good job. Our job as employers is to outline what our expectations are and then train the employees so they know exactly how to meet those expectations.

four people in halloween costumes
Jessica’s employees Laura Fenn, David Herren, Anna Wright, and Jay Dubberly get into costume for Halloween 2021.

2. Jobs should be marketed like products.

Adam Robinson of Hireology came after Williams with a series of dire and depressing slides about the state of our labor market. Apparently, because of basic demographic truths, many of the young people who would be starting out in housekeeping and back-of-house restaurant work will not be born in time to work for us. The folks who are looking for work are applying to 11+ jobs at a time, so they will respond to the employers who reply to their applications first. They want to communicate via text and they need clear job descriptions. His recommendations were to write the job ads with enticing copy, include video, and add plenty of photos of staff.

Say cheese! Selife by Serena Kim

3. You don’t need a fancy camera to produce compelling marketing content.

The staff at the Chatham Bars Inn dazzled us with a big presentation about how they stand out from the crowd. Their pitch included a fantastic video clip produced by Beth Patkoske, the resort’s Senior Marketing & Communications Manager. Shot using her iPhone, she interviewed resident hydrangea expert Pamela Vasques to discuss the flower that they are famous for. The clip got over 40,000 views, and she didn’t even need to hire a fancy video team. She recommended using InShot video-editing app to give it a smooth look.

Anna Wright works on marketing at Swift House Inn. Photo by Serena Kim

4. Travelers of the future will be all about bleisure.

As our inn guests get younger, their needs and interests will evolve. The latest crop of younger couples and families want to be able to have access to work, even when they are on vacation. In other words, they want business and leisure: bleisure. They want to have places where they can take conference calls, access to printers, and of course, strong Wi-Fi. Fortunately, we just updated our antiquated Wi-Fi to state-of-the-art speed. Well, it’s about as good as you’re gonna get in Vermont! And while parents are mixing up work and play, they want to have plenty of activities for their children, too.

A farm dog wanders the grounds of Chatham Bars Inn Farm. They use this outdoor area to serve seasonal dinners for smallish parties featuring ingredients they grow. Photo by Serena Kim

5. Grow ingredients to serve in our own restaurant.

We were super inspired by the Chatham Bars Inn Farm, located in Brewster, Massachusetts just a few miles away from the resort. We wandered the beds and tasted their delicious hydroponic tomatoes as the farmers prepared the soil for the winter. Chatham Bars Executive Chef Anthony Cole works with the farm manager Joshua Schiff to plan future plantings. They collaborate on menus, seasonal dinners, and pickling ideas. This influences the restaurant menu to be more seasonal and local by utilizing homegrown harvests. With our growing vegetable garden, we can continue to contribute herbs and veggies to Jessica’s kitchen, too.

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