SERVICE WITH A CATCH

ALMOST every day I hear some poor devil weeping into a Radio 4 microphone, blathering on about the near-insurmountable difficulties of running a small business. Useless banks, mounting debts, red tape and the dead hand of stifling bureaucracy all conspire to send them up the collective wall. “Oh for crying out loud; pull yourself together. How difficult can it be? It’s only a small business not the National Health Service,” goes the internal monologue (or, if Ian’s listening – which he usually isn’t – attempt at dialogue).

But now I have joined the weeping, winging ranks of the self-employed, and my pity knows no bounds. We’re doing this bed and breakfast lark for fun (or thought we were ’til we decided to do it properly, which is costing us so much we now have no choice) so what the poor, demented souls who have to do it for a living must suffer I can’t imagine.

This to date is the tally of paperwork, recommendations and costs: not the costs of providing the service, but of the marketing and upgrading of it to ensure we get more business. The question is: is it worth it?

  • To the Yorkshire Destination Management System, ‘jointly operated by the Yorkshire Dales and Harrogate Tourism Partnership, Yorkshire Moors and Coast Tourism Partnership and Welcome to Yorkshire’ (no wonder BA’s struggling: everybody must be holidaying in God’s own county) £67-50 + VAT for six months membership. Next year, and every year after, it will be the full £137-00.
  • From the above body comes (via email) 40 pages of information, 32 of which have to be downloaded, printed, completed and finally posted. Also from the above a visit from a nice lady called Jane who says we definitely have the ‘wow’ factor. We certainly do: “Wow! That’s a lot of money to pay,” say I.
  • From the local council and tourist information centre – a visit from two more nice ladies who say we have that certain je ne sais quoi. They’re lovely and jolly and helpful but can only promote us – as can the tourist boards – once we’ve been rated by  Quality in Tourism: we’ll then pay them 10 per cent of every booking.
  • To the quality assessment people, £250 + VAT for the assessment, plus £90 + VAT for the ‘advisory visit.’ The best part of £400. The advisory visit tells you what rating you can aim for and explains how you might, just might, achieve it. The nice lady from QiT obviously thinks we have both the ‘wow’ factor and the je ne sais quoi but somehow just can’t find the words. “It’s a nice room, but I’ve seen better,” as she examines my lovely twin-bedded room with minimalist chic (which she interprets as ‘a bit spartan’); “This carpet isn’t up to much” (of the small double bedroom) and – the cruelest cut of all – “Your hospitality trays need serious attention. You certainly cannot have uncovered tea bags.”
  • She makes the following recommendations: two extra rugs, three dressing-table mirrors, three extra waste bins (on top of the ones already in the bathrooms), a four-foot bed so the small double room can be downgraded to a large-ish single, 12 more coathangers (six in each wardrobe isn’t enough: actually there were 12 in one wardrobe but six of them had been left by guests), three hospitality trays with tea, coffee, decaffeinated coffee, hot chocolate and fruit tea all in little packets, an extra dining-table, at least one more chair and three new blankets for the people who don’t like duvets.  Total cost by my quick reckoning? About £1500. Oh yes – and what about some little extras for the breakfast menu? Fresh fruit salad, grapefruit segments, prunes, figs, selection of breads, preferably home-made, jam and marmalade likewise; smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, kedgeree, porridge and fruit compote all go down well, apparently. I can do porridge. And probably will, as I contemplate hitting her over the head with a large frying-pan.

And so we’re left wondering if all we actually need is

  • Bryan, who runs  ‘theadvertiseronline’ and has done our website for an all-in price of just £250, plus a monthly payment of £12.99 to maintain it in good order and get it noticed.
  • Lisa who runs the village shop and her own b and b, and who at present is the source of nearly all our bookings when she’s full.
  • Nigel, the butcher, who lives next door and delivers our sausage, bacon and black pud for breakfast within an hour of our ordering it.
  • Allen, the milkman, with his doorstep deliveries, and
  • Eric the postman who keeps bringing us bills, despite the strike, and always with a smile.

Meanwhile two more guests arrive: ‘Wow’ they say as I show them into the twin-bedded room. I make them a cuppa to have with their slice of home-made lemon drizzle cake, as they admire the view from the newly-refurbished sitting-room.

“This tea has a certain je ne sais quoi, don’t you think?” I overhear one of them say. “Yes,” comes the reply. “I think she must have left the tea bags uncovered.”

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2 thoughts on “SERVICE WITH A CATCH

  1. I have to say that I would never stay in a room with uncovered teabags – what are you thinking of, Betsy?! Teabags apart, anyone who is lucky enough to stay in your fabulous home with you and Ian as their scintillating, amusing hosts will be eternally grateful. Good luck!

    1. Thanks, Liz – you’re very kind. I have to confess I was so intimidated by the Visit Britain woman that I have now purchased loads of tea bags in – well, little paper bags, really. Not very environmentally friendly, but very hygienic, I’m sure!

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