When I hear the ding-dong, I rarely know who’s on the other side of the door, but I know they’re bringing more than just a suitcase. Today, it could be Henry from New Jersey. When he called to make reservations for himself and his wife, I asked if they’d be celebrating a special occasion. “I’m just trying to get out of the doghouse,” he said. I politely chuckled, then made a mental note to run a Jacuzzi bath, sprinkle rose petals and light candles in their room when they went out to dinner. Or maybe it’s Samantha. When she booked her online reservation, she wrote “Me Time!” in the comments section.
In the 22 years I’ve been running Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns, I’ve met folks from all over the world at my front door. I always greet them with: “Welcome! Can I help you with your luggage?” but I should probably add, “and your baggage?”
What I’ve learned is guests are often hoping for far more than just comfortable accommodations. A romantic stay might be a last-ditch effort to save a marriage. A girlfriend might be planning a weekend so memorable that her boyfriend decides to abandon his bachelor status. Or maybe, as with Samantha, who lives down the street, a guest just wants to wake up without the assistance of pitter-patter feet, and have someone else make the breakfast, for once. I found myself on a mission to help them push back the world long enough to unpack their issues and re-energize. I didn’t expect to play this role when I opened my first inn, but it’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job.
Over time, I’ve figured out how to “learn” my guests, sensing what they’re longing for other than a strong cup of coffee in the morning. I use the interviewing skills I honed as editor-in-chief at Essence to listen intently, watch body language and ask questions. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a hopeless romantic.
The first time I tried out my “empathetic innkeeper” role was when I noticed a middle-aged couple sit through an entire breakfast together without exchanging a word. It was painful to watch. I struck up a conversation, asking them how long they’d been married, how they met and gently reminding them of their partner’s specialness. “I bet when you saw those gorgeous green eyes, you were a goner, right?” Before I knew it, they were going down memory lane, and made new memories during their stay.
I can think of countless times when I’ve become the trusted counsel for my guests: What should I wear tonight when I meet my online crush face-to-face? My woman’s a workaholic and I want to be intoxicating to her again. I can go on and on. The truth is, when I traded in my pen for a spatula, I never imagined I’d become an accidental therapist, but people need high touch in this high-pressured, high-tech world. I consider myself the modern-day Mrs. Roarke of my very own Fantasy Island, and I love it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some candles to light.
Monique Greenwood runs Akwaaba Bed & Breakfast Inns. Her docu-series, Checked Inn, premieres Nov. 21 on OWN and will air regularly on Saturdays at 10 p.m.