Written by Ann Howley, Inn Manager
It seems that almost everyone I tell about my summer job managing the Asbury Park Inn shares their own dreams of operating a bed and breakfast. “I’ve always wanted to do that,” they admit. “What’s it really like?,” they ask, all ears. “I’ll bet it’s super fun.” Yes, it sure is! If you enjoy the simple pleasures of cooking, homemaking, and hosting events, this is the perfect job for you.
First, there are a few things I should let you know: I don’t live at the Inn, and I don’t work seven days a week like the owners, Kate and Joe. My duties do not include shopping for groceries or household items or calling the handyman when an occasional minor repair needs to be made. I don’t determine price points, set up the website, or pay the bills. But the “non-business” side of running a B&B has a great many perks. This summer, I was allowed the privilege of sampling the variety of tasks a typical Innkeeper must do on a daily basis to keep this business thriving.
First, of course, is the booking and keeping a current calendar of suites and their respective guests. That’s easy enough, but we also like to personalize our guests’ visits, which means allowing dogs in certain suites, offering vegan and gluten-free menus, and knowing our returning guests’ preferences, for example, who prefers tea to morning coffee, which guests likes to eat breakfast on the front porch instead of the dining room, and who enjoys dry white wine at cocktail hour rather than IPA. Like iced coffee rather than a hot cup of joe on a hot summer morning? Mention it on Monday and there’s a good chance a pitcher of cold brew will be waiting for you Tuesday morning. An Innkeeper must keep a keen eye on all his or her guests’ immediate needs.
Designing the breakfast menu is what most of us think about when running an Inn. It’s probably the most fun part, especially for those of us who’ve always dreamed of cooking professionally. (Remember chef Suki from The Gilmore Girls, happily dreaming and planning away?) It’s your chance to shine! One of the aspects I love about our kitchen at the Asbury Park Inn is Kate’s ties with local farmers’ markets and her own insistence on garden produce and fresh, local meats. Kate grows almost all of the necessary herbs in her kitchen garden, and friends and family supply many of the vegetables like zucchini, peppers, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Menu creation becomes, then, a combination of tradition (the usual fare – savory eggs, bacon, sausage and sweet baked goods) with the ingenuity of using what’s in-season and on-hand (for example, incorporating local sweet corn or fresh zucchini into our breakfast dishes). That simple recipe makes for a mouth-watering array of delicious offerings, like whole-grain avocado toast with fried eggs and red pepper oil or corn fritters with crispy bacon, tomatoes, and avocado “smash.” Strawberry cream biscuits, flaky scones, and Belgian waffles top the charts as popular sweet items during the summer, and peach and berry breakfast cobbler with honeyed yogurt is an over-the-top treat that delights the eye and nose as much as the palate. Portion sizes are generous, and butter and creme are never spared; an Innkeeper wants her guests leaving their tables full and plenty satisfied.
Your typical day during the busy season? You’ll be rising about two hours before you serve your first breakfast. Of course, last night, after you cleared and washed the cocktail hour plates and glasses, you set yourself up for success by taking the sausages and pre-baked goods out of the freezer to thaw and by preparing anything that needs a head start in the morning, like roasting sweet potatoes for the hash. First, you’ll make the coffee. You’ll be making it in an oversized, old-fashioned percolator that uses three and a half cups of grounds, and you might still make a few more pots of French-pressed later on. The Asbury Park Roastery’s Indonesian Blend perfumes the air for the next half hour or so as you move on to your next task, breakfast prep. Sausages and bacon are slid into the oven, vegetables are chopped, and biscuits are made from scratch, working cold chunks of butter into flour by hand. Fruit is sliced and placed into cobbler bowls, waiting to be topped by biscuit dough, then placed carefully in the oven. Pancakes or waffles will soon sizzle from pans, and eggs, cut with a generous dose of cream and butter, will be whipped into scrambles, poured into frittatas, poached with precision, or fried over easy. Scones or muffins are warmed in the oven as maple syrup bubbles merrily on top of the stove.
You’ll serve breakfast with a smile, knowing your guests truly appreciate your efforts in the kitchen. One of the greatest rewards of owning a B&B is getting to know your guests, and breakfast presents a perfect time to do just that, chatting about everything from the weather to their adventures in town the previous night. This is an excellent time to recommend restaurants, entertainment venues, where to find the best shopping, and any special events in the area.
There’s a rhythm to the day. Breakfast is followed by cleaning a Mount Everest of dishes, then checking out departing guests and cleaning their rooms. Each suite might take an hour to an hour and a half to turn over, as every inch of the room is cleaned spotless, linens are replaced, and amenities are replenished.
Next, you’ll plan upcoming breakfasts and cocktail hours. You’ll need to check supplies to determine whether anything is needed and place your orders for the necessary items. Occasionally you’ll run to the store, but these days, having a grocery website that delivers is a lifesaver. Whenever you have time, that is, between all that must be attended to immediately (think broken air conditioners on a 95-degree day, replacing light bulbs before your guests arrive, or watering the basil currently wilting in the summer sun), you’ll bake a batch of scones or zucchini bread, roast nuts and concoct homemade granola, whip up a lavender-infused simple syrup for drinks later, research a vegan muffin recipe for upcoming guests, type up tomorrow’s menus, call the caterer to coordinate next weekend’s wedding reception, water the plants inside and out, and get all that laundry washed, folded, and put neatly away.
Now it’s time for correspondence, bookkeeping, and social media promotion. You’ll be returning phone calls and emails, double-checking bookings to make sure there is no overlap, and posting that killer picture you took of this morning’s plum streusel cake on Instagram with an eye-catching caption.
Your new guests will be arriving soon, so it’s time to make sure the rooms have the necessary items, such as cold bottled water in each refrigerator and tomorrow’s breakfast menus close at hand. Remember to add those extra touches, fresh flowers in the dining room, a cupcake for a birthday girl, champagne if your guests might be celebrating a special anniversary. Did you remember to set up the sofa bed? Room three has two children staying tonight. Make sure your guests know the security code to get inside later tonight and don’t let them forget the menus – it will be hard to plan for breakfast if you’re not sure what your guests will want to eat.
Once your guests arrive and unpack, you’ll invite them to relax and entice them to feel even more at home than in their own respective abodes. What better way than with a social hour with cold drinks and snacks? Cocktail hour is truly fun to plan and a can be another stage on which to showcase your creativity. You can go simple, set out some wine, beer, and soda with cheese and crackers, or you can dazzle your guests with your own version of the perfect margarita or homemade lemonade with unique flavor combinations like strawberries and mint. Many afternoons will be spent concocting sweet minis, like shortcake bites or chocolate chunk cookies with sea salt, or powering up the food processor to make garden fresh salsa, tangy guacamole, or a creamy garlic hummus. Those of you who enjoy wine pairing will get to live dangerously, selecting the optimal chardonnay to bring out the flavor notes of the triple creme you so carefully selected at the cheese shop. Of course, you’ll have to try some yourself, first!
Your signature will be everywhere, from the linens you choose to the books lining the walls to the candles you light on a stormy afternoon. Your guests want to feel pampered and relaxed, and it’s your job to provide the comforts of home in ultimate fashion.
On occasional weekends, we hold special events, and these are a pleasure to plan and execute. An Innkeeper must be organized and keep solid records of every request. Each event is unique, and it’s your duty as the event organizer to help your guests bring to fruition their own version of a sublime rehearsal dinner, wedding reception, anniversary weekend, or post-wedding breakfast buffet. You’ll be coordinating your efforts with caterers, florists, bakers, and even food truck purveyors, as we did for a recent wedding reception. You never know whether you’ll be setting up tables and linens, arranging flowers, serving Bloody Marys, or popping champagne corks. I’ve helped plan a surprise post-wedding treat for a bride and groom, arranged in-house massages for couples, poured mimosas for bridal parties, and named signature cocktails for birthday girls. Flexibility, a heartfelt desire to make someone else’s day, and an eye on consistent, quality service are key. Every day, I ask myself, what kind of experience would I want were I to stay here? What kinds of memories would I want to savor in the years to come? And most importantly, what will our guests say about us when they tell their friends about their stay? I want them to rave about the wonderful time they spent in Asbury Park, the Inn a part of that magic. The greatest compliment our guests can ever pay us is to walk back through our doors again to try and recapture it all.
Still interested in running your own B&B? I confess wholeheartedly that this has been the most fun and interesting summer job I’ve ever had. I’m incredibly grateful to Kate and Joe, the Innkeepers, for taking a chance on me as a member of their team and letting me live my dream this summer. I’m putting a lifetime of skills to to work, and I’m learning a lot about what it really takes to run a B&B successfully. It’s not always glamorous, especially when you’re scrubbing toilets, cleaning baby bottles, or setting up extra tables in the courtyard on a sultry August afternoon, but the rest of the experience will make up for that. You’ll meet super-cool, charming people who’ve chosen to spend their vacation days in the relaxing retreat that you’ve created. In all honesty, the absolute best part is in coaxing those happy, inner children out. Riding high on the serenity you’ve created, the stressed-out executive and the harried parent metamorphosize into lighthearted, relaxed souls at peace with the world and themselves. Summer and the sun do that, yes, but there’s something about having someone else take care of the details that washes the stress of the world away like the tides that flow from the beach. For me, being a part of the family here has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my life. Like our guests, I, too, will be walking out the door content and refreshed, ready to take on what’s next.
So… do you know of any Inns for sale? 😉
Summer is full of sensory pleasures. The sun warms our skin, breezes arrive freshly-scented, and nothing beats hearing peals of playful laughter as we all take life a little less seriously. One of the greatest delights of the Jersey Shore is easy accessibility to fresh produce. Our own gardens and those of our generous friends yield bell peppers, pickles, kale, heirloom tomatoes, squash, and a profusion of peppermint, basil, and other savory herbs. With an abundance of farms in the area as well, the Asbury Park Inn delights in whisking local seasonal products into our menu.
Several farm and craft markets converge on Asbury each week. On Saturdays, you can get your fresh fix early from 8-11 a.m. at the Asbury Park Sunset Farmer’s Market on Main Street. Recently, we surveyed the scene, sun ripe stone fruit and heirloom tomatoes nestling amongst ears of sweet corn and striped watermelon, bourgeois zucchini yielding to their more exotic cousins, patty pan and ghost scallop squash. Potatoes, waxy and crisp, strutted their feathers in deep shades of yellow, red, and purple, and at at least one stand, curious visitors discovered herbs and vegetables so unique they will never find their way to supermarket shelves. There’s always something new and unusual to enjoy.
The biggest farm market in the area is Asbury Fresh, recognized by the Asbury Park Press as one of the “Best of Monmouth County.” Open Fridays and Sundays, it is New Jersey’s fastest-growing farm and makers’ market. Asbury Fresh hosts over 60 farmers and merchants, including local artisans and food purveyors. On a recent Sunday afternoon, we found the market burgeoning with organic produce, locally-raised meats and eggs, handmade clothing and jewelry, pickled vegetables, scrumptious baked goods, colorful floral arrangements, and even special treats for Fido. We selected some tasty organic sausage featuring pasture-raised pork from Green Duchess Farm, several Robson’s Farm’s succulent yellow peaches, and a jar of balsamic fig jam from Holly Jolly Jams that is, according to the label, made with love. (And we’re pretty sure we can taste it!)
A friend once remarked that she thought the folks to our north built factories there as a barricade so those from metropolitan areas would get the wrong impression and not venture into central Jersey, leaving this glorious bounty for the locals to enjoy. But all that we have here – the sandy beaches, the restaurant scene, the shopping, and yes, trees and farms and gardens and wide open spaces, well, it’s all too resplendent not to share!
So please, join us for the just-picked flavors of summer – we’ve built our menu on its tasty bounty. Even better, grab a canvas bag yourself and plan a visit to one of these incredible markets. You’ll return home with some delicious mementos of your stay here, plus memories of the sweetest taste of our beautiful and bountiful belle, the Jersey Shore.