Temporary Innsanity

The writer sets the tables

If you've ever dreamed of dropping out and opening a B&B, here's a program that'll let you try it for a weekend

At 7 A.M. on a Saturday, my friend Julia Sun and I stumble downstairs to the kitchen of Inn on the Common in Craftsbury Common, Vt. We sit on stools and pepper owner Jim Lamberti with questions about his job. "Everyone has a romantic view of what it's like to be an innkeeper," says Jim. "It's easy to do this one day a week. But seven?" His wife, Judi, joins us at 7:45. She's already prepared bills for the departing guests and done three loads of laundry. "Around here, it's called the Bob Newhart syndrome," she says.

The Lambertis' inn is one of six members of the New England Inns & Resorts Association to offer an "Innkeeper for a Day" program. Our course consists of shadowing Jim and Judi, and occasionally pitching in. Julia harbors dreams of owning a B&B in Mexico. I wonder if this weekend might change her mind.

Inn on the Common has 15 guest rooms in three separate buildings, and a restaurant that serves breakfast and dinner. "The housekeeping is the one thing we hire out," says Judi. The couple divide the other responsibilities: Judi is in charge of the cleaning staff and gardening, while Jim deals with marketing the inn and running the restaurant. The only time I ever see them together is in the kitchen. "It's good," says Jim. "If we spend all our time together, it gets a little wearing."

Just before the other guests arrive for breakfast, Judi asks us to cut up strawberries. First we have to wash our hands to restaurant standards. "Scrub with soap for 20 seconds," Judi instructs. "You should be able to sing 'Happy Birthday' all the way through." We watch Jim prepare pancakes until we get hungry ourselves, then venture into the dining room.

Most guests clear out of the inn by mid-morning. After breakfast, Jim washes dishes, then heads to the office to catch up on paperwork. Judi, meanwhile, sets tables for dinner (we help), bakes quiches for tomorrow's breakfast, and goes over the room list with the housekeepers when they arrive at 10 A.M.

By noon Jim has finished prepping for dinner and is back in the office returning e-mails. Judi leaves to attend a fund-raiser. Julia and I¿who, frankly, can't wait for a change of scenery¿go for a drive. In the afternoon, we return to find Jim sitting on the porch with a glass of wine and a map. The inn closes for the months of April and November, and he's planning a trip to see their new grandchild in California. Watching them work their fingers to the bone today, I hadn't thought about any of the perks of owning an inn. I can see Julia filing away the idea of two solid months of vacation as a plus.

Julia and I are so tuckered out that we leave Jim to his planning and nap until dinner. At 7 P.M., I head back to my perch in the kitchen to watch Jim prepare salads and sear swordfish steaks. When the phone rings, I understand how inconvenient it had been when I called for directions at about the same time the night before. In between seating guests and taking orders, Judi books a last-minute reservation.

Once everyone slips off to their rooms, including Julia, Judi sets the tables for breakfast and enters dinner receipts into the computer. I don't see much I can do to help. "We don't like actually making people work," Judi later confesses. "People are paying for this course, and to make them work? Something is wrong with that picture."

  • Inn on the Common, 800/521-2233, innonthecommon.com, two-day course for two, with room and meals, $499.
  • New England Inns & Resorts Association, newenglandinnsandresorts.com.
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