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February 21, 2015 2:28 PM   Subscribe

What are good inexpensive solutions for managing room bookings for a small inn for the technologically challenged?

For a few months I've been staying at this small inn\hostel with eight rooms, exchanging some work for accommodation. I mostly help with breakfast, but occasionally I also have to rent rooms and greet guests that have booked a room online.

Rooms are listed on four different websites, but the system used to keep track of bookings couldn't be more primitive and inefficient. Separate sheets of paper for each room, where bookings are written on, non chronologically. Usually there is more than one sheet per room, but they are not kept together, and they are not even in any particular order. Just identifying a particular booking is a mess, and even harder to see for how many days a certain room is available. And when we need to switch bookings around because someone wants to stay longer or some other reason.... This system has led to getting overbooked several times since I'm here, having to take people to two smaller inns we work with (at least we have that option so we don't leave guests on the street).

Yeah, I'm not the manager, but my opinion is highly valued by the owner, who constantly asks for my input on ways to improve things around here, even when it goes far outside of subjects I'm familiar with, like some remodeling he wants to do.

I'm friends with the owner and everybody here, they have provided me with a safe space right after my transition, and I want to help them as much as I can before I leave.

Do you have any ideas to make it easier to visualize bookings for the different rooms, and move them to different rooms if needed? It can be software or something else. We also get people coming in the door looking for a room, so it's not just for bookings made online.

Added difficulty, the two largest rooms can be rented as private or as shared dorms, it's really difficult to get him to part with money (I told him about a service that would handle bookings on several sites for $27 a month and he didn't want it), and he has a hard time dealing with computers (he asks me to copy photos from his email to his dongle to take to the printer).
posted by Promethea to Work & Money (10 answers total)
The easiest thing to do would be a Google spreadsheet with one column for dates and then 1 column going out to the right for each room. Put the guest's name in each cell for the room and dates they're staying in. Make another sheet for each guest's name and info (dates, amount paid, payment method, address, phone, email, date added). Someone will need to update each of these sheets every time a booking comes in. But this way, you'll be able to see what's going on in each room all the time.

For the two big rooms, give them two columns each. Room 5a and room 5b. If two different guests take the room, you have space to record both their info, if one guest takes the room, put their name under both columns.
posted by bleep at 2:40 PM on February 21, 2015

Could you do this using a calendaring system, like Google Calendar or Outlook or iCal? Since there are so few rooms, you could just add bookings to the calendar by room number/name, with guest information in the notes section. If a room isn't showing up on a given day, you'll know that it's free.

Not the most sophisticated option, but very user-friendly and inexpensive (or free), and certainly a step up from what you're using now.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:41 PM on February 21, 2015

Ugh... if he's worried about $27, I think your best-case alternative for happy customers is to somehow make him realize how much money he's going to lose out in the long run if he continues this disorganization.

Are there reviews online that mention the over-bookings? Those impact his bottom line, and until something changes, the risk of reputation damage can only get worse.
posted by stormyteal at 2:41 PM on February 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, and for the two rooms that can be shared or private, you could name the calendar items accordingly, for example: "Room 1 booked - 2 beds available," or "Room 2 booked - 0 beds available."
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:42 PM on February 21, 2015

I think bleep's idea of the google spreadsheet is the easiest, cheapest, and most convenient. You can share it with whomever needs to see it easily.

I would add a chronological change log as a separate file, though. Every time someone makes a change in the spreadsheet, also describe what they did in the change log. It makes finding errors in a constantly-changing document a lot easier.

I would also make 3 columns for the largest rooms. 5a and 5b, but also 5(both). If there's an entry in 5(both), then obviously you won't add a name in 5a or 5b, and if there's a 5a or 5b you can't sell 5(both). It seems like the same thing with an unnecessary column, but it isn't. With 3 columns you can easily count entries in each and see how much money you should have made even if 5(both) isn't the same cost as 5a + 5b separately.
posted by ctmf at 3:06 PM on February 21, 2015

If you want to stay paper-and-pencil, you could probably improve the current situation quite a bit with just a calendar notebook for each room, plus a loose-leaf binder for customers.

When someone makes a booking, add a page in the binder for them alphabetically and write the room number and dates. Also on that room's calendar, fill in the customer name on those dates.

Now if a customer calls about an existing booking, you can find it easily in the customer binder. If you need to see what rooms are available, you can look in the calendar books. If you need to contact someone, you can get their name from the calendar and go to their page in the customer book for their contact info. It should also be impossible to double-book a room.

This system still might cost more than $27 to set up initially, but not much more. It doesn't require any tech savvy.
posted by ctmf at 3:19 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

A paper calendar book will do this easily. A page for each date and a column of rooms, just fill in the customers name when they make a booking I'm the relevant date
posted by fshgrl at 3:52 PM on February 21, 2015

Response by poster: For what it's with, this is in Brazil, $27 is more than $27 here. Still worth it in my view, but it's not my inn. The overbookings are not reflecting in the reviews fortunately. A cousin and a friend of his rent rooms in their houses located literally within stone throwing distance of the inn, their rooms are also very good, and when we send somebody there they get to have breakfast here (our breakfast is very good, it's one of our main selling points and regularly praised on reviews), but it's a matter of time before someone isn't pleased by the change and sometimes he just loses money (like sending five people away because there's a couple in their room).

I've always used excel for spreadsheets, I can't get used to the fact that you can now do them on Google too. It may be easier than excel (which is what I would have used if it was my place). Hopefully it's easy enough for him!

All the answers are great, but google or outlook calendar may be too difficult for him, and I'd rather take him away from paper.

posted by Promethea at 4:52 PM on February 21, 2015

If he is technologically-challenged, any online/computer driven solution is not going to work after you leave. So bleep's method but on paper: one horizontal grid sheet for each month: all possible room numbers/permutations in the left column; dates 1-31 across the top. Guest names written (in pencil!) on the grid according to which dates they've booked with a line up to the date they intend to check out. One sheet for each month, print up a year's worth of blank pages at a time and staple them together. When the booking is made, assign a room and diagram it on the sheet. It's only 8 or so rooms, it doesn't have to be more elaborate than that.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 6:58 PM on February 21, 2015

Is there any reason at all not to use a traditional reservations diary? (It would be cheap enough to make a page for each day in Word, print them, and hole punch them into a binder, if that's an issue. There are plenty of free, pre-made templates for this online, too.)
posted by DarlingBri at 7:52 PM on February 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

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