Little Inn, big ideas

Innovative marketing helps The Little Inn of Bayfield attract guests in the slower cold-weather months.

Darren Erb, general manager.

Darren Erb, general manager.

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By Don Douloff

BAYFIELD, ON—“Build it and they will come,” the classic line from the movie Field of Dreams, could serve as the mission statement driving the hotel and resort industry. And its corollary—“market it and they will come”—is a crucial component of the savvy hotelier’s business plan, especially during the slower shoulder seasons.
Case in point: The Little Inn of Bayfield. Located in the picturesque heritage village of Bayfield, ON, on the shores of Lake Huron, about two and a half hours west of Toronto, the property opened in 1832 as a stagecoach stop on the Sarnia-Goderich line and ranks as Ontario’s longest continually operating inn.
Yet even with its long history in the Huron County community, the inn faces challenges attracting guests during the lower-demand cold-weather months.
“In winter, the weather dictates business,” the property’s innkeeper Darren Erb told CLN. For instance, heavy snowfalls attract winter-sports enthusiasts eager to snowshoe and cross-country ski “or those who just want to curl up by the fire,” said Erb. But on the flipside, snow and its attendant poor driving conditions often discourage another segment of guests from visiting, he said.
As a result, the Little Inn has hatched some big ideas on how to woo people to its cozy confines—28 guestrooms in all, among them ‘original’ and carriage house rooms and junior and select suites (in the original building) and junior and select suites in the guest cottage added in 1987 across the street.
This year, for instance, on Feb. 1 (and lasting ’til March 8), Huron County launched Winterlicious—set, three-course, $29 menus served at about eight area eateries—and the Little Inn followed suit at its on-site 58-seat white-tablecloth restaurant.

Soiled Reputation arugula with Devil’s Rock cheese
Spearheaded by chef Joseph Petrinac, the inn’s Winterlicious dishes highlighted local ingredients such as Soiled Reputation’s wild arugula in a salad with Thornloe Cheese’s Devil’s Rock creamy blue, in maple vinaigrette; a daily Lake Huron fish featured, along with lobster and sunchoke confit, in a bouillabaisse; and a fonduta sauce made from melted Monforte cheese garnishing cèpe (porcini) agnolotti and foraged mushrooms.
In conjunction with its Winterlicious menus, the inn created special March Break packages, for two people, offering one night’s accommodation, the three-course set dinner and breakfast.
“The accommodation package got a great response,” said Erb. In fact, the inn extended both the Winterlicious program and associated accommodation packages until the end of March, and Erb expects the property will resurrect both in 2015.
In addition, approximately every second weekend between Jan. 25 and March 22, the inn presented Wine & Dine events featuring a set five-course menu themed around different areas such as South America and Australia and including wine pairings. Erb hosted the dinners and provided commentary on the wines.
To commemorate the birthday of Scottish poet Robbie Burns, the inn presented a Wine & Dine event featuring a local actor dressed as Burns and reading the poet’s work. Guests fortified themselves with a Scottish-themed feast (the likes of haggis tartlet with black truffles and foie gras jus; organic trout confit; and cock-a-leekie soup) accompanied by five single-malt Scotch whiskeys.
Moreover, for the last seven or eight years, the inn has offered horse-drawn sled rides, showshoeing and guided hikes as add-ons to general accommodation packages or one-night bed-and-breakfast packages, generating interest and increased business, said Erb.