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Clarkson Inn’s new general manager aims to improve service

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POTSDAM — George Lavigne, the Clarkson Inn’s new general manager, felt inspired the first time he walked through its doors.

“When I came in, I said, ‘This is the place,’” he said. “It’s a beautiful hotel. You walk in and you feel welcome. Most hotels these days look like they came out of a box.”

Mr. Lavigne took the reins from Peggy Snell, who retired March 12. He is the third general manager of the 23-year-old hotel, but he already is making his mark: the hotel will begin serving hot breakfast for the first time.

“Before, we just had cold cereal, but now it will be a little more entertaining,” he said. “We’re going to serve fresh fruit, French bread, hot cereal, croissants, scrambled eggs, bacon and smoked salmon.”

Guests will be able to serve themselves coffee, Mr. Lavigne said, but someone will walk through the breakfast area to give refills. Breakfast will cost $10.

The hotel also is adding a Friday and Saturday tea time from 3 to 4 p.m., when guests can mingle with the public. “This project will be open to the community,” he said. “We’ll have a harpist from the Crane School to provide some entertainment, and we’ll want people to come here and mingle.”

Besides tea and breakfast, Mr. Lavigne brings unusual experience to the job — he once was a chef in the shah of Iran’s palace. “It was on an island in the Persian Gulf,” he said. “The shah was there every 15 days with 150 to 200 guests. In 1978, I went to work for the season in Deauville, France, at the Hotel Royale. At the end of the summer, we got the news that we weren’t going back to the palace.”

Mr. Lavigne then took a job as a line cook in Minneapolis, but he had bigger dreams.

“I always wanted to be an executive chef at a big hotel,” he said. “I ended up taking a job as an executive chef in Middletown, Ohio.”

Mr. Lavigne’s career then took him to the Michiganian, a Detroit landmark, and then to a resort hotel on Bora Bora — but after a month on the job, he said, he loves the Clarkson Inn.

“This is my place,” he said. “This is where I want it to end. I know I can deliver here because the people are here. It was easy for me to draw a sketch for where I want to take this place.”

Mr. Lavigne said by making some small changes, he hopes to raise the hotel’s AAA rating from three diamonds to four.

“We have decided to stay within our four walls,” he said. “We’re improving not only the comfort, but the look of our rooms.” That includes new leather skirting on the beds and sheets with a higher thread count to make them softer. Guests also will notice more pillows in the rooms.

Bathroom amenities have been updated with all-natural shampoos, soaps and lotions from New Zealand. New towels and plush bathrobes welcome each guest.

The hotel now offers full coffee service in each room, and each guest will have a personalized welcome letter signed by Mr. Lavigne.

“Five minutes after you get to your room, the front desk will call you to see how you are doing and if there is anything they can get for you,” he said. “Upon request, we also offer a turndown service that includes truffles and chocolates set on the bed.”

Mr. Lavigne said he was confident the small changes, all made without raising the hotel’s rates, would provide guests with better service.

“The third week I was here I started implementing these changes,” he said. “I am very happy with that. It gives you a sense of what you can accomplish.”

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