Decisions to Make Before Starting a Bed and Breakfast

Young couple in kitchen

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People operating a bed and breakfast should enjoy their guests. It is not uncommon for lasting friendships to form between hosts and guests, and this type of guest usually becomes a frequent repeat visitor and serves as a major source of referrals for other guests.

People who stay at bed and breakfasts are not ordinary travelers. They are looking for quality lodging and service, as well as the uniqueness of each B&B and each innkeeper.

B&B guests generally are not looking for a bargain. In fact, they are often willing to pay more for something different and out of the ordinary. (Which doesn't necessarily mean that discounts aren't an effective way of marketing bed and breakfasts.)

As you plan for the startup of your bed and breakfast, you will need to make some decisions in order for the experience to be both profitable for you and enjoyable for your guests. Do not take these decisions lightly. Taking care of these items before a situation occurs can save you money, worry, and grief in the long run.

Guest Rooms / Beds

Try to look at your home objectively.

  • Are your furnishings in good condition?
  • What type of beds do your rooms have? Twin, double, queen, king, waterbed, etc.?
  • Is there enough closet space?

Before you open your home to guests, try spending a night in each room as if you were a guest. As a homeowner, one often becomes immune to street noises or that bright security light in the backyard. Perhaps the hourly chimes of the antique grandfather clock in the hallway will keep some guests awake at night.

  • Do the beds sag? It may be time to purchase a new mattress and box spring.
  • Are the pillows in good condition? What type of pillows do you have? Some guests are allergic to down filling.
  • Is there adequate lighting in the bedroom both for dressing and reading?
  • Is the floor cold when one gets out of the bed? If so, consider adding a small rug.
  • Do you need to get out the oil can for some of the squeaky doors?

You get the idea. All of these things can mean the difference between a satisfied and dissatisfied guest.

Sharing a Bath

The definite trend in B&Bs is to provide a private bath, most often en-suite, with each room. ("En suite" means that the private bath is located in such a way that a guest doesn't have to walk through any shared space to get to the bath. Some private baths are located outside the guest's room or suite.)

Many guests now expect private baths, but you may not be able to provide a private bath for each room. In many cases, a guest won't object to this as long as you've made adequate arrangements for sharing of a bathroom. But remember that if you wind up sharing a bathroom with strangers, you'll be losing some privacy in your own home and may even have to wait in line at some time. The best solution is to, at a minimum, make sure the innkeeper, family and any staff have a private bathroom not used by any guests.

Special care must be taken to assure that bathrooms are scrupulously clean before, during and after a guest's stay. A small basket of cleaning supplies in a convenient location may help others realize that they need to keep the bathroom in good condition for others. Of course, be sure to include plenty of toilet paper in each bathroom. If you have one or more shared baths, a "clever" sign can be hung in the bathroom as a reminder to slowpokes. Keep any reading material in other rooms.

Security and Keys

How will you deal with security in your bed and breakfast? Many hosts give guests a key at no cost. Others charge a refundable "key fee" of up to $10 (refunded when the guest returns the key).

For your own security, you may give guests a key for their room and a regular front door lock but not to the deadbolt security lock. Other hosts give guests a key to their room and then set specific hours that the front door is kept open. Many innkeepers provide a combination lockbox to give guests access to the inn after hours.

Make Decisions Carefully

A bed and breakfast traditionally provide a comfortable night's lodging and a good breakfast in a private home. Guests choose this type of accommodation because they enjoy the personal contact that a bed and breakfast host gives to their guests.

Hosting a B&B often brings many new friendships and guest who will return again and again. However, before you start your business, take a long hard look at yourself and your lifestyle. Innkeeping may seem like a glamorous and interesting opportunity, but it is also one that will require many long hours and lots of hard work.

This series of worksheets and information was originally written by Eleanor Ames, a Certified Family Consumer Sciences professional and a faculty member at Ohio State University for 28 years. With her husband, she ran the Bluemont Bed and Breakfast in Luray, Virginia, until they retired from innkeeping. Many thanks to Eleanor for her gracious permission to reprint them here. Some content has been edited, and links to related features on this site have been added to Eleanor's original text.

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