Owning & Operating a Bed & Breakfast

Owning & Operating a Bed & Breakfast

As I note on my B&B front page, there are as many different types of B&B’s as the people who own and operate them.  Some people are with AirB&B, which I don’t support as it’s not regulated; it’s an agency business which takes a profit from each booking it makes.  However, as B&B owners, we share many similar experiences and some different ones as well. Staying in B&B’s is not for everyone but for a lot of people, it’s fun. And it’s just as nice for the owners & operators of B&B’s to have such wonderful people coming in as guests. So, here are a few suggestions and one explanation as to how it all happened.

Please note that the following information is (c) 2017 S.SmallProudfoot, Mono, Ont.

1. “How did you get into the B&B business in the first place”

It wasn’t part of my life’s agenda when I moved up to the country from Toronto.

Several years after moving into our home, I was in church one Sunday morning when my neighbour, a retired school teacher (who was known to ‘take in guests’) leaned over between hymns and whispered in my ear: “I have a friend who has moved up to the country from the city and she is bored to tears. She used to work at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto and she’s thinking she will start a bed & breakfast booking agency. Would you be interested?” And that’s how it all happened. In my first year of being with the agency lady for a total of three bookings, I found it did not work for me. I prefer to have more control over my home and my B&B, so I struck out on my own, not knowing a thing about the bed & breakfast ‘business’. But I’ve learned over the years and what I’ve learned, too, is never expect to know everything, after twenty-six years, there is always something more to learn.

2. Location

This is the most important aspect of owning and operating a bed & breakfast. If you don’t have people coming into your area, you won’t have guests. Consider whether the area you’re interested in is a seasonal or year round tourist area or if it is as mine is, an event-driven area where people come for a specific reason. Although I am open year round, my business is primarily seasonal.

3. Research your potential market:

What kind of business do you perceive having? Do you want guests every night of the week and if so, then choose to place your B&B in a busy downtown area of a town or city. If you’re happy with seasonal-type work, you have a broader choice of where you will live and run your B&B, mindful of guest traffic.

4. Market survey:

Before settling on a location do a market survey to see who your competition is and what type of accommodations are already in the area.

5. Setting up the B&B in your home:

Guests prefer having ensuite bathrooms however this is not always possible given the configuration of your home. I have one ensuite and one shared bathroom.

6. Local Bylaws:

Check local bylaws to see how many guest bedrooms you are allowed. Where I live we are allowed three guest bedrooms as a B&B, anything over that is considered an Inn and subject to different rules.

7. Your premises:

Remember, you will be having paying guests, they have certain expectations of cleanliness and upkeep both inside and outside your B&B. Keeping your premises in good condition is important, also as important is keeping your personal clutter to a minimum in your guest areas and in helping to make your B&B guests at home, in your home.

8. Your guests are your priority:

Respect and consideration, towards your guests and towards you as the owner of the premises, is very important. When it doesn’t happen, it is up to you to decide if you wish to keep guests who are not respectful of you or your home. You may keep your deposit, but I would recommend returning the balance of their payment unless you’ve turned others away for this time period.

9. Money Matters:

Unless you are strategically located where you are full most of the week and on week-ends, your income will be modest from your B&B. And, if you are wise, you will turn a good part of whatever money you take in from guests by putting it back into your home for upkeep. Guests do notice when your home and property start looking rundown.

10. Charging Guests:

You should expect guests to pay upon arrival, not upon departure.

11. Cancellation Policy:

My refundable policy is clearly stated on my website. I ask for one month’s cancellation, after that the deposit is kept. Most B&B’s ask for 24 or 48 hours or one week notification. However, I find that those who book in with me do so for specific reasons and have the dates of their events well in advance, thus they book in with me well in advance. I do, however, state on my website that I understand that there are extenuating circumstances that happen in people’s lives and to speak to me directly when or if you have to cancel your booking.

12. Payment:

How? If your B&B warrants the expense of carrying credit cards, this is a good feature to have for your B&B. I don’t have the volume of business to justify such an expense so I work with either cheques or E-Transfers for my deposits. The balance is in cash upon arrival.

13. Working from home:

Having a B&B can be quite tiring, surprisingly enough and it does tie you down. It’s not for everyone. So think carefully before making any decision to open a B&B of your own. Sometimes you’re on your feet all day, especially if you have a turnaround with guests coming in the same day as others have just left. Baking, getting up early to feed guests, cleaning guest rooms, doing laundry, remaking beds and cleaning bathrooms. The prep time for breakfasts usually take an hour in the evening as well setting up your breakfast table for the morning.

14. B&B Costs:

Advertising costs, website costs, web designer costs, insurance for your B&B, house-cleaning costs, new supplies of linens and towels, soaps, shampoos, gardening costs, grocery costs, repainting guest rooms, snow removal costs in winter, providing a guest lounge separate from your living quarters and outdoor sitting areas for good weather are only a part of my expenses in running this B&B.

15. Cleanliness:

Not one hair must be left in the bathroom or bedroom for guest’s to find. Cleanliness is essential. Your guests will take note.

16. Setting up Websites:

look at any number of B&B websites to see which appeals to you the most. Whatever type of website you have, be clear in how you set your first page up. People looking for a B&B want to know your location, what you offer in the way off accommodation and price plus how to contact you. After that, add whatever you want. I feel that my added pages, if people have the time and are interested in reading them, will give them a better idea of who we are and what we do in our lives.

17. Booking Agencies:

If you are looking to rent out a whole house or cottage, international accommodation booking agencies may be the way to go for you. For my type of business, I prefer to have more control over who comes in here to stay and I like having contact with my guests before arrival. If you go with an agency, be clear as to what an agency charges in interest on each booking and what their expectations of you are before signing on. If you are serious about opening up a B&B, talk to as many B&B owners as you can. If you’re not planning on opening up on their doorstep, I’m sure many would be happy to give you advice, explaining how they run their B&Bs. And of course, my guests are often interested in ‘hearing stories’ of what my experiences have been and I’ve always said guest privacy is paramount. You don’t discuss your guests with other guests who may come in. However……there are two stories I can relate because they both carry a message to prospective B&B owners:

One: A very busy city business woman booked in for a long week-end, very early on into my B&B ‘career’. She was tired and wanted to use my B&B as a quiet retreat for herself. When she arrived, two people got out of her car and as she walked in the front door, she whispered to me….“if my family calls, I’m alone”. Let me say that no matter how a B&B may advertise having a romantic getaway at their B&B, please be careful. Don’t always believe it. The walls aren’t insulated enough for amorous ‘activities’. Go to a hotel. Or motel. A friend later referred to me as “brothel queen”, a dubious honour indeed.

Two: Another booking, early in the days as a B&B owner, resulted in me changing my payment policy. Two couples came to stay the night, taking two rooms. They were to attend a country party on a farm nearby. They checked in around 1 pm., slept for the afternoon then came downstairs dressed for the party. One couple carried their suitcase and announced they’d changed their mind, they wouldn’t be staying the night. I didn’t now what to say. The next morning, the other couple, who had stayed on, both lectured me. They were in the business of dealing with the general public, in the city, and said: “ ask for payment when people arrive, not when they leave and you should have charged that couple for the use of the room. After all, you had to wash the sheets and you may have turned someone else away who could have used that room”. So, my guests now pay upon arrival, not upon departure.

One humorous memory is of two guests who came to us from ‘off the road’ which is not my preference, I prefer corresponding with prospective guests, but in this case, it was later in the evening and I was happy to accommodate the needs of these two people.  When they arrived, we talked for awhile and I became aware of the fact that one of the couple was, at that time, the Mayor of Ottawa, our capital city.  The couple went out for supper and upon their return, I spoke to the wife for a few minutes while her husband went straight up to bed.  Later, I mentioned to my husband that we had the Mayor of Ottawa staying with us.  He replied:  “oh, is that what he does?” and I said:  “no, that’s what SHE does!”……I still smile remembering the look on my husband’s face.  One up for women.

And then there is the reality of owning and operating a B&B that most owners will not talk about.  These are the few difficult bookings we all have had over the years.  While our B&B is a small in-home business, it is in our home.  Our home and our lives here are a priority as well as welcoming B&B guests into our home..  The reality is that there are some people for whom a B&B is not the right place to stay.  A B&B does not provide the services or amenities that a hotel will provide nor should it be expected.  On very few occasions, I have experienced disrespect in my own home from guests.  Please be aware that not every guest visit will be a success.  Thankfully, they don’t occur often.

One thing that has always been difficult for me is the fact that in meeting so many wonderful people with my B&B, when they leave our home, I know that I may never see them again, particularly those from other parts of the world.  We have been very privileged to have had many, many guests who have been stimulating, interesting people and kind and considerate of ourselves as their hosts.  For me, because of my chemical sensitivities which limits my ability to travel due to my sensitivity towards petrochemicals, my B&B has ended up bringing the world to me, in a sense.    While I did not move from the city to the country to open a Bed & Breakfast, it has been an unexpected blessing in my life.  And too, country living insofar as our expectations of being a wonderful place to live can be lonely in not having contact with people.  If you’re a farmer and this is where you live, where you may have grown up, being a farmer gives you a reason for being in the country and a job to fulfill your days.  Oddly enough, after living in our home for nearly thirty years, a car came down our laneway one afternoon not long ago.  It turned out to be an elderly couple who had owned and built our home in 1977.  They are now living in the city.  I asked why they sold the house so quickly after building it, they were here about a year and a half or thereabouts.  The wife said that after her daughter left for school and her husband traveled with his job, she was alone so much of the time that it gradually wore her down.  The country wasn’t what she thought it would be.  The country, while it sounds like a wonderful respite from city-living, isn’t for everyone, just as owning and operating a B&B is not for everyone but for me, it’s been a wonderful experience and has helped fill the lonely days the country provides on its own.

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