New England is full of charming bed and breakfasts. In a rural, tourist-driven economy, welcoming tourists is often one of the best ways to make a living. Here in New England, we have a summer, a fall leaf-peeper, and a winter ski season. The only time vacationers leave is during the springtime mud season.
Because visitors are constantly coming to stay, the idea to start a bed and breakfast can seem like a surefire way to earn a living. But running a bed and breakfast is about more than just renting rooms and frying up a few eggs.
Hospitality is a full-time job. It can take a lot of focus, time, and energy to consistently welcome strangers into your home and maintain a comfortable, welcoming environment.
Traditional B&B vs. Airbnb
Before we jump in, let’s talk about the difference between a traditional bed and breakfast and something like Airbnb.
With home rentals like Airbnb, there is little regulation about what the home is like. Almost anyone can rent their property unless local regulations prohibit it. You may never meet your host, and there is no guarantee the property will be safe or accessible.
With a proper bed and breakfast, the property is subject to local lodging laws and regulations. As the name suggests, B&Bs also include breakfast in the room’s price. It’s usually run by someone with hospitality experience and run as a business.
That means understanding local laws and regulations, having insurance, and completing fire and safety inspections.
With Airbnb, Vrbo, and other low-contact vacation rental sites available, what can a traditional bed and breakfast offer?
Traditional B&Bs are all about comfort and personal touches. While low-contact hosting sites can offer an easy place to crash in strange towns, they rarely offer the kind of personalized attention that you get at a typical bed and breakfast.
That’s because, with a traditional B&B, the host is there, working hard to create the right atmosphere, tend to each guest, and give you the impression that you are a known, welcomed guest, not just a paying customer.
Bed and breakfasts offer guests a comfortable room to sleep in, with a bathroom either attached to it or nearby. While bathrooms may or may not be shared with other rooms, they’re always clean, comfortable, and well-stocked.
Bed and breakfasts also offer guests breakfast – usually a home-cooked meal that they can eat in a dining room with the host and the other guests.
There are also no hidden fees as with sites like Airbnb. When you search for a property. you see one price, but when you book, there are added convenience fees, cleaning fees, and other assorted fees that raise the price you pay significantly.
But with B&Bs, the price you see is what you pay.
When it comes down to it, if you just want to make a little extra cash by renting out a space, Airbnb might be better for you. But if you enjoy hosting people, want to make it a full-time career, and feel like you have something special to offer, start a bed and breakfast.
What Do I Need to Start a Bed and Breakfast?
If you live in an area with a regular influx of tourists, it’s easy to start considering jumping into the hospitality business and start a bed and breakfast. If you live in wine country, near the ocean, or close to ski resorts, you could be in the perfect spot.
But it takes more than tourists to make a successful enterprise. First, take a look at your house.
Do you live in a house that could be turned into a B&B? If you’re living alone in a sprawling, 100-year-old farmhouse or empty-nester in a cozy, in-town Victorian house, you could probably step into bed and breakfasting with relative ease.
But if you’re living in a suburban house with a busy family, you may want to put your hospitality plans on hold. It’s not the time to start a bed and breakfast unless you plan on buying a different property.
If you don’t have the right house in a location that can support your venture, you may have to look elsewhere. Bed and breakfasts go up for sale regularly, but there are also plenty of houses on the market that would make charming B&Bs with just a little work.
Remember, location is the most critical requirement. A standard, suburban house in Salem, Massachusetts, will do better as a B&B than a cute Victorian in Lewiston, Maine, simply because of what the area has to offer.
Many bed and breakfasts are decorated with lace, doilies, pink, and plenty of bric-a-brac. Others are sleek and modern. Whatever your decoration style is, you’ll want to get your B&B all done up before you open it to the public.
Interior work will include a bit of redecorating, but prioritize the real work of renovation first. You’ll need to make sure everything is up to code. All the public rooms should be deep cleaned, and all personal objects should be removed.
While your decor should have a personal touch, don’t fill the rooms, bathrooms, and dining room that your guests will be using with your personal property. Try to find the balance between personalized decor and personal property.
While you’re pulling out all your own objects, fill the space with necessities and amenities to help your guests feel at home. Robes, extra blankets, pens, and paper in the rooms. , and shampoo, conditioner, and soap in the bathrooms.
Rennevating the interior, keep in mind the kind of B&B atmosphere you want to create. A comfortable, casual B&B will have fewer amenities and a more homey feel than an upscale or themed bed and breakfast. Tailor your decor and amenities to the atmosphere of your bed and breakfast.
Every bed and breakfast will need fresh linens, presentable dishes and silverware, cooking and cleaning equipment, and, of course, food. If you’re running a luxury B&B and charging luxury prices, your guests will expect luxury items throughout.
Keep all this in mind if you decide to start a bed and breakfast in the home you live in.
Food and Friendliness
Right up there with the building and rooms themselves is the quality of the food.
B&B guests aren’t looking for the hotel continental breakfast. They want good food and a welcoming atmosphere in which to eat it. They’re also expecting a host who makes them feel like a welcomed and wanted part of the home.
Don’t start a bed an breakfast if you hate cooking or aren’t willing to bring in a chef.
Zoning and Insurance
Remember to look into both zoning and insurance issues associated with running a bed and breakfast before you do anything else. Each town will have different requirements. Some towns are more willing to share those requirements than others.
When we first moved onto our land, the town code officer claimed there wasn’t much to it. He was right, in a sense. We live in a place with very little zoning and lenient codes. So we decided to start a bed and breakfast.
But since he didn’t tell us what any of those codes were, and we didn’t push to know them, we ended up violating a few laws. Don’t be afraid to push for clarification. It’s better to know in advance than to have your business shut down because you’re inadvertently violating zoning laws.
Insurance is going to be important, so get quotes in advance. You need to protect yourself against damage, injury, and all the other things that can happen when hosting people.
Know Your Why
Here’s the most important thing if you want to start a bed and breakfast. This is a lot of work and you will be miserable if you don’t have a passion.
Running a bed and breakfast is a full-time job. In fact, it’s often more than a full-time job. Your guests will be living in your house and they’ll be depending on you for their vacation experience.
If you’ve ever stayed in an unpleasant or badly run B&B, you know it can destroy the most delightful vacation. And, if you’ve ever stayed in a truly hospitable bed and breakfast, you know it can turn the most disappointing trip into a vacation to remember.
If you open a B&B, you’ll work hard to create a haven for travelers. You need to like people to do this well. You need to want them around regularly and enjoy those little, surface conversations that make so many different people feel like a part of a community.
So ask yourself why you want to run a bed and breakfast. What attracts you to the hospitality world, and especially to this intimate corner of that world? What do you have to offer in a world full of places to stay?
When you figure out your “why,” you’ll be well on your way to start a bed and breakfast of your dreams around it.
Know Your Clientel
While many people prefer B&Bs to hotels, not everyone prefers the same kind of B&B. Some guests are looking for a luxurious, formal inn with beautiful food, top-of-the-line linens, and all the amenities.
Others are looking for a homey experience that welcomes children and doesn’t mind a little chaos. If you want to start a bed and breakfast, imagine who will be staying there.
Many B&B owners don’t know who their ideal client is until after the bed and breakfast is in business. Because of this, they often have a rough start – advertising to everyone and only clicking with few.
If you’re a creative type, come up with a few character sketches of your ideal customers – couples on holiday, families on a ski trip, an extended family trying to reconnect at Christmas time, and businessmen on work assignments.
Are they chatty and social or quiet and reserved? Do they spend all day on the property or do they only come back to sleep?
Of course, you will end up will a wide variety of guests, but knowing your ideal audience will help you tailor your advertising, layout, and the design of your business.
What to Expect Day to Day
When your bed and breakfast is up and running, you can expect a lot of work and some unexpected downtime. Depending on bookings, which tend to be about 50% of available occupancy in most established businesses, you may have busy weeks and catch-up weeks.
When you have guests, you’ll be cleaning rooms, cooking breakfasts, booking new reservations, and making sure you maintain the level of service you and your guests expect. You’ll also be maintaining your account books, marketing to new clients, and dealing with all life’s little surprises.
During quiet seasons, marketing, maintenance, and refreshing the property will take the forefront, while your hosting tasks will be less prominent. This is also a great time to test out new recipes and explore new options in food, linens, soaps, and cleaning.
If you’re hiring, and it’s not an emergency hire – the quiet, slow season is an ideal time to bring a new employee on board. Even if you don’t need much help in the slow season, you’ll have time to train your new employee and give them an opportunity to learn the ropes before they’re swamped with clients.