Weekly insights for anyone who wants to set up, buy, run and market a successful B&B

Starting a Bed and Breakfast | 10 Frequently Asked Questions

May 18, 2021

My experience of working with over a thousand people, who are thinking of starting a bed and breakfast, is that you have an awful lot of questions!

And something I hear a lot is "I hadn't even thought to ask that question!"

Google is great, but to get an answer from a search engine, you have to know what question to ask it in the first place!

After 15 years of running the B&B training courses, there are very few questions about running a B&B that I can't answer. But if you do surprise me with one, I'll know someone else who has the answer.

Here are the top 10 questions I'm asked most frequently.

1 What’s the difference between a B&B and a guest house?

There seems to be some confusion about the differences between a B&B, a guest house and a hotel, and generally the definitions are quite fluid. So I think the best source of definition is the tourism specialists such as Visit england and the AA, both of whom offer quality assurance schemes for accommodation in the UK.

The quality assurance scheme for Visit England definitions for B&B and Guest House are as follows:

Bed and Breakfast – Accommodation in a private house run by the owner”

Guest House Accommodation  for more than six paying guests and run on a more commercial basis than a B&B. Usually more services, for example dinner, provided by staff or the owner”

As I said these definitions are quite fluid. I’ve seen Visit England’s B&B of the year awarded to a 12 room castle or a 5 room B&B, both run on a commercial basis and offering evening meals.

The AA defines a hotel as accommodation “ having a designated eating area that serves breakfast daily and evening meals on most days”

And then I’ll throw Airbnb into the mix just to confuse things more.  It’s quite difficult to describe the difference between an Airbnb and bed and breakfast, especially in the UK. Many B&Bs actually list on Airbnb.

What I would say is that if you’re running an Airbnb, you still have legal obligations and you’ll need to check that your household insurance and mortgage isn’t impacted. Here’s the section on Airbnb about legal and regulatory issues 

2. Do I have to serve a cooked breakfast?

One question I’m asked an awful lot on the courses is “Do you have to serve a cooked breakfast?” In the UK, that would be a full English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish, with even more regional variations.

And my answer is “No you don’t” but then I add a “BUT…” I have a pretty standard answer for this on the course, but I thought it would be fun to go out to the FB group for past course attendees and ask them what they offered for breakfast.

There are a number of things you need to consider when planning what sort of breakfast you will serve to guests.

  • Your personal preferences and cooking abilities
  • The type of guests staying at your B&B and why they’re staying
  • Where you’re located and if there are places to eat nearby 
  • The size of your dining room and your B&B rooms, if you’re doing room service
  • Staying safe with social distancing in the current Pandemic

You can read more about this is this blog post here → Do you have to serve a cooked breakfast at a B&B

3. What sort of mortgage do we need?

If you need to borrow money, either to buy a property to set up as a B&B, or to buy an existing business, you will probably need to get a commercial mortgage.

If you’re setting up a B&B in your existing home you will need to let your existing mortgage provider know. They may require you to remortgage to a commercial mortgage.

Commercial mortgage providers will normally expect you to contribute a deposit of 35-40% of the value of the property.

You may find it useful talking to a specialist hospitality mortgage broker if you’re looking to get a mortgage for a B&B. Stewart Hindley and Partners have been used by quite a few people who have been through my courses.

If you don’t know where to start with getting a commercial mortgage, give them a call and they’re happy to look at the options available for you.

BTW - if you’ve never run a B&B or a hospitality business before, your mortgage provider will want to see evidence that you've done research and will look more favourably on you if you’ve done a B&B course


4. Can you give guests a free drink on arrival?

In the UK, you aren't allowed to provide free alcohol to guests unless you’re licensed.

This is what the VisitEngland Pink book - Legislation for tourist accommodation and attractions says about it

“You need a licence to sell alcohol – this includes providing 'free' alcohol because it is an incentive to purchase and/or is included in your pricing structure. If you charge the customer to enter or stay at your premises or for some other product that must be purchased in order to receive the free alcohol, this means that they are essentially paying for the alcohol that is provided. In other words, the customer has effectively paid a 'consideration' for that service. It is not free.”

This blog post covers more about what you need to know if you want to serve alcohol to guests → Do you need a licence to sell alcohol at your B&B

5. Should you list on booking dot com?

B&B owners have a bit of a marmite relationship with the online travel agencies ( OTAs) such as bookingdotcom. 

When I first set up my B&B, I was told it would take about 3 years to reach my best occupancy because it takes time to build a reputation and repeat business.

But with booking dot com and airbnb, you can list yourself and be reaching customers immediately.

However, they do take a big commission - at least 15% in the UK and anecdotally speaking guests who book through the OTAs are less likely to have done their research about your B&B.

And many owners are uncomfortable with a 3rd party having such control over their business.

I've never used the OTAs and have always marketed my B&B myself. So it can be done! But it does take time and effort to do your own marketing. I think it's worth it to get more guests to book direct, but other B&Bs are happy just to use the OTAs.

In the online course, I cover how to start marketing your bed and breakfast yourself. Then cover marketing aspects in much more detail in the B&B Marketing membership

Find out more about the online course here --> How to set up, buy, run and market your own B&B course

6.Do we have to be on Tripadvisor?

Many of your potential guests  will use online reviews to help them decide whether to stay at your B&B.

The obvious review website that nearly everyone has heard of is TripAdvisor. But there are other places where guests may leave reviews; Google, Yelp or on the channel they booked your property through, such as BOOKING.COM, your online booking engine, Sawdays, Britain’s Finest etc.

Aspiring B&B owners will often say to me  “well I don’t like TripAdvisor, so I won’t use it”

Unfortunately, if you don’t claim your free business listing on TripAdvisor then a disgruntled customer can add you anyway. It’s far better that you take control of the review process as early as possible.

If you have the free business listing then you can manage your listing, add photos and respond to reviews.

Note that Tripadvisor recently changed their terms and conditions, requiring property owners to give them the right to use all content on the property’s website. Due to unfavourable feedback from property owners, they have since removed this additional set of terms

Read more on the blog about responding to a negative tripadvisor review → How to respond to a native review about your bed and breakfast

7. Do you have to service a B&B room every day?

This question always creates an interesting discussion. Some course attendees expect their room to be cleaned every day whilst they’re staying at a B&B. Whilst others hate the idea of someone going into their room and picking their underwear off the floor.

It also elicits quite differing responses from B&B owners. Some insist on going into a room daily to check there’s nothing untoward going on and others breathe a sigh of relief when the guest says don’t bother! Guess which category I fall into?

The serviced accommodation quality assessment criteria state that a B&B guest room should be tidied every day.

A room tidy usually takes less time than a changeover; for me it’s about 30 minutes compared to about 1 hour 20 for a changeover.

But the problem with them is,  depending on the type of B&B you run,  you’re often hanging around waiting for guests to leave so you can tidy their room, or get on with your day. To manage this you’ll need to make sure you have the right boundaries in place from the start.

I tell my guests that I'll tidy the rooms between 11:00 and 13:00 and if they're in the rooms during that the time they won't be tidied. I ask them to let me know of hang the do not disturb notice on the door if they prefer me not o come into their room.

Read more about setting boundaries at your B&B in this blog post here → Setting boundaries at your B&B and why it’s so important.

Note that with COVID, a lot of B&B owners have decided not to offer a daily room service - so guests can be assured that no one is going into their room during their stay. 

This has the advantage of creating a lot more free time in your day, but people are also finding that it means the room changeover is taking much longer. Certainly if you live in a hard water area, the build up of limescale in the shower, without daily cleaning, is an issue - I’m speaking from experience!

8. Is it better to buy a B&B or set one up from scratch? 

As with many questions I'm asked, there's no one answer to this question. It depends...

Some people prefer to buy an existing B&B so they can hit the ground running and start earning straight away.

Others want to set one up from scratch - to create a business that is completely their own.

There are pros and cons to both approaches, which I cover in detail in this blog post here → Is it better to buy a B&B or set one up from scratch?

9. Do you have to accept dogs at a B&B?

One of the first things you’ll do on the online course is get absolutely clear on who your ideal guests are.

Many B&B owners feel like they have to create a B&B that appeals to everyone, but by trying to appeal to everyone you’re already putting some people off.

By accepting dogs, you’re putting off the people who don’t like dogs. By not accepting dogs, you’re obviously putting off all of the people who want to come away with their dogs…

If you are thinking of accepting  dogs at your B&B, I would ask the question “Will you welcome dogs?”

No matter what you put in your terms and conditions about only accepting one small well behaved dog, who is not allowed on the furniture or the beds. You will find that dogs will jump up on your other guests, wee on the carpet when they ”never do that at home”, bark in the night if they hear an unexpected noise, jump on the furniture, sleep on the bed… 

If any of that is unacceptable to you and you’re just putting up with dogs because you feel it will improve your chances of more business, I’d think very carefully about it.

A word of warning here, when you’re thinking about the type of guests you want to market to, you need to be really careful that you’re not discriminating against anyone.

As a B&B owner, you are a  service provider, and the Equality Act 2010 applies to your business. This means that it is unlawful to discriminate against customers on the certain protected characteristics.

You can read more here about discrimination law as it relates to a B&B → Accepting Customers

Read more about running a B&B when you own a dog yourself here - Can you run a B&B and own a dog?

10. Do you have to cater for guests’ special dietary requirements?

As a bed and breakfast owner it’s important to accommodate guests with special dietary needs. These could include dietary requirements and restrictions such as gluten free, dairy free, vegan, nut free, low carb…

There are an increasing number of guests asking for a specific diet to be catered for when they come and stay at a B&B. This may be due to food allergies, which are becoming more common. Or it could be because of personal or religious beliefs, medical reasons to follow a specific diet or pregnancy.

It's an important part of running a bed and breakfast to understand what you might be asked for by guests and to be clear on what the special dietary requirements actually involve.

In the UK, you are legally required to be trained in food hygiene and to register with environmental health at least 28 days prior to opening.

Find out more on the blog post here → How to cater for B&B Guest’s Dietary Requirements and Restrictions

Ready to find out more about the B&B Course? It comes with a 30 day money back guarantee - find out more here 👉 How to Set Up, Buy, Run and Market a Successful B&B?

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