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Do you have to serve cooked breakfast at a B&B | Bowl of yoghurt with fruit and granola | How to run a bed and breakfast

Do you have to serve a cooked breakfast at a B&B?

breakfast running a bed and breakfast Sep 04, 2020

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

What sort of breakfast do you want to serve?

First up, is your own personal preferences. If you’re vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, have other allergies or just can’t face cooking a full breakfast every morning, then you may decide to offer something different.

Lucy Cullen who runs Hir Kemmyns B&B in Cornwall says

“When I started out with the B&B my son was 1. Offering cooked breakfast every morning just wasn’t a practical option, so we stuck to a fairly simple fresh buffet that I could prepare and leave out. 

Our fresh breakfast consists of a selection of cereals, natural yoghurt, and fresh fruit salad. Followed by home baked granary bread (1 mini loaf per room), freshly baked croissants, and home made jams. With tea, coffee, and orange juice. It’s all laid out as 2 socially distanced buffets, bar the hot drinks which I make in the kitchen and bring in. Making the drinks allows me to have a nice bit of interaction with the guests, without stressing about burning bacon in the kitchen”

As you can see, Lucy has found a solution that fits in with her personal preferences, as a non cooked breakfast eater herself, and her busy lifestyle.

Be very clear in your marketing what type of breakfast you offer

If you are planning to offer a non traditional British B&B breakfast, then it’s important you make that very clear in your marketing - on your website, on the online travel agencies if you use them, on your social media.

It’s really important as a B&B that you aim to at least meet and possibly exceed guest expectations. I remember staying at a B&B in New England some years ago and having a very disappointed husband when breakfast was a blueberry muffin. His expectation was a full american breakfast menu! If it had been clearer on the website ( or on social media these days ) what was being offered, we wouldn’t have expected more. 

How your location affects your breakfast offering

What you serve for breakfast may well depend on where you are located. My B&B, Hopton House, is 8 miles from the nearest café / restaurant that serves breakfast, so it would be difficult for me to offer less choice or to offer room only.

But if you are in a town and city, you may be able to take a different approach.

Sarah Clark who runs Merlstead House in Hornsea says

“We are definitely non traditional, we decided not to offer a breakfast. We have a fridge in the room with fresh milk, orange juice and water. We then have a selection of complimentary cereals. There is a coffee machine and a kettle. We give everyone one of the amazing Lemon drizzles too. We also have biscuits and lemon and orange squash. We were planning to do the whole cooked breakfast when we were more organised but due to the feedback have decided to keep it as it is. We would have to add on £20 a night on to each room and there are at least 3 breakfast places within a few minutes walk. Some of the older couples prefer somewhere with a cooked breakfast and may decide that they won’t book with us but 90% of people have said they like it because they are not rushing, they relax having cereals and coffee and then have a later breakfast or lunch out. Works well for us so we thought why change it. We have amazing reviews too. We are looking to get some discounts from the cafes and it gives them business too.”

As you can see guests can always walk out from Sarah’s B&B and take breakfast at one of the local cafes, so it’s not so crucial that she provide a full breakfast offering.

Know what your customers want for breakfast

It’s important to know your customers and not try and be all things to all people. As Sarah says she loses some bookings from customers who want the full cooked breakfast, but there are enough other people who are very happy with what she is offering.

There is one B&B in our Facebook group that offers a vegetarian breakfast only. Obviously this will be off putting to the people who expect a full english, but there are an increasing number of people these days who are vegetarian or vegan and would appreciate a vegan / vegetarian only breakfast menu. Again - know your customers and communicate your offering clearly.

It’s very rare for my guests not to order a cooked breakfast. In fact, it  probably only happens once or twice a year that guests don’t order some sort of cooked. And EVERYONE comes for breakfast! 

My guests also like the different options I offer. Most people will order some sort of breakfast special - eggs benedict, blueberry pancakes, French Toast etc. But extravagant breakfasts with lots of choices are a big part of my USP, and it’s why a lot of my guests return so often. I would struggle to attract them back if I switched to a continental only.

But keep it simple to start with 

If you’re just starting out as a B&B Owner, unless you’re quite an experienced cook or chef, I’d recommend you keep breakfast as simple as possible. Don’t underestimate how difficult it is to get 6 variations of a cooked breakfast out to paying guests all at the same time!

With the need for social distancing following lockdown, a lot of bed and breakfasts have had to adapt how and what they serve for breakfast.

I’m lucky in that I’ve only got 2 B&B rooms right now and our dining room is large enough to accommodate 2 tables 2M apart. I’ve got the  space to set up an individual buffet table for each set of guests and I do ask guests to pre order more items

How have  B&Bs adapted to serving a breakfast in the time of social distancing?

 Offering room service only

 Ken Skinner of the Townhouse Exeter tells me they have moved to room service only

 “Before lockdown, our cooked-to-order breakfasts were very popular (and usually highly-rated in reviews). Throughout the summer our breakfast room was rammed every morning. Sadly, that kind of fun atmosphere isn't possible with social distancing. Having to cater for up to 20 guests led us to switch to in-room breakfasts. We're lucky that all our multiple-occupancy rooms can accommodate a table and chairs and our singles have desks which work well as breakfast nooks. With "breakfast in your pyjamas" being our new vibe, we settled on a trio-style menu. Start with a freshly-baked croissant, then move on to a choice of home-made breakfast pots with toppings ranging from the traditional honey, granola and cashews to my own creations like coconut milk thickened with chia seeds, a drizzle of mango coulis, blueberry and coconut flakes or orange segments, dried cranberries, pumpkin seeds and raspberry coulis etc. To finish we add in a home-baked treat. We started off with quite limited breakfast pots as we were expecting a lot of single-night stays from travellers breaking their journey to Cornwall. However, as our calendar filled up we found that we were getting a large number of multiple-night stays so increased our selection to give guests a wider choice. The menu is designed so that with a few substitutions we can easily cater to most restricted diets without having to limit guest choices. Our new offering has been really well received. We've only had a couple of guests who haven't bought into the concept so we've done special orders for them as one-offs.”

Wayne Jones of No 27 in Brighton tells me they have also moved to room service only.

 “We include, porridge, yogurts. cereal bars, warmed rolls, mixed fruit salad, mixed platter of continental meats and cheeses, croissant, waffles, fruit juice and any top ups for tea, coffee and milk. We probable get as many order it (about 50%) as did the full service breakfast as we've always done a room only option. Comments on the offering are pretty good the only negative constructive feedback was that it can be a little awkward to eat as our rooms are quite small and there's no room to put tables in. But that's only been from a couple of older guests.

If you are moving to room service only, note what both Ken and Wayne have said about having enough space to eat in the rooms. Some guests, myself included, will be more than happy to eat breakfast in bed. Whilst others will prefer a table and chairs.

One problem being discussed on the Facebook group, is that with more breakfast being consumed in the rooms, there are more spillages. 

The Bissell Spot clean has been recommended for emergency carpet cleans! 

Some B&Bs are still offering a cooked breakfast in the dining room, but with an option to have a continental breakfast delivered to the room if guests prefer.

A few people are still very nervous about going away post lockdown, so offering them an option to eat in their own room may help alleviate some of their anxiety about mixing with other people. 

 Lynne Fisher of St. John’s Guest house is Weymouth says

 "We are offering room service at the moment which a few have chosen. Usually lighter breakfast of fruits, pastries and hot sandwich. Still doing full English in the dining room though"

 Clare Wright of The School House B&B Shropshire is also offering the option of breakfast in the room, but there’s not been a great take up

 “We’re offering a bedroom breakfast for people who don’t want to venture out of their rooms but only had one couple choose it so far - and that’s because they wanted to go out early. Juice, Greek yoghurt, fruit pot, banana, cereal and croissant or pain au chocolat. Tea and coffee is all in the rooms anyway. The vast majority of our guests are the traditional full English eaters which suits us well. We offer veggie/vegan/dairy or gluten free alternatives but no breakfast specials…”

Michelle Evans of The Quarry House B&B in Shropshire is offering room service only but is offering the full breakfast:

 “I’m doing room service only breakfasts... in their room fridge they have yogurts, fresh fruit, orange juice & fresh milk..... cereals are also in glass jars in the room...the night before they order their cooked breakfast.... exactly the same options as before but delivered to a table outside their room... & they take it in to a table & chairs inside...I also take over toast & pots of tea & cafeterias of coffee if they want far it’s all been really well received... everyone’s been really pleased with how it’s worked out. I’m only working with one room at the moment but family & guests all seem happy to have their own space.”

Those B&Bs that are still offering Breakfast in the dining room have either dispensed with the buffet altogether, asking guests to order any items they want or have been creative with creating individual buffets.

Fiona Dodds of the Rumblie B&B in Scotland has set up individual buffet shelves for each set of guests.

 Anthony McCabe of Little Redlands B&B has dispensed with the buffet completely

 “We are doing our traditional breakfast offering, but have dispensed with the buffet. All fresh fruit portions, cereals, juices etc in portion sized covered containers served to table. Guests have their own dedicated dining table for their stay. We serve onto a hostess trolley by their table and then push it in beside their dining table. Doing 2 out of 3 rooms and so plenty of SD (6m). Since reopening we have added a couple more items: grilled halloumi & mashed avocado on homemade toast, and poached eggs & mashed avocado on toast. We like as less waste, and guests feedback has all been positive. We are lucky that we have plenty of room in the dining room and are just doing 2 rooms. “

Choose what time you will serve breakfast

The time you offer breakfast will depend on your personal preferences and also the reason that guests are staying at your B&B.

My B&B is 100% leisure guests. They are here for a relaxing break and want a relaxed breakfast. I offer breakfast between 8.30 and 10.00 and most people choose 9.00.

But if your guests are walkers and want to get off early, business guests or travellers that need to catch a plane/ferry you may need to offer different breakfast times.

You may also vary your breakfast offering depending on the time it's ordered. So maybe cooked breakfast between certain hours only and a simpler offering such as breakfast in a bag before or after that.

Whilst we're talking about timings, some B&Bs have got round the social distancing logistics by offering staggered breakfast timings.

Ben Hughes of Pengelly Farm B&B says

“We’ve separated breakfast timings and are delivering our normal service and our guests seem to enjoy the familiar/normal service. It helps that we’re a 2 room B&B.”

 Steph Hollier of the Spurwing B&B in Dorset is also offering staggered timings

“We have staggered breakfast times, sanitiser available and a personal breakfast tray beside each table setting with a choice of individual packets/jars of cereal, fruit and yoghurt. Milk, orange juice in jugs next to them too. They don’t have to move at all from their table and the tray is theirs for the duration of their stay. We serve a preordered cooked breakfast of their choice. I choose to wear a mask when placing the food down. Toast, tea and coffee all happily served to them. No complaints!"

 Helena Tendall of Rydal Lodge Country House Bed and Breakfast has changed her breakfast service in a number of ways, offering different options to guests

 “During this period we have done 3 things: Sittings at breakfast (8.15, 9.15 or 10. Breakfast delivered to certain rooms which are big enough for table and chairs. We have continued our buffet but they all have their own large spoons and tongs to help themselves to ham, cheese, croissants etc. Juice is in glasses not in jugs. Enough milk in jugs on their own tables. It works but breakfast is a very long time now with a possible 3 sittings. It's flipping hard work tbh. We had a stage when the weather was hot when people were having breakfast outside in the garden and some chose the furthest table away possible. I did a few miles that week!”

As you can see, there are many different approaches to serving breakfast. It’s all been made more complicated by Coronavirus. But B&B owners are a resourceful lot!

Find out more about more about the daily routine of a B&B owner in this blog post here --> What does a B&B owner actually do all day?One of the great things about the Facebook Group for Course Attendees is being able to ask questions and share information. And not to have to navigate all of this alone.

If you're interested in learning more about the online course you can find out more information here.


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