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wildflower meadow with wooded hill in distance and dog sniffing. Text says How to avoid mistakes at your B&B

How to avoid making mistakes at your B&B

running a bed and breakfast starting up a bed and breakfast Jun 16, 2021

Yesterday was one of those glorious days that reminds you why you took the big leap to leave the 9-5 and set up a B&B.

I was wandering round the wildflower meadow with Ralphie the dog. Halfway round our stroll, and for no obvious reason, a random memory popped into my head.

It was the day when I didn’t actually  have a double booking but, through my own carelessness, I nearly ended up with 4 sets of guests and only 3 B&B rooms to put them in.

It’s funny how the brain does that isn’t it?

“Hey you look like you’re having a nice relaxed time, here’s a memory that you’d rather forget. I’ve got some more lined up for you at 2am just in case you were trying to sleep”

Things going wrong and making mistakes is inevitable when you run a business - I've made 100's!

Don't let fear of making mistakes stop you starting the business you'd love to run. But by taking a bit of time upfront, there are steps you can put in place to avoid a lot of them, so that you can sit back, relax and enjoy running your B&B.

And when you do make that inevitable mistake - there's always sorry. Read my blog post How to apologise to guests here which features 3 steps to saying sorry to guests and the lovely Murphy the B&B dog undressing guests in our drive...

The double booking that nearly was

It was  a busy day in midsummer. We’d spent a day changing over the rooms, one set of guests had checked in and I was waiting for the last 2 couples to arrive.

When the doorbell rang I opened it to see an older couple. We exchanged the normal chit chat and she told me her name. Now I didn’t really hear the name properly and I was pretty sure it didn’t match what was in my diary. But it’s common to welcome couples with different surnames and I assumed this was the case.

I started to show them upstairs to the guest bedroom in the house.

“Oh”, she said “We booked the downstairs room”

I freeze. The guests who were staying in the downstairs room hadn’t arrived yet, but they’d stayed with me many times before and always brought their dog - our downstairs room is our only dog friendly room - and this couple definitely wasn’t them!

I’m beginning to panic by now, stomach turning over. Surely not a double booking…

“Let me show you to the guest lounge whilst I just go and check my diary. Please just remind me of your surname again”

I went and checked my diary and there was the guest’s booking in the downstairs room… for the following week! I checked my online booking system. Luckily for me they had booked online - so there was going to be no dispute about who’d made the mistake - but they'd turned up a week early!

I was able to show them their booking on the online system and they realised their mistake. I did offer to ring around and see if I could find them a room somewhere else, but they only lived an hour away and decided to go home. They left, looking rather grumpy, and didn’t take up their booking the next week.

Phew - disaster averted.

As it turned out,  it was very lucky for me that they had thought they were in the downstairs room and that I knew the guests who were actually booked in. If I hadn’t known them, I’d have apologised to these guests, and taken them to that room and settled them in. Only to have the guests who should have been in the room arrive to find out they were roomless - 3 B&B rooms and 4 sets of guests is not a great situation to be in.

I dodged a bullet there. And it was good luck rather than good management that avoided a double booking crisis. And it’s not really good practise to run a business based on luck!

It’s far better to have processes in place that significantly reduce your chances of making mistakes.

B&B Processes and Systems

One of the lessons  in the Setting up, Running and Marketing a B&B online course is called - I know it’s really uninspiring  and I must work on it - B&B Processes and Systems. But despite it’s very unappealing title it’s a really important lesson.

Many people sign up for my courses because they want to escape the corporate life and all that entails with spreadsheets and computers and the 9-5 or 8-6. I hear the groans when I start to talk about processes and systems etc. But don’t panic!

I’ve often talked about what makes a good B&B from a customer point of view; right location, good breakfast, comfortable bed, well designed room, welcoming and friendly host. But none of that will matter if the B&B isn’t well run.

What can go wrong if you don’t have the right processes in place?

Let’s imagine what happens if you don’t have the right processes in place:

  • Guests arrive at your check in time and their room isn’t ready
  • The rooms aren’t cleaned properly
  • Your laundry company cancels your contract because you haven’t paid them on time
  • You run out of clean bed linen because you forgot to put the laundry bag out
  • There are no sausages for breakfast because you haven’t been keeping an eye on what’s in the fridge
  • You forget guests have ordered a platter or evening meal or have special dietary requirements
  • You lose out on income because you haven’t followed up on a deposit payment
  • You end up with a huge unexpected tax bill because you haven’t kept track of bookings
  • Guests can’t find your B&B because you didn’t send them a confirmation email
  • People staying at your B&B get food poisoning
  • And probably, every B&B owner’s worst nightmare ( after the food poisoning ) - a double booking!

The good news is that this is mostly a one off exercise. Write down  your processes before you have your first guest and then it’ll just be a case of reviewing and updating them as you think appropriate.

Another advantage of documenting your processes is in case you ever need to ask someone to look after your B&B in an emergency. It's much easier if you have everything written down and can just send them a link to a google doc.

What tools can you use to document your B&B processes?

Which brings me onto where to document your processes. I'm a big fan of using Google docs and Google sheets - as an example - here's a link to my cleaning checklist on Google Sheets

I also love Trello as a time management tool / to do list software. You can also get really creative with it as I have done here with my TRELLO Recipe board It's nothing to do with processes but just as example of the types of things you can do with Trello!

By setting up the right processes in the first place, and actually following them - that was my mistake in this situation, not checking the guests name more clearly BEFORE showing them to the room - you stand a far greater chance of your B&B running smoothly and not making mistakes that really are avoidable!

What processes will you need at your B&B?

Day to day running of your B&B

Here are some - it's not an exhaustive list but I go through them all in the Running Your B&B section of the online course:

  • What to do when a guest books
  • Cleaning Checklists
  • Welcoming guests and what to do whilst they’re staying
  • Preparing breakfast
  • Supply checklist
  • What so when on guest departure and after they’ve left
  • Marketing processes such as collecting email addresses, sending newsletters etc.

Legal Processes for running a B&B

Again this isn’t a complete list, but it gives you an idea of some of the things you need to do:

  • Food hygiene daily/weekly/monthly tasks
  • B&B risk analysis including COVID and fire risk analysis
  • Keeping safety equipment such as smoked alarms maintained

By setting up the right processes in the first place, you stand a far greater chance of your B&B running smoothly and not making mistakes that really are avoidable.

Of course, you also need to follow the processes once you’ve set them up. That was my mistake on the day above. 

I’m not making excuses for myself, but it had been a long day and I was tired. I was in the middle of a long stretch of B&B guests every night without a break and I was beginning to let everything but the cleaning and breakfasts go.

The most important thing about mistakes is that we learn from them, make any necessary adjustments to how we’re working and move on.

Looking back, I actually love most of my mistakes, because it gives me a chance to share them with you and hopefully help you stop making the same ones in your business. It’s the main reason I set up the training courses back in 2006!

Find out more about the online bed and breakfast training course here

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