How to run a B&B when you have no electricityDec 08, 2020
When we first moved to Shropshire we would have fairly regular power cuts, especially in the winter.
Early on, when my daughter was 11, we had a power cut for 4 days. To start with, cooking sausages on the open fire and reading books by candlelight was a big adventure. But by the end of 4 days with no bath or shower, we were all a bit fed up.
Experiencing a power cut in your own home can be an inconvenience. When you’re running a bed and breakfast, it can be a major headache and potentially a costly one.
We have 2 types of power cuts here in the countryside; the planned outage and the unexpected ones!
As I write this blog, we have a planned outage due to start at 9am and finish by 4pm. It’s December, 4 degrees centigrade outside and very dull and foggy. I was due to have guests arriving today but luckily they cancelled.
What are the implications of a power cut and what can you do to prepare?
If you’re in an area that experiences a lot of power cuts, you should always have plans in place. The planned outages are easier to deal with, but you can also prepare for the unplanned ones too.
If you’re just setting up your B&B, there are decisions you make now which could make your life much easier when you do experience a power cut.
If you’re in an area where there are a lot of power cuts it’s probably worthwhile investing in a generator. But these aren’t cheap and are unlikely to supply electricity for the whole B&B.
If you know you have an electricity outage planned for when guests are actually staying, it’s worth contacting them in advance to warn them. I’d always give them the opportunity to cancel.
A few years ago we were in the midst of an unplanned outage in a very cold February. I didn't know how long it would go on for. So I contacted the guests and offered them the option to cancel, move their stay or stay at an alternative B&B. They chose the option to stay at another B&B and were very grateful. They rebooked with us for later in the year and became repeat guests.
Sometimes when you're running a B&B it's about taking the longer term view. Yes it was painful having to cancel a lucrative booking in the short term, but it paid dividends over the next few years.
Cleaning your B&B during a power cut
Doing a room changeover or tidy with no electricity is problematic. In the countryside we have a lot of mud and dust, and, with a dog friendly room, the rooms need daily vacuuming.
Provided you don’t have a same day changeover, you can plan to vacuum the rooms as soon as guests leave. Personally, I’m terrible for leaving everything to the last minute!
It’s a good idea to have a rechargeable cordless vacuum cleaner for power cut days. I’d recommend one with a spare battery and a long battery life.
I’ve had a few cordless vacuum cleaners - GTECH, Electrolux, shark - over the years and none of them have been as good as my corded Miele vacuum, but they’ll do in an emergency.
With the current needed for extra cleaning due to Covid, I’ve been steam cleaning the upholstery in the rooms if there’s been a gap of less than 72 hours between guests. I’m not keen on using chemicals but the upholstery sanitising sprays can be useful in an emergency - check the label as some can be poisonous to dogs
No power means no washing machine, tumble dryer or iron. Make sure you keep up to date with your laundry and have enough spares in case you’re unable to wash or iron for a day or two.
I make my own bread and each guest has a homemade lemon drizzle cake and shortbread waiting in the room.
I rely on my bread maker to make dough and my kitchen aid mixer for the biscuits & cake and the electric oven to bake them. Obviously this all relies on electricity.
With the bread, I normally bake it in the morning so guests have fresh bread for breakfast. I’ve been caught out with this before when we had an unplanned power cut!
My tip is to always have spare bread, cake and biscuits in the freezer!
I’ve always done a printed guest menu, invoice and registration form. Much like cleaning, I normally wait to the last minute to print these off. That’s caught me out a few times. It's a good idea to have a few of these printed off for an emergency.
Taking payment can be an issue if you use a chip and pin machine or another device that needs power/wifi access.
This is where you’ll find it useful to ask the guests for their credit card details in advance on your online booking system.
I’ve been known to drive out to a lay-by where I know there’s a 4G signal, charging my depleted phone battery as I go, just to take a guest payment!
Do you take same day bookings online? Is there a risk that a guest turns up that you know nothing about because you haven’t been able access your online booking system?
If it's not easy for you to get internet access during a prolonged power cut, it may be worth updating your booking system and the online travel agencies so you're not accepting same day bookings.
For some guests, a power cut will be a great adventure and others will feel very inconvenienced by it. The inconvenienced guests tend to be the ones who leave the bad reviews.
We once had a heavy snow storm. It took our guests 2.5 hours to get to us from Ludlow - normally a 20 minute drive. They finally arrived, their car gave up the ghost halfway up our drive and within half an hour of arriving the electricity went off. Luckily they were so exhausted they just fell into bed!
It’s worth while looking round your rooms and assessing the impact of a power cut on your guests and identifying what you can do to mitigate the risk. We've come to completely rely on electricity and don’t realise the impact of not having it till it’s gone.
A power cut will normally mean no hot water, no lighting, no heat. But it also means guests won’t be able to use the room kettle for drinks, use a hairdryer or watch tv/ listen to the radio.
If you have a macerator toilet or an electric power shower, neither will work.
And, of course, no internet or phone charging!
- Make sure you have some sort of emergency lighting in the B&B rooms. This could be a torch, head torch or wind up lamp. I wouldn’t recommend naked flame candles due to the fire risk. Also oil lamps and camping gas lights pose both a potential fire and carbon monoxide build up risk.
- Have a supply of thermos flasks in, so, providing you have some way to heat up water, you can keep guests topped up with hot drinks.
- Consider investing in battery or wind up radios for guests to use.
- Invest in some good old fashioned board games and playing cards and put these in the guest rooms or a guest lounge ( bear in mind the current Covid requirements for groups of people not mixing )
- Make sure you have at least one old fashioned telephone physically attached to a phone socket.
Cooking breakfast in a power cut
Once, when I had a full house of 8 guests, all coming for breakfast at 9, all wanting a different breakfast special - that needs some precision planning in itself- I came down to prepare breakfast and the power promptly went off.
The implications of this are
- No toast ( no grill or toaster )
- No orange juice ( I’ve always done freshly squeezed orange juice and hand squeezing enough juice for 8 people would take hours! )
- No waffles
- No eggs Benedict ( no I’m not going back to the traditional method of making hollandaise - my stress levels were high enough)
- And, potentially, no cooked breakfast at all!
Luckily I have a gas hob ( as well as the AGA - which behaves badly in a power cut even though its oil filled. It also has a habit of turning itself off in windy weather )
We don’t have mains gas, so we have bottled gas delivered. If you’ve yet to design your B&B kitchen, I’d strongly recommend a large gas hob!
Fridge and freezer contents
The other really important to keep an eye on is your fridge and freezer temperatures. According to UK power networks, food will normally be ok in the fridge for 4-6 hours and in the freezer for 15-24 hours.
Whilst you may be prepared to risk eating food yourself that has been in the fridge/freezer for longer than those times without power, you should never serve it to guests.
Other unexpected consequences
Having experienced lots of power cuts over the years, I thought I’d managed to list every way a power cut can impact the day to day running of your B&B.
But just when I thought I had everything covered, my husband just asked me if I was planning to have a bath. I said no, but why was that a problem?
We have a pump which pumps everything from our septic tank into a bio digester. No electricity = no working pump = risk of contents of septic tank backing up into the pipes ...
As you can see there are a lot of ways a power cut can impact your B&B business from admin to cleaning to feeding your guests.
If you’re in a town or city with lots of facilities within walking distance, these may not be a great issue for you. It may be a bigger problem for those of us that live in the countryside
If you’re buying an existing B&B or a house to set up as a B&B , especially in a rural or remote area, it’s worth asking the current owners if they experience many power cuts. Then put your plans in place!
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