Running a B&B | Setting boundariesMar 31, 2020
Last year I gave a webinar on how to stay happy whilst running a B&B. I knew what I enjoyed and, indeed, didn't enjoy so much about owning a bed and breakfast. But what about other B&B owners, how did they feel?
I decided to send out a survey to people who had attended my course and had already set up their B&B. I asked them how happy they were, what they enjoyed about the business and if there was anything about B&B life they didn’t enjoy. ( That’s for a later blog ) Then I asked what advice they would give to anyone who wanted to set up or buy their own B&B.
When it came to the advice they’d give, I was quite surprised with the answer. It's a something we discuss on the course and advise people to think about carefully. But I was surprised that nearly everyone replied with something along the lines of “make sure you set boundaries in your business”.
What do we mean by boundaries?
First, there are physical boundaries, such as making sure you have your own private space as B&B owners. This might include having your own sitting area, not allowing guests in the kitchen, locating your bedrooms in a separate area to the B&B guest rooms, having part of your outside space fenced off for your use only etc.
After running a B&B for 15 years, having our own private space has become increasingly important to us. Whilst other B&B owners I know are more relaxed about sharing their personal space with guests. I have one B&B owner friend who happily serves breakfast to guests in the family kitchen. At the other extreme to us, a B&B local to us guests have to go through the owners' kitchen and lounge area to use the shared bathroom.
If you’re planning to run a B&B it’s worth thinking it through carefully. Think about your own personality and, if there are other family members living with you, what their needs and wants are. This is particularly important if you have young children, dependent older relatives or pets.
Non physical boundaries
The other types of boundaries which are really important to consider are those non physical boundaries such as check in times.
Quite a few people come on my course, having experienced inflexible check in times at B&Bs and want to offer much more flexibility in their own business.
One couple told me they thought my check in times were a bit restrictive, but within 3 months of running a B&B they understood exactly why I do what I do and had adopted my check in time policy!
Having times when guests are required to check in and check out of the B&B, and guidelines about when they can contact you, is important for both the smooth running of the business and for your well being as a B&B owner.
It’s particularly important when you’re running the B&B on your own. Recently, one owner I know had to rush to the local Spar at 10pm to buy breakfast ingredients. She'd been waiting in for guests and hadn’t been able to get out to the shops.
I’ve lost count of the number of social occasions, dog walks and school functions I’ve missed because guests haven’t arrived when they said they would. But since I’ve implemented my check latest check in policy, early and very late arrivals are now very rare.
My Check In and Check Out Policy
My check in time is between 16.00 and 19.00, asking guests to contact me if they plan to arrive later, and my check out time is 10.30. I also ask that guests do not contact me after 21.00 unless it’s an emergency. Another B&B friend seems to be regularly contacted by guests asking for bottles of champagne or room service ( they don’t offer room service ) after midnight.
It can sometimes be difficult balancing the needs of the customer with your own personal needs. It isn’t easy saying no in this“customer is always right and if they don’t get what they want there’s always Tripdvisor” culture. And most B&B owners are very customer focused so want to deliver the best to their B&B guests.
I explain my check in time policy by saying we need to get their rooms ready, go shopping for supplies and to walk the dogs. I also say we occasionally have social commitments, which means we aren’t here all the time, and we want to ensure someone is here to check them in.
Explaining this in a friendly way helps guests realise that you’re not a big hotel with 24 hour reception, that the person checking them in at midnight is the same person who is up at 6 cooking their breakfast, then cleaning their room!
Sending an email a few days prior to arrival reminding guests of directions, to book restaurants and of check in times is also good practise. Guests may have booked some time in advance and lost the original email or forgotten about check in times etc
What happens when guests ignore your boundaries?
You put your boundaries in place, you explain why they’re there, you think you’ve communicated them as clearly as you can and still a few guests ignore them.
I can guarantee the one way to make most B&B owners quite grumpy is for a guest to turn up very early or very late with no warning.
Early arrivals may walk in when the B&B owner is very busy cleaning, un-showered, with their hand down a toilet and the guest room in disarray. Ideally the B&B owner wants their guest to arrive when the room is sparkly clean and looking like no one has ever stayed in it before.
If guests arrive late without letting you know it can mean staying up late, missing out on planned social events or even not knowing when to cook your own dinner! Many B&B owners I know say they find it hard to relax until all the guests are checked in.
In my case, with early arrivals, I have to try very hard not to say “oh you’re a bit early”. I know if I do that I’ll be overcompensating for it for the rest of their stay. If the room is ready, I’ll check them in. If not I’ll explain it’s not ready yet and let them know we’ll prioritise getting it done by a certain time.
In my experience, most guests will read your terms and conditions and be happy to comply. But there will always be some people who don't. At this point, it's important not to take it personally.
There are many reasons they have arrived early. They may have over estimated how long it takes to get to you. They may be desperate for the loo. They may not be feeling well. They might not be good travellers. They may be nervous about whether your B&B is as a good as it looked on the website. They might just be very excited about their stay!
Draw on that inner resilience you'll need to nurture as a B&B owner and give them your best smile.
Why it's important to get boundaries agreed right at the beginning
I think you, and everyone involved in running your B&B, need to think clearly about boundaries before you even set up or buy your B&B.
For example, if late night arrivals are a non starter for you ( I'm with you there I'm in bed by 9! ), you may need to reconsider buying a B&B that is primarily used as a stopover by people arriving from an airport or ferry terminal.
If you really can't cope with very early mornings ( my breakfast times are 8.30-10 ), you might not find yourself suited to a B&B catering mainly to business guests or ramblers walking long distance paths.
By making sure you have the right boundaries in place, you, as a B&B owner, will have enough space to rest and recharge, which in turn means you have the energy to give your best to your customers.
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