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setting boundaries when you're running a B&B - 2 plastic yellow figures either side of a line of red cones

Setting boundaries when you're running a B&B

running a bed and breakfast Aug 05, 2021

Sometimes, when we're running a B&B,  we accept behaviour from a guest just because we think that’s what good customer service is. Most people probably start a business with the "customer is always right" ethos. But guest behaviour  may make us feel uncomfortable and even that we’ve compromised our own values.

In last week's blog post I talked about experiencing unacceptable behaviour from guests and how we might shift our mindset a bit to help us feel better about it.

This week I’m digging a bit deeper into how you can get clear on your own boundaries and when it’s ok to say no to guests, and how to say no!

What’s OK / Not OK?

The very first thing to get clear in your own head is what you believe are acceptable requests / behaviour from guests.

You can then decide what boundaries you need to put in place, how you communicate those to guests and how you’ll deal with situations where your boundaries have been crossed. And it’s important to realise that being a good B&B owner and a welcoming host doesn’t mean you HAVE to say yes to everything your guests ask of you.

You do have a right to protect your own boundaries and not have guests stomping all over them just because they’re paying you to stay!

There are several different types of boundaries to get clear on when you’re running a B&B.

  • Your Personal Space
  • Physical Space
  • Time boundaries
  • Conversations with guests

Protecting your personal space

Although I miss hugging a very select few people, I was actually quite relieved by the social distancing rules that were put in place in 2020. It took away the whole “Do we hug / kiss goodbye?” dilemma with guests.

Having spent all of my corporate career in IT, hugging people hello and goodbye was just not part of the culture! And being hugged by complete strangers is not something I’ve ever grown particularly comfortable with.

It doesn’t help that in the UK, compared to most European countries, there don’t seem to be any social norms for greeting people.

I clearly remember one repeat guest about to depart, looking at me with a slight panic in his eyes. They’d stayed with us several times and we’d chatted a lot. I wasn’t quite a friend but I wasn’t a complete stranger either.

A handshake too formal, but a hug too friendly? Finally he made a decision, and compromised with the cheek kiss and handshake combo.

Unfortunately I hadn’t realised he was going to perform the 3 cheek kiss, so I moved my face and we ended up performing a full on mouth smacker. Then his husband moved in for a group hug. I’d already started to move away so I ended up in a bear hold under the husband's armpit.

You can start to see why the no hugging rule holds so much appeal for me...

If/ when we go back to the pre Covid hugging / handshake time. If you’re not comfortable with hugging your guests, then putting your hand out for a shake can avoid the hug.

If you are a natural hugger, then always let the guests lead the way!

Get clear on your physical space

Some B&B owners have no issue with guests going all over the property, including into their own private owner space. But if you have places in your B&B, either outside or inside, that you don’t want guests to go into, then you need to make that clear.

Don’t assume guests will understand they’re not meant to go into the lounge or your kitchen.

My husband Rob says he never sees me move so fast as when I guest came into our kitchen unasked. I don’t quite push them out physically, but it was close!

And I’m not alone. There have been tales from horrified B&B owners in our Facebook group, of guests going down to the B&B kitchen in the middle of the night, raiding the fridge and making themselves a snack, despite the private sign on the door!

I’ve always been surprised by the number of people that just let themselves in the front door without knocking or ringing the doorbell. From the guest perspective, when they're used to staying in a hotel, then this would make sense.

To get round this you could :

  • Put in your room information that guests aren’t allowed in your kitchen for health and safety reasons
  • Explain to guests on arrival where they’re allowed to go
  • Put a No entry/private sign on rooms you don’t guests to enter
  • Put locks on those same doors
  • Lock the front door and put a sign up asking people

Time boundaries

There are few things that will upset a B&B owner more than a guest turning up before check in time. Though a guest turning up late past the owner’s bedtime with a “Oh we decided to stop and eat on the way” will have a similar effect.

I’ve had people attend my course saying that they intend to be very flexible with check in and check out times at their own B&B. They then contact me 3 months down the line and say “We’ve just changed to fixed check in/check out times. Now we understand what you were saying on the course"

How flexible you are with timings will depend on your lifestyle and the type of B&B you run.
If you’re running the B&B on your own, are doing all the cleaning yourself, need to drive 10 miles to do the shopping, pick your kids up from school, walk the dogs and go to bed early, you’ll need to be pretty strict on time boundaries.

If there’s more than one of you running the B&B, you’re rarely in bed before midnight, you have no family obligations, a couple of cleaners and can walk to the nearest shop, you can afford to be more flexible if you choose to be.

Before you set up you’ll need to get clear on:

  • When you want guests to check in/check out
  • What time you’ll do breakfast
  • What your cutoff time is for guests contacting you in the evenings / mornings unless it’s an emergency

It’s also important to put time boundaries on other services you offer like afternoon tea.
“We serve afternoon tea between 16.00 and 17.30. If you’ll be arriving later than that we’ll leave some cake in the room”

“We serve dinner at 19.00. And we request that you vacate the dining room by 20.30 BECAUSE we need to set up the tables for breakfast. If that’s too early for you we’re happy to leave a platter in your room, where you’ll also find wine glasses if you wish to continue your wine after dinner”

Read more about setting boundaries and room tidies here >> Should you do a room refresh at your bed and breakfast?

Conversations with guests

I have been surprised, over the years, by the number of guests who have asked me some rather personal questions.

I’m a pretty open person, but if you’re a fairly private individual, some guest questions may be seen as quite intrusive!

My best advice for this one is to be prepared and have some strategies that you call on if a guest does start to go down a route you don’t want to discuss.

I’ve always had a no discussion about politics rule at the breakfast table. And when I hear guests going down this route, I’ll make a joke about it and steer them down another path.
This came in particularly useful during the Brexit discussions. I had to bite my tongue a few times!

Some guests want to chat and this is one of the joys of running a B&B, but can become a problem when it goes on too long and you need to get on with your day.

If there’s 2 of you, you can agree with the partner in the kitchen that they’ll come and rescue you after a certain time period.

If you’re on your own and you think the guests are going to be a bit too chatty, I recommend setting a kitchen timer! “Oh sorry I need to go and get those shortbread out of the oven …”

How to say NO without it sounding like NO

Saying no to guests can be difficult. Most B&B owners want to provide their guests with an amazing stay. And as soon as you say no you can feel like you’ve somehow let them down.

Learning how to say no in a way that doesn’t sound like no is key here and providing an alternative for guests who ask for something you’re not prepared to give can be a good compromise. Guests feel like they haven’t been turned down and you don’t feel like you’re being taken advantage of.

You can also combine this with the powerful “BECAUSE” word. Read more about that in my last blog post about unacceptable behaviour.

Here are some examples I’ve used over the years:

“We can’t serve you an evening meal because we have a family dinner, but I can leave a platter in your room fridge.”

“We’re not able to offer early check because we have all rooms to change over/won’t be here as we have an appointment, but we can recommend this cafe/restaurant that do amazing cream teas if you arrive early”

I was very lucky over 17 years of running a B&B to have very few issues with guests behaving badly. In later years, I put this down to knowing exactly what I wanted from being a B&B owner, a fairly tolerant outlook on life, being very clear on the type of guests I wanted to attract and plain good luck!

But to be honest with you, that clarity only came to me after a few years of running the B&B. I did make a lot of costly mistakes in the early days. If you want to get a much clearer picture of the type of B&B you want to run, the type of guests you want to attract and processes to keep the B&B running smoothly, then join me on the online course.




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