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Is your B&B guests' behaviour unacceptable?

running a bed and breakfast Jul 29, 2021

A friend of mine, who ran a very nice 5 room B&B, was once called just after midnight by a guest requesting he bring champagne to their room. A few days later he was called at 2am by different guests requesting room service.

Running the B&B, nearly entirely on his own, meant my friend had to get up at 5am to start prepping the early breakfasts the other guests had ordered. And 24 hour room service certainly wasn’t something he offered.

I think many of you reading this will agree that in these instances the guests' behaviour wasn't acceptable. But some of you may be thinking “What’s the problem here? Just give them the champagne!”

If you’re like most of the B&B owners, or the aspiring B&B owners, I work with,  you go into the business because you want to create an amazing experience for your guests. So when guests behave in a way that you don’t like, it can be difficult to take.

In this blog post I’m going to discuss how you might view and deal with “unacceptable behaviour” and how to reduce the chances of you having to experience it.

1. Why do guests behave in a way that we don’t find acceptable?

B&B guests will occasionally behave in a way that we don’t find acceptable. When this happens it’s very easy to get affronted, take things personally and think that guests are being disrespectful of us.

And sometimes this is just truly disrespectful or rude behaviour. At this point you'll need to decide whether to grin and bear it, challenge the guests or even ask them to leave.

But I believe, that a lot of the time, this is down to misunderstanding of a situation, miscommunication or a misalignment in values.

2. Guests aren’t thinking about us at all

The vast majority of the time, guests aren’t thinking about their B&B hosts at all. They’re thinking of themselves. 

The last time you booked a holiday, were you thinking of the owners and their needs? I know I wasn't!

When guests act in a certain way, they’re probably not thinking of the impact it has on the B&B owner.

Let’s look at the example of the guests ordering champagne at midnight.

From a B&B owner’s perspective, you’re probably going to get pretty annoyed:

“I’ve been flat out cooking breakfast, cleaning rooms and doing evening meals. I’ve got to get up at 5:00am to start all over again. I’m not going to be able to get back to sleep again after this. How am I meant to work all day with no sleep?”

Try smiling sweetly and having a polite conversation with your guests over breakfast when that’s been running through your head all night.

But the guest is thinking

“Oh my, on the spur of the moment I’ve just asked him/her to marry me and I can’t believe they’ve said yes. The guest info said we could call them if we needed anything. I hadn’t thought to bring champagne but that’s just what we need” 

3. We have a different set of values from our guests

With the exception of 3 years at university - and then only once did I pull an all-nighter - I’ve always been someone who goes to bed early. I need my 8 hours sleep and with work, child, dogs and then running a B&B, I’m normally awake at 6am.

I often go up to bed before 9 - not always to sleep, sometimes to have a bath or read or just watch a bit of TV. But that time is very important to me to allow me to wind down.

And if anyone disturbs me after 9pm, I get very cross indeed. 10.30pm - or later - phone calls to book a room were a common event before online booking was a thing.

But a lot of people quite happily stay up till past midnight. 

I remember one guest saying to me, after I explained that I was only available before 9pm - emergencies accepted “Why on earth do you go to bed so early?”. She seemed really quite cross with me, and as perplexed by my bedtime routine, as I was perplexed by her thinking it was acceptable to ring me at 11pm to book a room.

Back to the champagne guests. They may have been thinking

“It’s only Midnight and we don’t normally go to bed till 1.00am, so I’m sure the owners will be up too.” 

So it may be that guests aren't being purposefully disrespectful at all. It may simply be they never considered that you may consider their behaviour unacceptable.

4. Shift your paradigm

If you’re continuing to feel resentful to guests for perceived disrespect, it can help to shift your perspective. We don’t always know what other people are going through in their lives.

A few years ago, I had a very late night call from a repeat guest wanting to book for the next couple of nights. On top of my rude awakening, I also felt he was being quite brusque and very demanding. I almost made an excuse, but I took the booking feeling grumpy.

10 minutes later, just after I’d got back into bed, the phone rang from the same number. “Now what?!” Thinks my chimp.

It was his wife, who could barely speak through her tears.

“I’m so sorry” she said “but we’ll have to cancel. He’s just today had a very late diagnosis of an illness. He’s on morphine, but the first thing he said when he heard the news, was that he wanted to come back to Hopton House, as he’d always loved staying with you”

Obviously my perspective shifted in an instant from annoyance to compassion, sympathy and a bit of guilt.

This is an example of a paradigm shift, which  Stephen Covey explains much better than I could in this short video. It’s worth a watch.

5. Are we confusing our guests?

My friend who received the midnight call asking for champagne, was a very wise friend. And once he’d calmed down, he told me he’d started to see it from a different perspective. He said that he thought luxury B&Bs like ours were muddying the waters a bit and potentially confusing our guests.

Let me explain what he meant a bit more.

30 years ago, it was much clearer about what you were getting when you stayed at a British B&B.

They were generally the cheap and cheerful option. You’d get a cooked breakfast at a set time. Check in and check out were very clearly defined. And quite often you’d be expected to leave the B&B for the day - no hanging around in your room all day!

But since then, many B&Bs have really upped their game with high quality, luxurious furnishings, elaborate breakfasts, more flexibility with access to the B&B, silent mini fridges, offers of drinks on arrival, every amenity a guest could want, amazing customer service and charging a lot more!

But we’re doing this all by ourselves,  without the advantage of having an army of staff that hotels have.

Guests who are choosing to stay at these B&Bs may previously have chosen to stay at a luxury hotel, with 24 hour room service. And just don’t understand that the B&B is only run by 1 and 2 people who are doing EVERYTHING themselves.

On one occasion I hurt my neck very badly overnight. That morning I  barely got through preparing and serving breakfast. I wore a neck collar and that, along with my very careful slow movements, made it obvious to the guests I was in a lot of pain. 

They sympathised with me over breakfast and wished me a speedy recovery. Then they  left for the day and I looked out to see they’d both hung the  “Please clean the room” signs on the door.

I was shocked, upset and a bit irate that they hadn’t been more considerate. Did I look like someone who was capable of making  a bed and cleaning a bath?!

But then it occurred to me that I hadn’t explained that it was me that cleaned the rooms everyday - they probably thought I had a cleaner come in.

Actually, as I said earlier, they probably weren’t even thinking about me or how the B&B got cleaned at all. They were just off for a nice day and to enjoy their holiday!

I’m pretty sure if I’d said to them “I’m very sorry I’m not going to be able to tidy your room today” they’d have been absolutely fine about it. 

This was just me making a whole load of assumptions about what the guests thought and the way they would act.

6. We need to help our B&B guests understand what to expect

This goes back to the last point of guests not understanding how our B&B is run, and also how we explain it.

By making things very clear to guests about what they can and can’t expect in terms of service, we reduce the chance of them behaving in a way that we don’t find acceptable.

Of course, no matter what we do to help guests understand what sort of B&B we are,  there will always be some people who won’t do what we want them to do. People who are of the mindset “We’ve paid £X for this B&B and we expect a certain service” 

7. How to explain to guests how the B&B operates in a way that they’ll listen

Sometimes it's not enough just to explain to guests how you operate, sometimes you have to explain the why so they understand.

In the book Atomic Habits ( a favourite read of mine ), the author, James Clear, talks about the Copy Machine Study and the power of using the word BECAUSE. You can read more about the study here.

In the post, Clear quotes the author, Robert Cialdini:

 “A well-known principle of human behavior says that when we ask someone to do us a favor we will be more successful if we provide a reason. People simply like to have reasons for what they do.”

Obviously, this is what I should have done when I was faced with having to clean guest rooms with a very painful neck!

I’ve found this to be very true in other aspects of running my B&B too.

I used to tell guests - on my website, if they called to book, in the terms and conditions and in the welcome email - that check in was from 4pm. I’d ask them to let me know an approximate arrival time and hardly anyone ever did! And I used to have a lot of people turn up early.

I changed this to “check in is between 4 & 7. We’re not able to offer earlier check in because we need to get the room ready, go shopping and walk the dogs. If you’re planning to arrive after 7, please let us know so that we can ensure someone is here to meet you”

This significantly reduced the number of early arrivals. And only one person in 6 years arrived after 7 without telling me they’d be late - and that’s a whole different story!

Of course, there are always going to people who don’t like rules. 

There will be guests who don’t read the website or the emails you send them - anecdotal evidence suggests this is far more likely when people book via the online travel agencies rather than booking direct.

When this happens you’ll need to decide whether to grin and bear it, speak with the guests or ask them to leave. 

In a future blog post I’ll be talking about how to decide What’s OK and isn’t OK when it comes to guests’ behaviour and I’ll go into a bit more detail on the type of boundaries you can set.

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