B&B Academy Podcast #2 Transcript
Hi, it's Karen here, founder and owner of bed and breakfast academy!
In this week’s episode I’m going to share my guilty confession about staying at bed and breakfasts and one of my most enjoyable and recommended ways of getting inspiration for designing your own B&B.
Designing your B&B Lifestyle
When I talk about designing a B&B I’m not really talking about the colour of the wall paper or the carpet, but the whole B&B experience, including your own experience and lifestyle as a B&B owner.
And designing the sort of life you want as a B&B owner is a crucial first step in owning a B&B. Most of the people who take my course are looking for a change in lifestyle. Maybe moving from a frantic 9-5 commute to something a bit more relaxed or to spend time with your partner, family or even your pets. So it’s important to get very clear on your goals for running a b&B before you even start to think about buying or setting one up.
When you go through the first couple of modules in the B&B course you’ll see it’s very much about helping you design the ideal B&B lifestyle for you. That might be down to location, type of guest, style of B&B, number of rooms and more.
For example the number of rooms you have could make a big impact on your own lifestyle. I ran a 2 room B&B for 4 years before we added our 3rd room and I was surprised how much of a difference one extra room made to the amount of work I had to do. Obviously I knew I had an extra room to clean - but I hadn’t really accounted for the extra interaction with guests, cooking and serving breakfast and all the extra washing!
What happened to me this weekend!
But before I get too deep into the detail of that I wanted to start off by sharing something a bit personal with you …
We’ve just come back from a weekend in London, where our daughter got married to her long time boyfriend Sam. She’s our only child so it was my first and last chance to be mother of the bride.
It was a small a wedding as it gets without it actually being an elopement - a micro wedding even! Just the happy couple, both sets of parents and Sam’s brother at Marylebone Town Hall.
We hadn’t met Sam’s family before, despite Jess & Sam being together for 11 years! So that added a frisson of excitement and nervousness to the occasion. But we all got on very well - especially after the father of the groom and I discovered a shared passion for 80s heavy rock bands - and it was a wonderful weekend.
I must admit I found the run up to the wedding a little stressful. I’m not a great shopper and living in the middle of nowhere makes the whole “shopping for the mother of the bride dress” thing a bit more difficult...Thank heavens for the internet. I must have ordered and returned over 20 dresses and I’ve had to put a spreadsheet together to keep track of the spending and returns!
Despite the joys of internet shopping I still wasn’t happy with my bag and shoes, so ended up buying a new pair of mules and a very lovely bag from TK Maxx of all places, just after we’d had our hair done and with 2 hours till the wedding started. I was beginning to panic about getting back to the hotel so grabbed a taxi - only to end up with a black cab driver who didn’t know where our hotel was. I wasn’t that sure either despite having worked in the exact part of London for 8 weeks during one university summer holiday. I was just following My husband and daughter everywhere as I have a lousy sense of direction. Thank heavens for google maps eh!
We treated ourselves to a stay at the Rosewood Hotel in Holborn, which is an amazing hotel and was the perfect venue for meeting up with everyone, drinks, getting ready and just chilling. And the happy couple were very lucky to get upgraded to a rather nice suite.
My Bed and Breakfast Confession
This sort of brings me to my confession about B&Bs. I know a lot of B&B owners do the honourable thing and support other bed and breakfasts when they go away. But we tend to avoid staying in B&Bs and we’ve never really stayed in English ones before I set up my own B&B!
We did stay in a B&B just after we were married. This was back in the 80s when most B&Bs were a different proposition altogether.
I’d bought a Stratford upon avon theatre package for Rob’s birthday. That included the B&B, the theatre tickets and dinner. Unfortunately I went for the cheaper package. The B&B had a folding plastic door and the toilet was a shared one just down the corridor. We ended up making an excuse and not staying the night…
Confessing to not staying in B&Bs when I train aspiring Bed and Breakfast owners sounds like an awful thing to admit, but there is a good reason for it or method in my madness as Shakespeare probably wrote in the play we watched.
When I do stay at a B&B it’s such a busman’s holiday for me that I can’t relax - I’m either looking around with a critical eye all the time, thinking “well I wouldn’t do it that way” or I get in a dreadful sulk because they’ve made a much better job of it than I did.
Which brings me on to how I decided what sort of B&B I wanted to run. When I first set up Hopton House there were far fewer luxury B&Bs around, so there wasn’t much to base my business model on.
Getting inspiration for your own B&B
Having worked for British Airways for so many years and been lucky to visit some rather lovely hotels I’ve gathered a lot of inspiration for my own B&B from what I loved about them.
As well as gathering inspiration from what you’ve loved you can also get some ideas from what you really don’t like. I know that sounds a bit negative, but making a list of things you don’t like about places you’ve stayed can be a great starting point when thinking about your own B&B.
If you’re not yet at a point of setting up a B&B then I’d suggest you equip yourself with a small notebook, or set up a google doc, and take it with you every time you go away. Fill it with all the things you love and don’t like so much about where you’re staying. It will turn into a mine of useful information for you.
And if you’re not someone who would normally splurge on accommodation, then I recommend doing it at least once to get some ideas of what different standards of accommodation offer.
Actually even once you’re running a B&B I’d recommend you continue researching. You’re going to need to treat yourself to some nice holidays when you can.
One set of repeat guests who visited us every April - they’d arrive with their boxer / Great Dane cross - said they loved to look round the room on their return and see what new things I’d added.
It’s important to not rest on your laurels or get complacent when you’re running a business. There’s probably always an opportunity to improve something or add in a new service your guests will appreciate and enjoy.
Everytime we went away I’d look at places for inspiration and ideas and make little changes to the way I did things when I got back home to the B&B.
In fact on this trip I was inspired by the Mascarpone on the buttermilk pancakes.
A lot of the time hotels and B&Bs are designed without the owners ever having stayed in the rooms. Though probably more so in hotels than B&Bs. Though if you hadn’t thought of It, that’s something that’s really important to do, so you can find out things like the fact the bedside lamps are too small to read by… And it’s something you should probably do at least once a year to check everything is still as you remembered it.
If you get the chance, it’s also a good idea to get some honest friends to stay before you open properly. Like Claire Byrne and her husband did when they opened their B&B, The Corner Broadstairs.
Make sure you tell your friends that you’re expecting honest feedback though! Telling you to your face that everything is perfect when they’re grumbling about something on the drive home is no use to you whatsoever.
What I loved about our luxury hotel this weekend
Just going back to our hotel at the weekend. The first thing we loved about it was the service. It was friendly and attentive, without being over the top in your face. I can sometimes go into country bumpkin mode when I go to London and can feel intimidated by very posh hotels - that feeling that the staff are looking down at you just a little bit…
And the other extreme when you can’t move or look towards a member of staff without them jumping on you asking if you need anything.
It’s a really important part of being a B&B owner, and something that Claire and I discussed in the first podcast - reading your B&B guests and working out what they want from you. Do they want to be left alone or do they want to chat?
I think the only thing that niggled me about the hotel’s service was that we got back to our room at 8.30pm the night before the wedding - we’d had a long day travelling, lunching, getting manicured etc and we wanted an early night - and they hadn’t turned down our room yet.
Do you need to offer a turn down service?
Now I can live without a turn down service to be honest so that didn’t matter. We hung up the do not disturb notice and we’re dropping off to sleep when the chambermaid rapped loudly on the door asking if we wanted the room turned down.
A turn down service isn't something I’d normally expect in a B&B. Whilst you may think it’s a nice extra, you need to think about what a tie it could be for you in the evening.
One of my friends used to offer it. They went to pop a hot water bottle into the bed one cold night and uncovered 2 pairs of feet. They hadn’t realised the guests were already back from dinner and tucked up in bed.
Back to the weekend’s hotel. They had got most of the basics right - the bed was large and comfortable with luxurious bed linen.
However there were a few things that surprised me.
How many USB ports does one woman need?
A few weeks ago I’d gone down to London to spend some time with Jess and booked a night in the Pullman Hotel near Euston - it’s a big hotel and I stayed in one of the cheapest rooms as I only needed a comfortable bed to fall into after a couple of margaritas, as well as a good shower. And I also wanted a hotel within walking distance of Euston.
One thing I’d noticed in the room was that it was awash with USB ports! 2 by each side of the bed and 2 by the desk. Why does one woman travelling on her own need so many USB ports you ask? Well there was my phone to charge, and my Apple Watch - no point tramping round dress shops if you can’t benefit from the steps - and my headphones…you get the idea.
So I was very surprised when the hotel we stayed at at the weekend had no USB ports at all. In fact I was so certain they’d have them, having stayed at this other hotel previously, that I hadn’t bothered to take a USB plug. My husband had only taken one plug, so we spent the weekend unplugging each other's devices when the other wasn’t looking.
People aren’t necessarily expecting USB ports in a B&B -though it is easy to buy electric sockets with USB ports built in these days - But maybe you could supply some spare USB plugs if people have forgotten theirs.
In fact automatically supplying essential items that guests may forget has earned me an awful lot of guest brownie points over the years.
In the case of the missing USB ports, my expectation of the USB port was raised by the other hotel. My thought process went something like this … “If a hotel charging £120 a night offers USB ports, then one charging much more must have them too.”
This is why it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what your local competition is doing to see if you can borrow some of their ideas. Hint online reviews are a really good starting point if you don’t want to actually book in and stay with your neighbours!
One basic thing that even a fabulous hotel can't get right
Our hotel at the weekend had a very good salon quality hair dryer, but when I came to find somewhere to sit down and dry my hair I realised there was no mirror near a plug socket. They’d supplied a small lit magnifying make up mirror ( plus one point ) but that was no good for drying my hair in.
I ended up standing by the open wardrobe door which had the only decent sized mirror in the room.
The bathroom was luxurious and they were generous with the toiletries - 2 small bottles of everything . Oh yes and hair conditioner! Definitely a huge plus for me. And there were lots of little extras like a little loofah mitt thingie. Who doesn’t love going into a hotel room and searching out all of the little extras! And of course these days there was the hygiene pack of face masks, hand sanitiser and disinfectant wipes.
Oh and another big yes from me for also supplying a bath towel as well as a bath sheet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that in a hotel before and it’s something I did in the B&B. And the reason I was so happy about that was that, after I’ve washed my hair, I always wrap it in a bath towel. Bath sheets are too big, or I end up using the only 2 bath sheets in the room for body and hair and then the husband gets grumpy!
I wasn’t so keen on the over-bath shower and I would have liked more grab rails to feel a bit more secure about getting out of the bath after the shower. I’m able bodied but also quite short and the bath was quite high so it was a bit precarious getting out!
Nespresso Machines and a kettle
The tea tray had a Nespresso machine, and also a kettle. I lose count of the hotel rooms I’ve stayed in that just supply the Nespresso machine with no kettle and I’m left trying to boil coffee flavoured water for a peppermint tea in the Nespresso machine.
As a starting point, it’s a great idea to design a B&B experience based on your own likes and dislikes, but then you have to think a bit more widely.
The rooms with just a Nespresso machine are probably designed by diehard coffee drinkers.
Another B&B we did stay at didn’t supply a tea tray in the room, but offered a tray of tea brought to the room in the morning. Whilst that level of customer service is nice it doesn’t accommodate those of us who sometimes wake in the night and like to make ourselves a cup of tea!
So Back to our hotel, it did have a tea tray and there was a fridge in the room - nice - but no fresh milk.
I know we could have rung down for some but when you fancy a cup of tea when you can’t sleep at 3am, it’s the last thing you want to be doing.
Should you offer Mineral water?
One nice touch was 3 large flip top bottles of water. There’s a discussion ongoing in the Facebook Group at the moment about whether to supply water for guests. Many of my course attendees have supplied mineral water in the past but with the focus on cutting down on plastic that’s become an issue.
You can start to see that actually it’s not just B&Bs that turn into a busman’s holiday for me.
The nice thing about expensive hotels is that I don’t get the “they’re doing this better than I could” grumpiness!
And to be honest everything I’ve discussed are just little niggles and I would go back to the Rosewood in an instant - well when my piggy bank is a bit fuller anyway…
I hope you’ve found this week’s podcast useful and, if nothing else, it’s given you an excuse to go and stay somewhere lovely - just for essential research obviously.
If you’ve got anything you’d like me to cover in the podcast then please let me know!