Thirty tips and tricks for running a successful B&B
With many years' experience in the hotel and B&B industry, Louise Weston shares her top thirty tips for running a successful Bed & Breakfast.
- Buy the widest ironing board available – it cuts down on ironing time – sheets can be shuffled fewer times on a larger board.
- Buy duvet covers with poppers rather than buttons - it saves time on bed changeovers.
- Standardise sheets and duvet covers so that linen is interchangeable and you never run out during one-day changeovers – this also applies to towels.
- Try to buy the best sausages, bacon etc that you can afford as these make a lasting impression on guests – it's remarkable how many guests leave comments in our visitors' book about the quality of the sausages!
- When it comes to serving breakfast, you should grill all bacon and cook eggs freshly to order, but a grilled sausage takes too long to cook so can be prepared slightly in advance and kept warm in a low oven.
- We offer a limited menu for breakfast, but this doesn't stop most guests customising their breakfasts to suit – scrambled or poached or boiled eggs; baked beans on toast; we've even had requests for Coca-Cola and soy sauce (separately!). So be prepared – take a deep breath and prepare each dish to the best of your ability. No guest will be happy with a blank refusal to try. You will also need to stock the whole range of breakfast beverages – coffee normal and decaffeinated, tea normal, herbal and decaffeinated.
- We have discovered that a jug of iced water on the breakfast table is greatly appreciated, especially if the guest has had a heavy night the previous evening. This also saves you some costs as guests may drink less fruit juice, coffee or tea!
- Last minute bookings: make sure the guest gives you their full name and address, and ensure they pay the correct amount for their stay on arrival as a matter of policy.
- En-suite bathrooms should have bins with lids and be lined with plastic bin liners to maximise hygiene, minimise smells and make room cleaning easier.
- I always leave a new, wrapped large bar of soap in the bathrooms but also leave an opened, hardly-used bar of soap for guests' use as this is both economically and ecologically more sustainable. The guest who is squeamish will open the new soap and the guest who doesn't like waste will use the opened one.
- Always have available small thermos flasks for supplying fresh milk for guests to use in their rooms so they can have their own tea or coffee. I always check whether guests require milk and offer to refresh it if they are staying more than one night. Don't use long-life milk (horrible!) and don't automatically put milk on trays without asking, as many people won't use it and you will waste milk.
- Always supply guests with a printed list of information on your B&B in their rooms, e.g. breakfast times, checkout times, payment details etc.
- Always offer as much local information to guests as required. Being up to date on local restaurant opening times and taxi phone numbers/or train timetables can be invaluable to guests from far afield.
- It is good to build up relationships with local restaurants and hotels for mutual promotion. It is useful to be able to provide a top-up service for hotels who may have overbooked and help them out of a tight spot. It the same vein, restaurants may need to book or offer recommendations for accommodation to large parties who need to come from afar for an event. Nearby hotels can help you as well as being competitors – and you can help them in return by referring enquiries when you are full.
- Always have a spare iron and ironing board available for guests who are attending weddings, as they really like to look their best rather than a crumpled mess.
- Ensure all public areas such as the guests' sitting room/dining room are clean, tidy and welcoming, with fresh flowers or pot-pourri to provide an inviting scent.
- Make sure you supply a daily newspaper for guests to enjoy either before, during or after their breakfast. Also have a good range of reading material or magazines in the sitting room for guests to relax with (including local guide books).
- Guests have ever rising expectations in every area – including entertainment. A TV is the bare minimum: guests will now expect multi-channel choice, such as Sky TV or similar. If you have TVs or radios in guest bedrooms, you will need a PRS/PPL licence in addition to the BBC TV Licence.
- During breakfast, it always pays to check regularly whether guests require any more tea/coffee/toast etc. Even though the answer may usually be no, it reaps dividends in making the guests feel that they have been particularly well cared for and attended to and they leave with that lasting impression.
- Please make sure that your appearance at breakfast is particularly scrupulous; clean and tidy is a must for serving breakfast, whereas unkempt/unshaven/slovenly gives all the wrong signals.
- Please try to be as welcoming as humanly possible when guests first arrive at your door. All good/bad impressions are created within the first few seconds of meeting someone, and it is imperative that you make your 'paying guest' feel that you are really pleased to have their company in your house. Whatever you are really thinking is best kept under wraps until you are in the privacy of your own rooms.
- Always ensure that wherever possible you record your guests' mobile phone number when the room is booked. This is invaluable as it enables you to contact the guest on the day to pinpoint his/her arrival time depending on the actual travel/traffic situation and can allow you to leave the house rather than wait unnecessarily all day.
- Ensure your booking diary is maintained accurately with all deposits logged and all information on the booking clearly marked. If any problem arises that needs to be clarified contact your guest immediately – honesty is the best policy in all matters and you could be surprised by their understanding attitude.
- Faced with a complaint, it is best to deal fairly and honestly with the guest; discuss the problem openly and try to remedy it helpfully. In our experience, the few guests who are disgruntled may well sign the visitors' book with a positive comment, and then contact you several days after they've left with a list of minor grievances. The best way to deal with this is to address each of their points objectively without getting emotional or taking the points personally.
- What to do when a guest oversleeps – you have discussed breakfast times with your guest, you should even have these printed on the information sheet in their room. However, the guest has a late night and oversleeps. As it gets to the end of breakfast time you should contact them in their room with a gentle reminder about breakfast. If as expected they say they will be down shortly, it is only polite to wait for them to appear (no doubt apologising profusely) and serve them breakfast. There is also the possibility that they may decline breakfast all together. Whatever happens it is essential that you do awake your guests and they are not left to sleep undisturbed till lunchtime.
- Ensure that guests are aware of the checkout time for leaving their room so that you are not faced with the situation of having no changeover time between guests. This can be helped by offering those who are leaving the chance to store their luggage in a public area downstairs so that you have access to clean their room. If the unexpected happens and your new guests turn up early they can also store their luggage or wait in a public room until their rooms are ready, offering them a tray of tea or coffee while they are waiting.
- Ensure all your own private rooms are marked as such with PRIVATE signs above or on the door. This sounds obvious, but it does help to mark out where the guests can or can't go and stops you coming across guests in unexpected places.
- Hot water – try to have separate hot water tanks for your guests so that there is sufficient hot water to go around the whole household. They can then be switched off when not in use to save energy.
- I always think that airing guest bedrooms really well between guests is so important. We open the door and windows, even in winter, for a good hour or so, whilst we are cleaning and hoovering, to freshen up the rooms. We're sure it's not just psychological but makes a real difference. A genuinely fresh clean smell is so much better than the stale smells masked with air freshener spray which you encounter in some places.
- When serving coffee in a cafetière, we always push the plunger down in the kitchen before taking it into the dining room for the guests. A small thing to remember, but it saves the occasional explosion of coffee over your tablecloth as a clumsy guest pushes too hard or too fast!
Louise Weston has over 30 years' experience in travel and tourism and is the co-author of the book 'How to Start and Run a B&B'.
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