Six things you didn't know about running a B&B

Carlton Boyce / 10 October 2016

Six fascinating insights into running a successful B&B



It is almost five years to the day since we moved from urban Leeds to rural Llangollen to open a B&B. Drained by the corporate world we’d both inhabited for our working lifetimes, my wife Beth and I had had enough.

I was working as a journalist by then (I say ‘working’, but there was precious little money attached to anything I was writing back then…) but Beth was still trapped in a senior, but unsatisfying, job. 

Reasoning that if the B&B didn’t work we’d simply revert to Plan B, which would involve commuting to proper jobs from a beautiful house in North Wales. Plan B didn’t seem like such a bad fallback position to have, so we took a leap of faith and did it.

These are some of the things we hadn’t appreciated before we started.

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It’s hard work

We swapped eight-hour days for eighteen-hour days, at least initially. It’s settled down a bit now but we still get up at seven and are on the go until at least seven in the evening, later if we’re serving suppers - and that’s seven days a week.

I’m sure that we could slim down the hours considerably if we stopped rearing our own pigs for bacon and sausages, got rid of the hens and bought our eggs from the supermarket, stopped making all our own jams and marmalades, baking biscuits for the bedrooms, cheese biscuits for the supper platters, and used shop-bought granola for breakfast. 

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Oh, and didn’t grow tomatoes, vegetables and fruit for breakfast, supper and the packed lunches, squeeze our own apple juice, source local produce and toiletries, and make our own fruit liqueurs. 

But then, if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be delivering the sort of experience we want to.

Yes, we do get a couple of hours to ourselves in the day if we want them but it was five years before we felt we could take a proper holiday. And we earn way below the minimum wage per hour.

Your standards have to be higher than high

We spent eighteen months renovating the house, simply because domestic levels of cleanliness and decoration aren’t good enough if you’re running a B&B.

If you think about it, finding a cobweb in a hotel room is a disaster, whereas finding one in your own home might or might not lead you to get the duster out to clean it away, depending on how motivated you’re feeling. 

Similarly, no one spends a minimum of an hour cleaning his or her bedroom every day but that’s exactly what’s needed whenever a guest checks out. 

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People are much nicer than you think

We’ve only had half-a-dozen guests we didn’t warm to.  Every single other person has been kind, warm and utterly fascinating. We run an honesty bar and have never had a single bottle go missing. The same goes for the books, maps and guides we provide and the rooms, bedding and towels have almost without exception been looked after extremely well.

Our guests have also left the most generous and lovely reviews of their stay online, some of which have left us with tears in our eyes. The people we meet are the reason we don’t mind the long hours.

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Rules have to be flexible

We try not to have rules, trusting that people know how to behave well and generally will. 

However, we do have to put some guidelines in place. Check-in time is from 4pm, which gives us time to do everything that needs doing – shopping, cleaning the rooms, going to the bank, getting a haircut, collecting the kids from school – before welcoming the day’s new guests. However, at least half of our guests turn up before that on the off chance they can check-in early.

We also have an upper check-in time of 9pm simply because we were getting a lot of guests arriving at midnight or later, which disturbed everyone who was sleeping and meant that I was missing out on my beauty sleep. This rule too is sometimes ignored.

If we got upset every time a guest turned up early or late we’d be a nervous wreck. Flexibility keeps us sane.

Married couples

Yes, we can usually tell if you’re not married, and no, we don’t care. In fact, the best B&B owners don’t care about any of the usual ways in which some people categorise and judge others; we love meeting new people and will only judge you on whether you are a nice person or not.

We want you to have the best B&B stay of your life and will do almost anything we can to make it so. 

Having said that, getting your secretary to book a double-room (and claim a single person discount) before turning up with someone who clearly isn’t your partner and offering to pay the difference in cash as long as we don’t show it on the bill is a bit seedy.

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Just ask

Like doctors and priests, we are almost impossible to shock. 

So if you need something, have forgotten something, are bothered by something, or would like something changed, please ask. 

So, whether you like your fried eggs turned over and cooked until they’re hard, need fresh sheets because you’ve had an accident, have got hair dye on the towels, have forgotten your phone charger, want flowers and Champagne in your room on arrival, or simply need a lift to and from the train station, please ask.

Honestly, most successful B&B owners take a great pride in their homes and just want you to relax and enjoy yourself!

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.