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How to run a successful bed and breakfast

Carlton Boyce / 27 January 2017

Thinking of setting up a B&B? These tips will give you a great head start.

A tray with breakfast carefully placed n a bed in a B&B

When my wife and I started a bed and breakfast in our home in Llangollen, it was a real step into the unknown. Neither of us had knew how to run a bed and breakfast, but surely it couldn’t be that hard?

Of course, running a bed and breakfast business is much harder than we thought it would be.

Here are our ten top tips for running a successful B&B.

Know your market

We planned our B&B as a family hideaway, stocking it with a row of children’s wellies, games, puzzles, highchairs, and food designed to appeal to them. Naturally, we ended up appealing to older couples who travelled without children.

It took us a while to find the mental strength to change direction but we did and never looked back. Of course, you can try to appeal to everyone but honing your offer to target one demographic will generally be a better strategy.

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TripAdvisor matters

Our feelings about TripAdvisor might be mixed but the reality is that no bed and breakfast owner can afford to ignore it. That means taking charge and getting your listing properly written and featuring professional-quality photographs.

It also means nurturing your guests and making sure that they have the best possible stay with you and following up with them and asking for a review if they don’t leave a spontaneous one.

We were lucky enough to reach the number one position in our area after being in business for just three months and we stayed there ever since. To do so took a lot of hard work and some careful curating but it is the best possible advertising and marketing there is; we estimate that well over 90% of our bed and breakfast business comes through TripAdvisor in one way or another.

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Do your sums

You have to make the sums work for your circumstances. With a large house and a high-quality offering, we simply couldn’t afford to charge bargain-basement prices.

Similarly, if you want to cater for the budget-conscious traveller (and it is a large and potentially highly profitable market) then you probably won’t be able to afford to make the bed with Egyptian cotton sheets and serve artisan sausages alongside an exotic fresh fruit salad for breakfast.

Give your B&B a sense of place

People came to our bed and breakfast, at least in part, because we’re in Wales. So our gin, whisky and vodka is made here in Wales. So is the beer, cider and mineral water. We served laverbread at breakfast, as well as our own sausages, bacon and eggs (plus apple juice and tomatoes in season.) 

None of this costs any more than buying brand name products and for our guests, the chance to taste something new is almost irresistible.

We also have traditional Welsh blankets on the beds and local photographs on the walls. We serve homemade sloe gin in the bar and are always willing to give them a quick verbal tour of the local area and its history.

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A great first impression

We serve freshly baked, homemade Welsh cakes to our guests as they arrive. This not only gives them an immediate taste of Wales, it also gives them time to relax and settle in. It immediately sets the tone for their stay and only costs us pennies.

Other small touches like fresh milk in their rooms, a hand to carry their cases up to their room, and offering to book a table in a local restaurant all help make their stay with you a bit more memorable than it might otherwise be.

Have stuff, just in case

Guests will forget stuff, so you need to have it handy. So stock up on toothbrushes, phone chargers, tampons, condoms, cufflinks, and nail clippers. 

Having books and guides they can read will enhance their stay, as will a few board games and a couple of packs of cards.

It’s also worth having an iron and ironing board on hand for them to borrow, plus a ready-tied bow tie. They’ll remember you forever if you save their day!

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If something bothers you, then say so!

If you want guests to remove their shoes in your home, then tell them - politely. It’s your home and you’ll hate every minute if it ends up feeling like you’ve been invaded by a hoard of strangers.

Be obsessive

Things will always go wrong but if you are obsessive about the details it’ll matter less when they do. So, if the bedroom is spotless your guests are more likely to overlook some dust in an inaccessible part of the bathroom.

Sometimes, you’ll be tempted to think ‘that’ll do” - but it won’t. Everything has to be as close to perfect as it can possibly be. Your guests are paying you for the experience and it’s your duty to deliver!

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Have fun

Please don’t forget to have fun! Odds are, you started a bed and breakfast because you don’t want a ‘proper’ job and it’s important not to lose sight of that.

Besides, if you’re stressed and unhappy you’ll lose sight of the fact that people are fascinating and won’t have the time or inclination to chat to your guests – and that would be a shame for both of you.

The customer is always right

…even when they aren’t. A cliché, but true nonetheless. 

Next article: Five signs that you'd be great at running a B&B >>>

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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.

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