Bed & Breakfast Etiquette – How Things Have Changed & Stayed the Same

Years ago when B&Bs as a lodging option were still in their infancy, how guests were expected to behave was different than it is today. Then, B&Bs, or guest stays, were smaller on average with between 3-5 guestrooms. Now, the average B&B has between 6-8 rooms. Some B&Bs have 10, 12, 14 or more rooms. What does this mean? It means that B&Bs have moved into the world of being a commercial business and all it entails. It also means that innkeeper and guest behavior have evolved as well.  I see many, many first time B&Bers at Blake House and find myself answering the same questions regarding what is and is not acceptable at my place.

Commercialization of the Industry

First off, B&Bs are no longer mom and pop operations as they used to be. The smaller the establishment, the closer to this type of arrangement you will find. But as the average number of rooms has increased, so has the move towards a full-blown more than full-time business entity and not something people retire into or do as a hobby anymore.

Legitimate inns (those that are registered and pay taxes) are now governed by local and state standards and get inspected. In addition to the Health Department, being a member of certain Associations and trade groups requires additional inspections. Mine is a pet- and child-friendly B&B (a rarity) so properly cleaning and maintaining the rooms after children and pets is doubly important.

Fire safety is another big concern for B&Bs now. All those B&Bs that have expanded have, in most cases, been required to jump through hoops to comply with local fire, building and safety codes. In addition, the liability insurance on a B&B is a massive expense. It’s not like getting homeowners insurance. Not only do you have to insure your contents for loss, theft, damage, etc., but you have to insure the property for injuries to your guests.

The only issue I have with all the commercialization of the B&B industry is that there is no distinction between a 200-room hotel and a 6-room B&B. B&Bs are treated like these large commercial properties instead of the niche market they occupy. To stay in business, the B&B owner must expand, but it can be quite difficult to accomplish that.

What I hope the reader takes away from this section is an understanding of how things have changed for the average B&B owner. What used to be seen as a hobby or part-time income-supplementing business in the beginning that was largely unregulated has evolved into a complex business undertaking.

Guest/Innkeeper Behavior

While every bed and breakfast is different, how an innkeeper and guest behaves should be mostly the same across locations, no matter the size of the bed and breakfast.

  • For the innkeeper’s part, no matter where you go, the guest should be treated with a service-oriented attitude, they should be provided with comfortable, clean, and safe accommodations as well as a breakfast meal of some sort (continental, continental plus, or sit down). I am amazed how many guests don’t know that breakfast is included. The second half of the business is “breakfast” so that is a given. How it is served varies between B&Bs. I serve breakfast at the same time every morning (9 am) because I am one person doing everything by myself, but other B&Bs may do breakfast differently. Check with your innkeeper in advance (some even have breakfast information on their websites, including me) so there are no surprises about when food is available. Most places can accommodate dietary restrictions, just tell the innkeeper in advance instead of as you are being served. I post what I’m serving for breakfast the day before so guests can notify me of restrictions or preferences before I cook everything. Everything goes in the oven at the same time and comes out at the same time so if a guest comes to breakfast 20 minutes late, they are most likely going to get something that is getting cold and/or soggy. The proper thing for a guest to do is to call the Innkeeper if they are running late or are not coming to breakfast so that their food can be held over for them or not made and wasted if they aren’t coming. If a guest oversleeps, don’t sweat it, it’s okay. Saying nothing keeps the Innkeeper wondering, so the proper thing to do is to call and give a heads up.
  • Because a B&B is treated as a business, some are even owned by corporate entities and run by managers. I say, to each his own, but guests should no longer be surprised if the innkeeper is not the person who takes care of them. Some guests may like that; many B&Bers still want the personal contact. At my B&B, I incorporate a little of both. I’m here, I run the place, and I live on the property. I check-in and check-out guests, serve breakfast and take care of guest questions, concerns, etc. At the same time, I try to stay out of the way. Most guests will see me at breakfast, during check-in and check-out, and sporadically throughout the day if I’m cleaning the house or working outside, but I keep a low profile otherwise. Guests don’t want to feel like they are being watched. As a guest, if you need more face time, you can call me and I will come over if you need assistance. If you want a tour of something, ask and I’ll be happy to show you. Otherwise, I will give you privacy and will plan to chat with you at breakfast. That’s my style; let me know if you have a different need. Same thing with any B&B, if you aren’t getting what you need, speak up because the innkeeper can’t read your mind or your attitude.
  • If something goes wrong, notify someone as soon as possible. It’s okay if you break something or if something you are using malfunctions, just don’t try to hide it. Innkeepers expect this stuff; it happens. Most Innkeepers would rather you told them of a mishap rather than finding out after you left, wondering what happened. If you can’t work your DVD player, call. That’s what the innkeeper is here for. Some B&Bers are embarrassed to to let the innkeeper know of something negative, but I’m telling you that it is okay.
  • It’s an old house, expect some quirks. For example, a few of my steps near the second floor squeak. They squeak, oh well. Old houses tend to moan and groan more than newer ones.  Also, things break easier/faster in a B&B. Whether it’s because it’s an old house or because of excessive usage, you can expect it to happen. Most innkeepers have gotten good at dealing with crises (loss of power, stove not working properly for breakfast, running toilets).
  • Policies versus House Rules – Every B&B has written policies regarding cancellations, checking in and out, minimum stays, deposits, etc. Policies provide guidelines for the business so that everyone is treated fairly and they serve to protect the business’ interests. My feeling on House Rules is that my guests are adults, not children. They don’t come on vacation to be treated like children so there’s no curfew and people can come and go as they please. My only real house rule is that I ask guests to lock up whenever they come and go. It is not only a safety issue, but when I am not here (grocery shopping or whatever), I don’t want non-guests walking into the house when it is unattended. Most B&Bs have guest books in each room with a list of policies, rules, emergency procedures, local information, and more. Read through those books and many of your questions may be answered.
  • In addition, while the innkeeper may not say anything to you during your stay about the fact that you used the white towels to remove your make-up (even though facial cleansing towels are provided), they know when they tidy your room or clean it out. Some places charge for damage to sheets/towels that doesn’t come out in the wash. Taking a white towel on your hike with your dog is not a good way of promoting happy relations between guest and innkeeper. The etiquette on this is to treat the house and things inside the B&B as you would treat your best friend’s possessions. Would you use their nice towels to clean up messes or maybe an old, scrap towel? If you aren’t sure, ask the innkeeper.
  • Noise – this is not usually a problem, but realize that you are in a house with rooms in close proximity. Loud music, TVs with the volume turned all the way up, loud sexual activity, yelling, etc. can and most-likely is heard by other guests. Be cognizant of others, but you can act normal. You don’t have to whisper or tip-toe around. Other guests expect to hear normal activities like walking around and talking. Blake House is child and pet friendly so guests who come here know that there may be the pitter patter of little feet throughout the house. If you are visiting a B&B with lots of expensive antiques that caters to an older clientelle or people on super romantic vacations, the expectations regarding noise and behavior may be different. You should be able to get the feel of the house and the innkeeper either through their website or when you check-in.
  • Checking in and out – Innkeepers plan their days around their guests, those who are already at the inn and those checking in. As such, each B&B has a standard set of check-in hours and procedures for check-in outside the standard hours. Guests should try to let the innkeeper know when they will be arriving so that the innkeeper can plan their day around their guest arrivals. It’s okay to call from the road to say you are going to be early or late, but if you have a 3-4 pm arrival time range, if you aren’t going to make it, it’s good etiquette to notify the innkeeper. On the check-out side, unlike a hotel, innkeepers look forward to (and expect) to say goodbye to their guests. It’s the innkeepers opportunity to thank their guests, process paperwork, collect room keys, and find out how the guest enjoyed their stay. Innkeepers invariably wonder if there was a problem when guests take off without a goodbye. Unless a guest makes arrangements to check out super early or has otherwise notified the innkeeper of their departure, the innkeeper is waiting around in order to see the guests off.
  • Have an open mind – If you are a first-time B&Ber or a seasoned guest, always keep an open mind when going to a bed and breakfast. What makes each one different may not appeal to some people, but those who go to B&Bs go for the very same reason, because they are different from a hotel. Each experience will be unique and things that may go wrong turn out to be funny anecdotes and something you’ll remember.

I would love to hear from anyone who has a story about a stay at a bed and breakfast where a guest (or themselves) may have accidentally blundered because they weren’t aware of the proper etiquette at the B&B. The story can be funny, embarrassing, or strange. Anything that you are willing to share is fine.

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