So You Want to Start a Bed & Breakfast
If working from home and being your own boss sound like appealing prospects, opening a bed and breakfast may offer that opportunity, provided you enjoy spending time with people and don’t mind a lot of hard work. For many, owning a bed and breakfast is a lifelong dream, while others sort of fall into the business by chance. Whichever category you belong to, a little research and the right equipment can get your B&B well on its way to being the quaint vacation destination you dream of creating.
For people who dream of starting a bed breakfast, their dream is often set in a historic home. For them, the beauty in operating a B&B can be two-fold: being an entrepreneur and owning a piece of history.
Not every B&B is set in an Antebellum or Victorian mansion, however. People are getting more and more creative by turning buildings such as post offices and churches into interesting locations for their businesses. You may even find some that are on boats, in train cabooses, or in repurposed lighthouses.
If you aren't looking to refurbish a home, you'll want to find one that has plenty of bedrooms, bathrooms (preferably one for each guest room), a kitchen that can fit the expanding needs of the business, and dining space. You'll want to make sure there's space for your own privacy, as well. Plenty of parking and room for guest registration and business management will also be needed.
As with any business venture, location is key. It's important that you do plenty of research into both your area and your target client base. Your research may reveal that clients want to be closer to area attractions, while some others may prefer a country setting. Some customers may want to be near the interstate, while others will be willing to go off the beaten path for the right B&B. With some keen strategy, your location can give your guests the best of all worlds that your locale has to offer.
Things You'll Need
Guest Rooms: Probably the most important part of an enjoyable bed and breakfast stay lies in a great bed. For starters, you'll want to find high-quality mattresses, and you may want to mix it up by giving some rooms soft mattresses and others firm ones, to ensure you can please both types of people. Cover those beds in luxurious sheets and comforters or quilts, add some high quality pillows, and your customers will be eager to enjoy the best sleep of their lives.
Restrooms: The fact of the matter is that people really look for private baths when choosing a bed and breakfast. When shopping for your ideal location, it would benefit you to keep this in mind. If you're turning your existing home into a B&B or you've found the perfect location but it doesn't have private baths, you may want to consider a remodel that will allow it. Regardless of the privacy of the restrooms, make them as comfortable as you can with plush bath linens, specialty candles, and locally handcrafted soaps.
One of the most rewarding parts and one of the biggest headaches of running a B&B comes down to the meals you'll serve. By definition, all you're expected to serve is breakfast, but many owners also provide snacks, after dinner coffee, and cocktails. In areas where dining options are limited, some innkeepers also offer an American plan, often providing a picnic-style lunch and a chef-prepared dinner to keep guests from going hungry. Crafting signature dishes is a great way to guarantee that your guests return, but finding the right building with an appropriate, code-compliant kitchen may prove to be a huge hurdle.
Things You'll Need
The Kitchen: Depending on the size of your inn, you may not need every item in your kitchen to be commercial grade, but if you're serving more than a family or two a day, you'll likely overwork residential equipment. You may also void the warranties on your residential equipment by using it for commercial purposes, so upgrading to commercial pieces may be best, provided your insurance company will cover their use.
There are a number of items that the kitchen will require that will be regimented by local codes. One of them, the kitchen hood is one of the most important pieces of equipment you'll need. If you're using gas to power your equipment, you must put that equipment under a hood. Even if you're using residential equipment, you'll need a hood that will ventilate the area properly.
Another component that you can expect to need is a three-compartment sink. If you're serving food for money (even if that money is included in with a room rate), you need to sanitize as well as wash and rinse. Commercial dishwashers are also often required of B&B owners. Less regulated, but still as vital, equipment that you may need includes the following:
- Ice Maker
- Waffle Maker
- Storage Racks
- Storage Bins
- Food Prep Equipment
The Dining Room: The dining room is another area that can set your establishment apart from the competition. Some people will want to sit separately from other guests, but it will be up to you if you want to offer that or more communal-style dining. Either way, you'll want flatware, drinkware, and dinnerware to match your décor. A selection of table coverings, candles, and other decoratives will add a personal touch.
Room Service: Many weary travelers or people who prefer their privacy for meals will appreciate your ability to offer room service. If you choose to do so, you'll need the right equipment. Trays and tray stands will definitely be must haves. Carts may also be desirable, if you don't have to deal with stairs. Plate covers will help keep food warm and contaminant-free in transit.
You'd think bringing an older home back to life and then opening it up as a place of lodging for travelers would be a simple thing in virtually any town. This is not always the case. Some localities have strict zoning laws that prevent bed and breakfast businesses altogether in certain areas. Most, however, just require specific parking availability and adherence to safety regulations. You'll probably need to make sure you have more than one means of egress, smoke detectors in each guest room, and plans to comply with other fire safety regulations. For questions on how to start a bed and breakfast in your area, there is likely a B&B association that can help. You may also consult the American Bed & Breakfast Association. For general questions about starting a business, the SBA offers sound advice and provides overviews of business laws in every state.
The perfect B&B doesn't have to stop with the perfect house. You can attract customers with specially-themed homes or vacations. While most bed and breakfast goers are couples looking to get away from it all, you can cash in on many other markets by doing some research into what your area has to offer. So as you consider how to open a bed and breakfast, consider the angle you can use to stand apart from the crowd.
Romantic Getaway: With as many as 82 percent of bed and breakfast goers being married couples and many of them with children in the home, you can bet that most of your clientele will be people looking for some quiet adult time.  Many B&Bs welcome children of all ages, while some limit their clientele to those over the age of 12. You can add to the romance by offering roses, candles, and champagne, with the costs for those items either included in your rate or at an additional expense. You may also offer special meals that can be served in-room for privacy. Enlisting the support of a local masseur or masseuse can help solidify some couples' decision.
Murder Mystery Weekend: Murder mystery weekends are a great way to generate interest in your B&B. There are many scripts and directions available online and in bookstores, or you can get creative with your own plot lines and characters. To pull off a memorable murder mystery weekend, you'll want to make sure you have plenty of props and costumes to fit the theme. You may opt for a dinner or cocktail party where the murder occurs with the reveal of "whodunit" the following night. Many party throwers offer awards or prizes for best acting and best sleuthing to conclude the weekend on Sunday morning. It will help to have a strict cancellation policy, because lacking guests can put a damper on everyone's fun. It may also help to have a pool of locals you can pull from in the event of cancellations.
Haunted: Spending the night in reputedly haunted establishment provides a destination for many people looking for a thrilling adventure. If your B&B has a reputation for things that go bump in the night, it may provide you with a profitable gimmick, with little more required besides some targeted marketing. You might consider organizing ghost walks our tours of historic or otherwise creepy cemeteries and other locations to heighten the effect. A ghost-telling session around a bonfire is sure to prime your guests for otherworldly visits—or at least make them think so. You may even consider reenactments of any grisly moments from your building's past or offer ghost hunting expeditions.
Historical: If you've chosen a historic Victorian, Georgian, or Antebellum home, there are many ways to maximize the profitability of your venture. You can provide re-enactments of an event that made your location historic. Some B&Bs have events, tours, or even host in period costumes. They may have demonstrations or music of the era. Famous guests like presidents, generals, writers, and musicians may inspire themes for rooms, while prominent events, such as significant battles, historic moments, and even Prohibition and Underground Railroad connections can pique the interest of potential clients. Even if your B&B isn't in a historic building, you can still take advantage of the historical elements of your area. You could organize tours of historic places near you and include tickets to attractions in your rate or offer package deals. Your guests are sure to appreciate you doing the legwork to provide them with the best in local history.
Golf: The demographic that typically frequents bed and breakfast inns tends to be the same one that plays golf. For that reason, it makes sense to include golfing packages of some sort to your clients. Purchasing or developing a B&B within eyeshot of the green can be lucrative as well. It may be to your benefit to work with your local golf courses to create packages that include reduced greens fees for your guests. Your packages could also include baskets of balls, cart rentals, and discounts on merchandise from a pro shop. An accommodating host will also arrange tee times for guests.
Nature: If biking and hiking trails, rivers for kayaking, and other outdoor areas of interest are nearby, you may capitalize on your location by offering maps or making bicycles, fishing gear, or kayaks available for rent. You may even include their use in the rate. Picnic lunches are a nice touch and can be a simple revenue generator. Keep in mind, however, that nature buffs tend to be very cognizant of the environment and their health, and may have specific dietary requests.
Family-Friendly: Many B&Bs are family-friendly and yours can be too, if that's the clientele you are hoping to attract. If this is the case, consider what types of activities there will be that will interest children. If your B&B is on a sprawling farm with lots of animals, you're sure to be a hit with the youngsters. Make sure you have recipes that can be modified for picky eaters or a specific menu for children. It will also be a good idea to have a supply of craft activities and toys to keep them occupied. High chairs and roll-away cribs will also help ensure comfort for your smallest guests.
Becoming an Event Space
Many bed and breakfast inns make excellent venues for weddings, parties, and other special events. If you would like to open your business to this possibility, you'll need to decide whether you (or even local codes) will allow outside caterers or provide the dining yourself. If you choose to cater events, you'll need the right catering equipment to make lasting memories as well as a name for your business.
To Allow or Not to Allow?
Pets: While you might be an avid animal lover, you are sure to have guests who aren't, and many may even be allergic. You should outline your pet policy explicitly if you intend to allow pets. Make sure to be clear on any breed or size restrictions. To minimize the impact allowing pets may have on other guests, you can restrict this allowance to only certain rooms. You'll also need to consider whether you want to be responsible for cleaning up after irresponsible pet owners in order to keep your grounds pristine.
Smoking: As with pets, many people are allergic or simply don't like to stay in a facility filled with cigarette smoke. Also, most local restrictions will require that your B&B be non-smoking for safety concerns. Again, you'll want to make sure you communicate your smoking policy before someone books a room. You'll also want to be clear about any cleaning fees associated with non-compliance that you may charge. You may consider setting aside an outdoor space specifically for guests who choose to smoke.
Children: Even though parents adore their children, everyone needs a break every now and then. If your marketing is geared more for adult getaways, you'll want to be sure to specify that on your website and in your literature.