What should you expect when staying for the first time at a Bed & Breakfast?We find that many people who have booked a room with us have never stayed at a bed and breakfast before. Most of them have stayed at chain hotels in large urban areas or smaller chain hotels in suburban settings. They're often pleasantly surprised, but surprised nonetheless because they didn't know what to expect.
With that in mind, we thought we'd explain what you can expect when coming to stay at a bed and breakfast, especially one that is located in a rural area. Staying at a bed & breakfast is a unique experience, one that many find enjoyable and preferable to other lodging arrangements.
The Facility ItselfA bed and breakfast is unique in that you are staying in a room at a residence that is either occupied by the owners (where they have their own private area which is not accessible to guests), or the owners live in a building close by. Unlike a hotel where you basically rent just the bedroom and may have use of a small lobby area, at a bed & breakfast you usually have use of one or more common areas. Unlike a hotel, motel, etc., you do not just walk in the front door of the residence. Just like arriving at a home, you will usually knock or use a doorbell to gain admittance. When bed & breakfasts are located in rural settings it is possible that they do not take "walk-ins" or reservations with less than 24-hour notice. Unlike their counterparts in suburban or urban settings, bed & breakfasts in rural areas are often many miles from the nearest supermarket making it unlikely that they will have sufficient food for any surprise, drop-in guests. For that reason it is best to make reservations in advance, and many B & B's require it.
Check-In ProceduresWhen you are making your reservation (either online or by phone), you will be asked to select a check-in appointment time. Unlike hotels, motels, etc., where you can check-in at any time of night or day (or within a certain time range), bed & breakfasts usually make a special appointment time for you to check in, and don't have paid staff in a common area to do that like bigger properties. This personalized service is so they can give you a tour or orientation upon arrival, helping you understand how to use certain things like coffee makers, TV remotes, to know what you may and may not use in the house, what areas are open to all guests, to show you the dining area, and alert you to breakfast time and procedures. This type of service is very personalized, unlike that which you receive at a hotel or motel.
Early check-in times are often not available. In addition to running the bed & breakfast, many hosts/owners have other full time jobs, and are only available to check guests in after they themselves get home from work (hence a check-in time that is after 4:00 p.m. or later). Another reason earlier check-in times aren't always available is because the owners themselves are the ones who are preparing your room. If they have just checked the previous evenings' guests out at 11:00 a.m., they often have to clean up breakfast dishes, do laundry, shopping, etc., all prior to your arrival and check-in time (this is sometimes difficult in rural areas because the hosts must drive several miles to get to the nearest store to get breakfast supplies).
Late check-in times are often not available either. If the owners/hosts do not live in the home and live in a building down the street, they may have left for the evening if you do not show up at your check-in appointment time. Or, if a guest is late checking in and hasn't advised the host of a late arrival, the owner/host may have left to grab dinner after they themselves have gotten home from work. Unlike hotels, there are not staff in the building to check you in, and the owners wait for you to arrive at the check-in time you agreed upon. Often you can arrange for a late arrival for an additional fee. Many hosts, however, do not feel comfortable leaving the key to their home out on a front porch or in an envelope in a mailbox, or letting others check in guests for them in their home.
The key to having a good check-in experience is to communicate with your host. Let them know well in advance if you are wanting a check-in time that is not within their normal time range, or call them ahead of time if you have unforeseen issues which are going to cause you to be late beyond your check-in appointment time. Hosts often worry when their guests do not show up at the agreed upon time, fearing something may have happened (car wreck, getting lost, etc.).
BreakfastWe once had someone ask what we served people for dinner at our place. Puzzled, I replied, "I'm sorry, what do you mean?" Again the person asked what types of meals we served for dinner. I finally replied as gently as possible, "well, we are a Bed & Breakfast. So, we provide people with a bed and with breakfast." There was a blank stare in reply for a few seconds before the "light went on"... Ha! So, when you stay at a bed & breakfast you will be given breakfast in the morning. Any food beyond that should be considered a bonus!
Breakfast is generally served at either one particular time, or within a very small time frame. This is because your host is the one making and serving your breakfast. Breakfast may range from a set item being served, a limited menu from which you can order, a continental breakfast served buffet style, or a stocked refrigerator for guests to prepare their own breakfast. This varies from B & B's, but is generally explained upfront on their website.
The key to a good breakfast experience is to let your host know ahead of time if you have any special dietary needs (food allergies or medical conditions such as Celiac disease). This especially holds true for bed & breakfasts in rural areas who may often have to drive long distances to get specialty foods to meet guests dietary needs.
Another good rule of thumb is to be at breakfast at the appointed time. If breakfast is served at 8:30 a.m. and you are not able to come out to breakfast until 9:45, you will more than likely end up with something that doesn't taste quite as good as it did an hour earlier when it was ready (although items can be warmed back up, they never really taste as good). If it is necessary for you to eat at a later time, this is something that should be agreed upon ahead of time with your host.
Breakfast seating arrangements vary greatly from B & B. Some have large dining tables where all guests sit together and eat, some have individual tables in solariums, others have a variety of seating options in kitchens. If you enjoy meeting new people and conversing with them, try sitting at a larger table. If you are wanting a quiet breakfast for two, see if that is an available option.
Check-Out ProceduresWhen your reservations are made, your host will provide you with the check-out time. When it's time for check-out you will be asked to leave your key (if you were given one) and settle up any room charges that may still be outstanding. Many B & B's use automated reservation systems that can automatically charge your remaining balance to your credit card and email you a receipt. Some work only with cash or checks. It's best to inquire in advance how the balance will be handled. Many B & B's have comment books in the individual rooms asking you to write a few comments about your stay that can be shared with future guests. Some B & B's may ask you to fill out a comment card or email them with suggestions. Many B & B's ask that you "like" them on their business Facebook page or rate them on TripAdvisor. If you had a great experience, please share it.
The best tip for checkout is to not leave later than the posted check-out time so that the hosts may prepare for the next guests. Also be sure to let your hosts know if there is anything else they could have done to make your stay more enjoyable or if there were any amenities they may want to provide future guests. Most hosts genuinely appreciate your input because their goal is to make each guest have a pleasant experience.
Someone once told me that they didn't like staying at a B & B because they felt there were too many policies. There are policies anywhere you choose to stay -- whether it be a hotel, motel, lodge, inn, campground, or a B & B. Most policies are in place to enhance the experience of all guests -- not just to cater to the wants of a specific guest.
For that reason you will find some B & B's have policies like these:
- No Smoking in rooms or building (but have a special designated area outdoors for smokers).
- No Children (some do allow children, but it is best to inquire). A lot of couples go to B & B's to have a "child free" weekend away, leaving their own children with sitters. Don't be discouraged if you want to bring your children, it may just mean you have to do a bit of searching to find a B & B that takes children.
- No Pets (some do allow pets, but it is best to inquire). Because many travelers have allergies (as do the hosts themselves), many B & B's do not allow pets but recommend registered kennels to their guests. Don't be discouraged if you want to bring your pets, you may just have to do more research to find a B & B that will accommodate pets.
- Quiet Time. This is a specific hour after which they ask all guests be quiet either in their rooms or the common areas. This is so that guests who have come to relax in peace and quiet are able to do so.
- No lit candles in rooms. Many B & B's have insurance policies that prohibit such things in their residence by people renting the rooms.
Overall, staying at a Bed & Breakfast is a truly enjoyable experience -- different than a typical stay at a hotel, motel, or lodge. Many states have Bed & Breakfast associations that inspect and approve individual B & B's, ensuring that travelers/guests will be staying at a reputable establishment. Many of these state associations can be found easily online, guiding guests to B & B's in selected areas. B & B owners are typically individuals who have (or have retired from) fulfilling careers and enjoy hosting guests. Why not try out staying at a B & B the next time you are traveling? We're sure you'll be glad you tried it!