Bed and Breakfast Inns: Operating Tips from the Pros
Bed and breakfast inns are a business opportunity that many of us fantasize about. Maybe it’s the romance of historical properties, the control that comes from running your own business, or the lure of being able to afford to live in an otherwise out-of-financial-reach location. Whatever your interest in considering bed and breakfast inns as a viable business opportunity, there is much to consider before taking the plunge. (See also: 7 Steps to Market Your Extra Space as a Vacation Rental)
I’ve gathered tips from professionals and establishments on all points of the hospitality spectrum detailing just how you can successfully implement your inn-owning dream. From luxury resorts and historical mansions to the traditional mom-and-pop establishments, they all had lots to say about affordable ways to make it. And it’s all information that the owners of bed and breakfasts can put to use on a budget.
Work the History Angle
The folks at The Back Bay Hotel in Boston have really taken this concept all the way. Housed in the historic former Boston Police Department headquarters, with an in-house bar called “Cuffs” serving drinks named after police call signs like the 1069, these guys are all about leveraging the history of a property into an experience guests can get excited about. They even have old photos used as (very affordable) decorative elements throughout the building so people can know that they are standing in the former booking room or a holding cell.
There are many towns that could use a few extra bed and breakfast inns to accommodate the crowds that come with special events such as fairs, concerts, and sporting events. And their real estate prices are well within the startup budgets of most people ready to make this move. So search out an old fire station, post office, or small historic hospital to start your own bed and breakfast without the stress of refinishing all that gingerbread trim on the standard Victorian. Here are some loft decorating ideas to help you out.
Prepare Easy Appetizers
Joseph Natoli, executive chef at Catch, the new seafood restaurant at Miami’s Marriott on Biscayne Bay, uses toaster ovens to keep the hot appetizers flowing in the restaurant’s bar area. I love this idea for bed and breakfast inns because it’s a way to start offering some evening perks without worrying about establishing a full dining experience or paying for an expensive kitchen upgrade before you’re ready. Chef Joseph even shared one of his more popular recipes for readers to try at home. Here’s how he whips up the chorizo flat bread, a popular item with his patrons.
You’ll need the following for each batch of the flat bread appetizer:
- 1 piece of Indian naan bread from the grocery store
- 3 oz. of sliced chorizo
- 1 oz. of thinly sliced red pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 oz. of Manchego cheese ribbons
- 1 roasted garlic clove
- 2 oz. of baby arugula
- The juice of half a lemon
- Salt and pepper
Moisten the naan bread with just a misting of water, brush on ¾ of the olive oil, and add a light spread of the roasted garlic. Layer on ¾ of the Manchego, then top by evenly spreading the sliced chorizo. Place the naan in the toaster oven at 325°F until it begins to brown and the cheese begins to bubble. Remove from oven and cut in six pieces. In a bowl combine the arugula, red pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice; toss; and top the cut flat bread with the mixture. Sprinkle the remaining Manchego cheese over top, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Personalize the Experience
Captain Andy Hill, owner and lodge operator of several private islands in the state of Georgia, brings a guest services element to his lodge guests that’s easily applied to bed and breakfasts. The only thing it costs him, says Hill, is a bit of extra time to listen to the guests when they call to arrange their trip. From there, he knows whether to arrange a wine and gourmet grocery drop off, if they want to take an eco tour with a local outfitter, and even what their seafood selection might be for grilling in the gourmet outdoor kitchen available at his lodge on Eagle Island. While you might not be able to launch into the bed and breakfast game with your own set of private islands, you can certainly make sure your guests have everything they need to be entertained when they arrive at your establishment. And if you coordinate with outside local service providers, your staff cost is zero.
Consider Organic and Hydroponic Farming
Fans of the ABC television show The Bachelor may already be aware of the organic farming methods the CuisinArt Resort uses in order to have fresh, healthy food available for guests. But you don’t need to fund a five-star resort to put this tip to use in your own bed and breakfast business. In fact, according to Dr. Howard Resh of the resort’s farming program, many of the items used (such as Epsom salts and soap) are quite affordable. He grows a variety of herbs, edible flowers, and other plants to supply CuisinArt’s executive chef Daniel Le Guenan with the necessary ingredients to create a number of culinary goodies. Putting this practice into play at your own hospitality establishment adds an element of sophistication that’s very affordable to pull off, depending on what you serve. Think herbal teas and afternoon salads for organic elegance on a budget.
Provide Great Guest Bedrooms
Some of the greatest guest bedrooms in the industry are at the historical Duke Mansion in Charlotte, North Carolina. It’s an elaborate antique home turned hospitality property, and it's on the national register of historic places. Jane Schwab and Patrick Lewis of Circa Interiors and Antiques, who designed the Duke Mansion’s guest rooms, suggest the following tips.
First, use a soothing and relaxing wall color. The Duke Mansion guest rooms are painted in "Fossil" by Martha Stewart. It’s a light blue/green shade that blends well with a variety of eclectic furnishings and provides more interest than a neutral shade of paint would. Bonus? It’s available at Home Depot, so score one for the budget crowd. The second tip from Circa Interiors and Antiques that caught my attention was to use benches at the foot of the bed. This gives the guests an extra spot to place their bags and brings a touch of charm. Consider adding welcome trays with water, snacks, and other treats, along with a comfy reading chair and a floor lamp.
Make Your B&B Fit Your Lifestyle
Chris and Harold Cullison, owners of the Sandpiper Inn on Longboat Key, Florida, and another inn on the Jersey Shore, have made inn-keeping part of their overall lifestyle plan. Living on the beach is something the couple deemed a priority years ago, even while owning another inn in Vermont. But shouldering the property taxes where they wanted to live as homeowners alone would have put the dream out of reach. So they decided to keep rolling with the inn-keeping plan and use the income stream to support their choice of winter and summer locations.
You need to be a hands-on person, say the Cullisons, especially when starting out or operating a smaller hospitality property on your own. Their advice? “If you’ve spent your entire previous career in marketing and strategy with no operations experience, then you’re in for a rude awakening.” The couple also advises those new to the business that cash flow is king. So keep your emotions in check when it comes to those elaborate, historically accurate remodels and proceed only as you are financially able to do so.
Bottom line? Even higher-end hotel and resort owners have to pay attention to cost control. And many of the tips they implement on a regular basis can benefit you as well. So if bed and breakfast inns have always tempted you as a business and lifestyle choice, it might not cost as much as you think to give it a whirl.