what IS a bed and breakfast?
The Quintessential B&B Experience
I recently received a poor review on one of the internet travel review sites. The writer said “This property does not provide the quintessential B&B experience.” So then I spent some time reading bad reviews of other quality bed and breakfasts, and together all these comments have prompted me to try and define just exactly what the quintessential bed and breakfast is. It doesn’t exist, but read on…
The quintessential bed and breakfast experience is in the imagination of people who have a notion in their head based on tv shows, hear say, rumor and misinformation. Here is a link to a list of 10 bed and breakfast myths.
My First Notion of B&B
When I was a small child, my brother attended a church camp in the Catskill Mountains in NY State. The camp lasted all summer long and we made three trips up there from Central Jersey every summer for six or so years. We stayed in an old farmhouse near Delhi, NY where an older couple were running a b&b type operation – only they didn’t call it b&b back then. There were individual rooms, some had their own toilets, some didn’t, and there was a big bathroom with toilet, bath and shower at the end of the hall. Every morning there was a full farm breakfast in the dining room at a big long table, served up family style. Please pass the biscuits.
My first official “B and B experience” came when I was about 13 and my parents and I were in Wales with some British cousins from the West Midlands. As we toured the countryside I saw BB or B&B hand painted signs frequently along the roads so I asked my cousins, “What does B and B mean?” “Bed and breakfast”, I was told, and later my parents chose one for the night. Once again…we all had our own rooms, but the bathroom and toilet were at the end of the hall and there was a quiet neighborhood pub on the first floor.
These are experiences I will never forget, and they also became the picture in my mind when the term “bed and breakfast” came along here in America many years later. The likes of both these properties are very typically seen in Europe even today, but Americans are different, and U.S. bed and breakfasts have evolved to meet the needs and wants of American travelers. Most small B&B inns in the US and Canada are very different than their European counterparts. While the old world style inns can still be found in North America and in Europe, most inns do not have shared bathrooms these day, so there goes the first big myth of B&B – you don’t HAVE to share a bath with other people. I can’t tell you all how many times I have been asked about this by potential guests. 95% of baths in America’s b&bs are private baths, according to PAII, the Professional Association of Innkeepers International’s industry study. That’s most of them, folks.
Bed & Breakfast in Modern America – a Variety of Experiences
Another myth about bed and breakfasts are that they are all Victorian style, with lace and antiques. This is a good representation of some properties, but in our state alone there are southwest style adobes inns, historic hacienda’s, working ranches, inns with Mexican gardens, tile and fountains, a b&b in a rock cave (yep – a real cave), Craftsman style homes, and yes – Victorian Mansions. In other states I know of b&bs that are all yurts, and another that is all train car cabooses. There is something for everyone. Do your homework and be sure you know where you are going and what to expect when you get there. Call and ask questions…and you will get a real person on site to give you answers.
The b&b experience should always include personal, friendly service and local expertise. You should do your research to find the best possible experience to fit your personal needs and expectations. There are properties to cater to every kind of person, family or group out there and they’re just waiting to make your trip fun, special and unique. There are high end inns, inns with restaurants and pubs, inns with day spas, and simple inns that offer no more than a clean room, comfortable bed and simple breakfast. They are all out there, to fit every niche.
Every bed and breakfast inn is a unique property, and this is one of the most important differences between B&Bs and corporate box hotels that are the same no matter what city you’re in. B&Bs come in different styles, the routine is different, the owners and managers are different, breakfasts are different, decor is different and the user experience is different at each and every inn. While I suppose there are travelers that like the same old thing every time they travel – even embrace it – the people who frequent B&Bs tend embrace the uniqueness of the inns they choose to stay at.
The Properties - You will find all kinds of inns in all sorts of settings from urban inns in a downtown setting to cabins in the woods. A bed and breakfast is most often someone’s home, but not always. There may be one or two rooms, or ten, or twenty! You may be in a cabin or guesthouse on the owner’s property, or you may be right in a family home. The different possibilities and combinations of guest rooms are endless. Some b&bs are converted from a property that had a different use at one time, like a school or a library. Some have historical designation and some are very new and modern. You see where this can go.
Breakfast - If you want to be a bed and breakfast you have to serve breakfast, right? Yes – but breakfast may be served a number of ways, from continental self serve to full gourmet with several courses, and anything in between. Most inns do a sit down hot breakfasts, but you can learn about an inn’s typical breakfasts before you choose the inn. Once again, do your homework for the best possible stay on your travels.
Amenities - This is another very varied aspect of bed and breakfast inns. Most modern b&b inns have wireless internet, tvs and dvds, breakfast options for special diets and early business schedules, free on site parking or an alternative, and many other modern amenities that today’s travelers look for. Some inns may offer peace, quiet and solitude – an amenity that many travelers cherish, while others guests would like a huge HD tv with HBO and a dvd library in their room along with a fireplace, refrigerator, coffee maker and iphone docking stations. All that and more may be found at a b&b, and more. Generally speaking, you will find far more amenities at bed and breakfast that at your typical hotel or motel.
Staff - Some b&bs have ‘em, some don’t. Here at our in we do all the work ourselves from answering phones to making beds and everything in between. Sometimes we get help with cleaning, but not always. Again, all inns are different, but one thing you can almost always be sure of is that most inns do not have a 24 hour front desk, so think twice about calling to make a reservation during breakfast time or too late in the evening. We really hate to get the call at midnight from someone needing a room right now! “Hey! Chu gotta room?” We usually won’t have one, even if we do.
Children – While some b&b inns discourage small children, and some have age limits in order to preserve a more adult atmosphere for their guests, some inns embrace families and will even have family activities.
Pets - I’d venture to say there are more pet friendly inns out there than there are pet friendly hotels and motels.
Do Your Research for the Better way to Stay
The guests that had an unpleasant experience at our inn had a preconceived notion of what they thought it should be before they even walked in the door. They may have been looking for the Bob Newhart experience of a country inn, not in a city, not in an urban neighborhood, in a more pastoral setting, with antiques and lace and a formal breakfast in a grand dinning room. While these kinds of properties exist, are loved and sought out by many, that’s not what all bed and breakfast inns are, not by a long shot. And it is definitely not what our b&b is about. The savvy traveler will know a lot about us before they ever pull into the driveway without too much effort in this day and age. I love modern technology!
Now that we all have the internet we get to start exploring before we go on a trip, there is really no reason to not know what to expect at any given property. I suppose that there are some inns out there that misrepresent themselves on their website, but that can almost always be researched as well with all the review forums out there now. Any small inn or big hotel will be ratted out if they do not represent themselves accurately online. That brings me to another important point – the reviews.
When a property has a few bad reviews they should be read thoroughly to discern where the author is coming from. Check the author’s other reviews to see if they are chronically unhappy people, never satisfied with a meal or an overnight stay. Reviews, good and bad, and the management responses, are both good indicators as to what kind of people like a property and what kind do not, and if the managers are gracious and hospitable or not liking their job.
When doing the research on choosing a B&B you might also look for inns that have professional affiliations, like local, state and regional B&B associations. These inns are run by professionals, are more likely to have strict standards and frequent inspections by their peers as well as health, safety and fire officials. This isn’t a must for a good experience, but it will certainly help weed out the fly-by-night haunts.
The online travel website, TripAdvisor.com, did a poll of their users and when asked the reason that a person had not tried a B&B stay, the number one reason by far was…”I never thought of it.” Don’t let that be your excuse. If you try a stay at a B&B there is a high probability that you will never go back to hotel/motel lodging again. Give bed and breakfast inns a try. You will soon realize that they ARE a better way to stay.