Bed and Breakfast Etiquette: 17 Tips From An Innkeeper

Scranton Seahorse Inn in Madison Connecticut

Staying at a Bed and Breakfast (B&B ) isn’t the same as staying at a large, anonymous hotel. 

Most travelers have a sense of the “rules” when they check in at hotels and resorts but bed and breakfast etiquette isn’t as clear or straightforward.

Guests often don’t know what to expect—or what is expected of them— especially if they are infrequent B&B users.

The owners of a B&B have graciously opened their home to you as a guest and if you understand bed and breakfast etiquette, you are likely to have a far more personal, individualized, and enjoyable experience.

As much as we love five-star luxury hotels, we also enjoy the feel of immersing ourselves in local culture at bed and breakfasts. Instead of cookie-cutter rooms, we often find antiques, vintage furniture, and charming decor that reflects the innkeeper’s sense of style and the history of the inn. They also offer the opportunity to meet fellow travelers with similar sensibilities over breakfast.

I was delighted to interview my friend and colleague Alexandra Grabbe, the innkeeper at Chez Sven in Wellfleet, Massachusetts to find out her insider’s perspective on B&B etiquette.

Based on our conversation and my own experiences, here are some Bed and Breakfast Etiquette Tips for making the most of your stay.

Seagull Cottage at Chez Sven in Wellfleet, Massachusetts
Seagull Cottage at Chez Sven in Wellfleet, Massachusetts (credit: Facebook)

Bed and Breakfast Etiquette Tips

  • If you book directly, most B&B websites list policies that explain whether to call or use a contact form to reserve a room.  
  • If you are calling to reserve a room rather than using an online form, it’s best not to bother a B&B owner during breakfast hours. Any innkeeper will tell you there’s nothing worse than having the phone ring while scrambled eggs are on the skillet.
Breakfast at the Scranton Seahorse Inn, a B&B in Madison, Connecticut
Breakfast at the Scranton Seahorse Inn, a B&B in Madison, Connecticut
  • Innkeepers typically do not work a 9 to 5 job but you still need to exercise good judgment about calling the innkeeper very early or very late (unless it’s urgent).
  • Be mindful of your arrival time. If there is an 8 PM arrival cut-off, don’t breeze in after that. Should you run into traffic or if your flight is delayed, use your phone or text to alert the innkeeper, as you would a friend.
  • Knock on the door of a B&B. Do not simply open it and walk in. This recommendation may seem obvious, but many travelers make this mistake and their relationship with an innkeeper will be off to a less-than-perfect start. A B&B is often a private residence.
  • Respect the fact that a B&B owner is sharing personal space. If you are unsure, ask if it is all right to sit in their living room, for instance, or to use garden furniture.
An inviting garden at a B&B; ask first!
An inviting garden at a B&B; ask first!
  • Compliment the innkeeper if you like what you see, which you probably will, having chosen the B&B based on an online description and photos.
  • On the other hand, if something is wrong or not to your liking; let your host know. They would prefer to remedy it rather than have you leave a negative review on social media.
  • Breakfasts at B&Bs can range from buffet to made-to-order. Some serve breakfast between set hours and others will ask what time you want to eat.
  • Let your host know if you are lactose-intolerant, eat gluten-free, or have other food allergies or sensitivities, be sure to communicate these needs in advance so the innkeeper can stock and serve appropriate foods.
  • If you are disabled or have other special needs, let your host know in advance, too.  While most bed and breakfasts have stairs, some have first-floor accommodations to accommodate people with mobility problems.  
  • Never bring a pet to a bed and breakfast without asking. 
  • Do not treat the B&B owner like a servant. Innkeepers provide a service, true. But the discerning guest, who treats an innkeeper with respect, will be the one to receive the extras: the option of having coffee before breakfast is served, the most luxurious down pillows, the complimentary glass of wine, a gift at departure.
  • Do not expect an innkeeper to be unsophisticated or uneducated. Many interesting and accomplished people go into this profession after retirement. Most enjoy meeting new people.
  • Ask questions about the place you are staying. No one knows the locality better than a member of the tourism industry who lives there. The innkeeper will be happy to share his/her knowledge and may provide tips that can’t be found in guidebooks. They can also help you get reservations at local restaurants.
  • If you are planning to return late in the evening, make sure you let the innkeeper know and have access to the inn. Many times, the same key to your room can be used at the front door.
  • When checking out, simply leave your key in your room. If the innkeeper is around, thank them for your stay.
  • After an enjoyable visit, recommend the B&B to friends and let the innkeeper know about the recommendation. He/she will be more willing to offer you a discount on future stays.

Innkeeper Alexandra Grabbe is the author of Wellfleet: An Insider’s Guide to Cape Cod’s Trendiest Town

 Etiquette: Do You Tip At a Bed and Breakfast?

Bed and Breakfast Etiquette - Determine the amount of your gratuity based the service you receive and your length of stay
Determine the amount of your gratuity based on the service you receive and your length of stay (Image FX)

When a bed and breakfast is operated by the owners, tipping is generally not expected. But it is always nice to express your appreciation for an enjoyable stay with a tip.

And, of course, never forget to say thank you by leaving a note of appreciation.

All photo credits: Jerome Levine, unless otherwise noted.

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  1. These tips are so good to know. Staying at a B&B is so much more intimate than staying in a hotel, and to that end, I’d imagine that means you have to act differently as a guest than you would if you were more “anonymous” in a larger setting.

  2. These are excellent tips. I *know that B&B owners open their home because they want to have guests, but I’m always hesitant to go that route. I don’t like feeling like I’m getting in someone else’s space. These suggestions go a long way toward alleviating those worries.

  3. Wonderful tips – I especially don’t think I’d realized that about not just walking in, and yet, of course, it makes perfect sense. But what if you are out and the innkeeper is still out when you come home? Is it OK to walk in then?
    I”m staying at a Japanese version of a B&B this weekend,family friends of ours. These are very similar to the guidelines we follow whenever we go there.

  4. I think #11 is so important and it’s why I love to stay in B&Bs because you have a real expert who actually cares and who wants you to love the local community.

  5. I’d not thought of letting the innkeepers know I’ve recommended them to other travelers. whether it results in a discount or not, Ms. Grabbe’s advice reminded me it’s a gracious thing to do. thank you!

  6. Bed and breakfasts are my favorite type of lodging. Staying at one, gives greater insight into a community, especially if the owner is present rather than a manager. Chatting with a b&b owner over a cup of coffee is one of my greatest travel pleasures. Alexandra has offered some valuable advice here.

  7. These are great tips. Thanks for the list. I know innkeeping is hard, so anything we can do to help innkeepers when we book there is nice to know.

  8. Great tips. I know many people who think it’s OK to simply walk in, rather than knocking first. And #11 is the reason I choose to stay at a B & B. You can’t get better advice on hidden treasures than by asking the innkkeeper.

  9. Although I’ve stayed in many hotels over the years, most I can’t recall in any great detail. But not the B&Bs. Staying at a B&B is just a completely different experience. And you’re right that B&B owners have insights into an area–what to do and see–that you’re not likely to get anywhere else

  10. We opt for B&Bs whenever possible. You can get a real feel for a place before booking by reading other travelers’ reviews on websites like TripAdvisor. Most B&Bs spell out their house rules on their website, so you can preview them and not choose a place that doesn’t seem like it will work for you. You can usually contact the owner by email if you have questions or need to make a specific request. After a B&B breakfast you have usually consumed enough carbs and protein to make it until an early dinner, perhaps with a stop for tea and scones or some other local snack. I wouldn’t recommend a B&B for party animals who plan on closing down the bars. Many B&Bs have creaky floors and not much soundproofing. Lastly,we have met lovely, interesting people at B&Bs, both owners and other guests.

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