Staying at a B&B? Insider tips from an innkeeper

The DIning Room at Chez Sven in Wellfleet, Massachusetts
The dIning room at Chez Sven in Wellfleet, Massachusetts

Staying at a B&B (bed-and-breakfast) isn’t the same as staying at a large, anonymous hotel. The owners of a B&B have graciously opened their home to you as a guest, and you are likely to have a far more personal experience. While most travelers are familiar with the “rules” when they check in at hotels and resorts, they may not know what to expect—or what is expected of them— when they are staying at a B&B for the first time.

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. Here are her tips for making the most of your stay.

1.  Follow instructions on reservations. Most B&Bs have web sites that explain whether to call or use a contact form. These sites also list policies. If arrival time cut-off is 8PM, don’t breeze in after 9PM. Should you run into traffic, use your cell phone to alert the innkeeper, as you would a friend.

2. If you must call to reserve rather than use an online form, do not 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.

3.  Innkeepers do not work a 9 to 5 job, but this does not mean they want to be bothered by phone at any time of the day or night. Use discretion in choosing when to call.

4.   Knock on the door of a B&B. Do not simply open it and walk in. The 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.

5.  Respect the fact that a B&B owner is sharing personal space. Ask if it is all right to sit in their living room, for instance, or to use garden furniture.

6.  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.

7.  If you are lactose-intolerant or eat gluten-free, be sure to communicate these needs early on in order to facilitate the stocking of appropriate provisions.

8.  Compliment the innkeeper on his/her cooking, especially if it is really good.

9.   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 complementary glass of wine, a gift at departure.

10. Do not expect an innkeeper to be dumb. Many people go into this profession after retirement. It is not unusual for an innkeeper to be able to discuss subjects guests may know nothing about.

11. Ask questions about the place you are staying. No one knows the locality better than a member of the tourism industry. The innkeeper will be happy to share his/her knowledge and may provide tips not found in guidebooks.

12. When you recommend a B&B to friends, make sure the innkeeper knows about the recommendation. He/she will be more willing to offer a discount on a future stay.

Innkeeper Alexandra Grabbe is the author of Wellfleet: An Insider’s Guide to Cape Cod’s Trendiest Town. See my review of the book on MoreTimeToTravel. For the past seven years, she has also blogged about living green on the Outer Cape.

[This article was published in The Huffington Post on July 17, 2012.]

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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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