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Food and Your Bed and Breakfast

July 27, 2008

by Kit Cassingham

Bed and breakfast inns offer breakfast as part of the guest experience. But other food, like snacks and dinner are common too. When guests are eating your food with gusto and asking for your breakfast recipes, you know you are doing things right. Hopefully you promote healthy eating with any of the food you offer, and are eating healthy food choices yourself.

I really believe in the KISS principle -- Keep It Simply Simple. Not necessarily the food itself, but the presentation and choices. Simple doesn't mean plain or inadequate. Elegance can be synonymous with simplicity. You should make the decisions about breakfast and not ask your guests, who want to relax, and not to make any more decisions than necessary. Don't bombard them with choices.

The type of breakfast depends on you: how many employees you want to hire; how much do you want to cook (as opposed to interact with guests), and how much time and effort do you want to put into the meal. A good continental breakfast may be the perfect touch for your inn.

By "good", I mean a fresh bread (muffin, danish, croissant, biscuit), great jams, butter, fresh juice, and quality tea and coffee. If that seems too meager, you could add cereal/granola, fruit, cheese or cold meats, or yogurt. Maybe a full breakfast is what you see as necessary to send your hungry guests out to meet the day. I can smell the bacon, eggs and fresh breads cooking, see the maple syrup, jams, butter, milk and juice on the table, and I can hear the coffee maker steaming its last drops of water. A continental breakfast requires the least amount of preparation and service, consequently less staff for assistance and more time for you to mingle.

The more you add to the menu the more you add to your preparation time, and your need for staffing assistance increases. You may also be adding to the guests' experience and satisfying their expectations more fully. Your market niche definition helps you answer the question of what is for breakfast.

What are you going to feed your guests when they get hungry? Obviously you will feed them breakfast in the morning since you are planning on a bed and breakfast. Other foods you offer them is another question. What about when they first arrive and they are hungry and tired from traveling? The most gracious gesture you can make, which also sets the tone of their visit, is to offer some refreshment. Doesn't a tall glass of iced tea or lemonade sound refreshing on a hot summer day? What about a mug of cocoa, a cup of coffee, or a spot of tea on a cold, gray day? Add some cookies or fruit to the serving tray and you have a friend for life!

When they come back from shopping, working, or playing, what will you feed them? When they are hungry "just because", what will you offer? Are you going to plan for midnight snacks? Dinner? Picnic lunches? Tea or wine and cheese? Hungry guests are unhappy guests. You are in business to make happy guests, so keep them "un-hungry".

Snacks are a cozy way of filling time and space. When a guest is wandering around not quite knowing what do or where to go, they may stick their hand in the cookie jar or fruit bowl to fill their time while they decide. When two guests are getting to know each other, snacking on inn food can help fill the space while their friendship develops. Another snack option is a sweet (a chocolate or cookie) before bed that could be part of your turn down service.

You can't (yet) buy the atmosphere and memories that cooking aromas make. I love walking into inns when they are filled with the smell of baking bread or cookies, or the pungency of fresh coffee or mulling cider. Fond memories can be made, and evoked, by smells. Add to your ambience (and to your guests memories) by keeping tantalizing aromas in the air.

Dinner, even if you aren't running a restaurant, is a nice offering for weary guests who have come in late, have been traveling all day and can't bear to go back out -- even for food, or who are tired of eating in public alone. You can have simple, easy to prepare dinners available to offer these guests. Fresh pasta is quick and inexpensive; a stew is filling and delicious, even soup and salad can hit the spot perfectly. Consider offering dessert and wine (learn the laws about this for your area first) if you want to fill out the menu. It doesn't take much to make your guests happy. Even a simple offering is time consuming and yet one more gesture you are making to your guests so don't enter into this food aspect lightly. If this idea interests you figure out staffing issues, serving logistics, and pricing. Health codes in your area will impact how you approach dinner for your guests, if you can do it at all, so research this topic carefully.

House specialties -- whether for breakfast, snacks, or dinner -- are part of your signature and identity. Never underestimate the power of such signature items! "Toll House" chocolate chip cookies, for instance, were invented by the Toll House Inn in Whitehall, Massachusetts. If you offer your guests a well rounded experience they will spread the word about how great your inn is and how wonderful you are. House specialties could be your loganberry jam, your shortbread cookies, your scones with lemon curd, your barbecue sauce, or that great split pea and potato soup. See how easy it is?

And if you create a signature recipe be sure to market with it to attract guests. Have you considered providing, or selling, that recipe to your guests? What a name making opportunity that is!

What will you do about your guests having guests, say for breakfast? What can you legally do? What policies will you develop for this eventuality; how much notice do you need, how will you price that extra meal, will there be seating issues? This is a great PR opportunity for you so handle it carefully. I heard about an innkeeper who denied the daughter of a guest breakfast, even after telling the daughter she'd be welcome -- the daughter has nothing nice to say about that B&B now. Do I need to urge you to not make that same mistake?

One last comment about B&B food: make it healthy, especially if you are going to be eating the food too. I've seen more innkeepers decide their inn is where their guests are going off their diets and offer rich foods in abundance. And interestingly, the innkeepers blossom in size; that can't be healthy for anyone.

Food is a key element of a bed and breakfast experience -- especially breakfast. Design your breakfast, snacks, and other food offerings to complement your inn style both in approach and ease/difficulty. If you have lots of staff to help with food preparation and serving, going extravagant is a reasonable approach. If you work alone most of the time, simple foods and preparations are more reasonable.

Have fun. Be healthy.




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