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Managing the Daily Operations of Your Bed and Breakfast

February 10, 2008

by Kit Cassingham

Whether you think of managing your B&B as an event, property, business or asset management, it's a full time job. Learning how to open and operate a bed and breakfast is made easier with education and conference attendance. Daily operations is an important aspect of the guest experience, so do it well.

Learning how to manage the daily operations of your B&B is an ongoing challenge. But it starts with some basics that I'll share with you today. You can get the full presentation in my Daily Operations ebook.

Running a bed and breakfast can be like directing an 8-ring circus. The innkeeper keeps the show moving, a constant and simultaneous set of activities, making your business a huge success. The better you do your job as an innkeeper the easier your job looks to your guests. I feel it's the "back-stage" elements of planning, inn policies, organization, and training that create the look of effortless-ness. Those same elements do make the job easier for you and your assistants.

However, no amount of preparation makes this job effortless. You can't begin to fathom how the simultaneous demands on your time and energy can drain you, as well as invigorate you. No matter how I stress this aspect of innkeeping, people can't comprehend my message until they are in the middle of "the circus". I have had clients call me several months after beginning their innkeeping careers, either as owners or managers, to comment on their realization of the workload that I had tried to describe and explain to them. It's not any one activity that makes this difficult, it is the entire set of activities happening all at once that makes this career challenging.

Part of the trick of managing your bed and breakfast is assigning different circus rings to assistants. Don't relinquish is your obligation to oversee their work though. You will be busy and involved at all times. Can you handle the "attention tugs" that will come from different directions at the same time and still love your work? Can you be an effective innkeeper under those circumstances?

Innkeeping is a wonderfully gratifying lifestyle for most people. Is it for you? Will you thrive or shrivel in this environment, will you be invigorated or driven crazy? Let's look at the circus rings and discuss what is involved.

The different circus rings include Innkeeper, Maintenance, Cleaning, Breakfast, Training, Check-in and -out, Bookkeeping, Reservations, and Marketing. Each department or activity is like a circus ring, but I also think of each as a juggled ball. The order I'm discussing the rings, or balls, indicates the order in which I feel you can give away that task. To help you understand my theory better think about each department, circus ring, or juggled ball as having a different price/hour value. Your mission is to give away the lower priced balls so you can focus on the higher valued balls.

The Innkeeper supervises all that happens in each department. Stay ever vigilant to your brand so the guest experience is everything you want it to be.

Maintenance should be an ongoing and regular activity. It's one way to protect your investment. I've seen too many innkeepers who deferred their maintenance because of lack of time or money, only to find they were so far behind the task was monumental. For example, not keeping the wood trim on your windows painted can cause the wood to rot so when you do get to the window project you have to repair the wood before you can paint. Pay attention to your locks, paint, carpet and flooring, HVAC, the grounds, and the roof -— for starters.

Cleaning is another ongoing, regular activity —- daily, in fact. Even if you don't have guests on a given night, it's prudent to still dust the common areas and double check the guest rooms. The common areas are what people see first upon entering your B&B, and their first impression should be a good one. A clean house creates that first good impression. If a surface is dusty, the guest has to wonder if other things, like the toilet or shower, are clean. After having been the housekeeper for a period of time you will be prepared to train your employees to do the job the way you want it done.

Breakfast is a great time for you to interact with your guests. It's one of the three important times to spend time with them. That doesn't mean you need to be cooking or doing the primary serving. Serve coffee as you chat with your guests. Again, doing this job yourself better helps you train your staff and understand what goes into the job.

Training requires a constant effort because the details are so important. Up to now, you've performed the various tasks at your inn, you've trained others to take over some of the tasks, and now it's time for you to give the job of training to someone else. Training is a more time-consuming job than the jobs discussed above because it's critical to the quality of your inn and the guest experience. By having someone you trust as a trainer you focus more of your attention on the jobs you can do best.

Checking guests in and out is an important job that's can be overlooked. These are the other important times to interact with your guests. That interaction doesn't have to be done by you, the owner/innkeeper, but it does need to be done by a person who cares about the inn and the guest's experience. One reason these tasks are important is because of the opportunity to set the tone for this or the next stay and to find out what they need now or next time they visit.

Bookkeeping is an incredibly important job because you are tracking the money through the business. By doing the books yourself for several years you develop a knowing about the numbers so when things aren't right you have a better idea of what the problem is. The problem could be a data entry error, a departmental problem, or a theft. To this point theft from B&Bs is a minimal problem, but it could happen, More often than not it's a math or data entry problem and one you can "fix" with your strong background in your inn's bookkeeping.

Taking reservations is one of the most important jobs in the inn because it's the task that shows your guests more about your inn than your marketing ever can or will. This is a guest's first interaction with you and the way you handle it will show them how they will be treated when they arrive. The person who takes reservations needs to be knowledgeable about the inn, policies, and even the activities of your community. That kind of knowledge helps you guide a guest's experience both at your inn but also in the area. Taking a reservation can take about five minutes, time you can better spend elsewhere once you have both the background and the employees to fill in for you. It's a very important task and can make or break your business. Don't give it away lightly, quickly, or easily. Train your replacement carefully and watch them closely so that reservations are done "right".

Marketing, the task of getting the word out about your inn, is the one circus ring you never give away. Nobody can market your inn the way you can. The main reason you've been slowly giving the other balls away is so you have time and energy to focus on marketing. Marketing is the more than your web site, brochures, advertising, and promotions, it's also your guest interactions and customer service -- your hospitality. The way you treat your guests may be the most important marketing you do. If you treat them well they will return and tell their friends, family, and associates about you. If you treat them badly, or in a way that disappoints them, they will also tell everyone -- just more often. If you are too busy working the inn you don't have the energy or focus for your guests. Don't forget part of "marketing to your guests" is making sure your employees are doing their jobs right; your management of them is part of marketing to your guests.

The focus of this discussion has been to underline the importance of you working the inn, not having it work you. You should manage it, not the other way around. Your challenge is to work on the business, not in the business.

Managing the bed and breakfast's daily operations is an involved, multi-dimensional job. You can't do it all, unless you have only a couple of rooms, so learn how to manage the people who will help you maintain a fantastic operation at your B&B. You'll enjoy the business more, and probably make more money too.




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