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Operation Manual for Your Bed and Breakfast

May 18, 2008

by Kit Cassingham

An operations manual is like a repository for your brain complete with all you know about the inn's operations, rules and guidelines for employees and guests alike, and your boundaries. This is where you record how the technical aspects of the inn work and who to call if they quit working, job descriptions and employee policies, where things are stored and how things are done. Should you decide to not go to work one day, someone could pick up the manual and keep running the inn.

As a manager of several inns I was hampered by the lack of an Operations Manual. Creating the Job Descriptions and Checklists at my first B&B job was as the closest we came to an Operations Manual there. It's a good thing the owners had so many well-trained, loyal employees to help in case of emergency.

Each of the inns I managed should have had an Operations Manual so that all of us working at the B&B could have had a full grasp of how the inn operated and how best to handle situations that cropped up when the owners weren't around. An Operations Manual would have made learning the job easier, and details would have been more completely conveyed to new staff. The inn's longevity would have been more sure because everything that was needed to keep the inn running in the event of the owners' absence due to an emergency would have been recorded in the Operations Manual.

Write your Operations Manual starting now! I can't urge you and stress its importance enough. The process of writing this valuable document forces you to think ahead regarding how you want to operate. It forces you to prepare for time away from the inn. It prepares you for unforseen disasters. Everything you record in this document is in preparation of your guest and staff safety, your hospitality, your professionalism, the inn’s success, and your peace of mind.

Nobody wants "bad things" to happen at or to their inn. But life happens, even at B&Bs. The more prepared you are for "life", the less impact the inn, your guests, your employees and you will suffer. That's planning you can live with.

Some of the planning outlined in an Operations Manual isn't for an emergency, however. On a daily basis you will be confronted with decisions; the more thought you’ve put into how you will handle each situation the smoother it will flow. When I was a real estate agent my commercial broker loved to say, "This would be a great business if it weren't for the people." That was his way of reminding us that we are dealing with people who have different perspectives, needs, and interests than ours, and that if we "set our boundaries" we can deal with those differences more smoothly. B&B innkeeping is the same situation, only more so. It's more so because of the intimacy of your relationship with your guests. Creating rules is one way of setting boundaries.

I laugh about how seemingly brainless travelers can be (speaking as such a traveler myself). My standing joke has been that when people travel they check their brains at their "city limits" and go around brainless, doing things they'll be embarrassed to realize later. When they finish their travels and return home, their brains are returned to them. Everything you create for your B&B -- rules, policies, and even furnishings and house design -- needs to be prepared for that "brainless traveler".

I believe that rules are to protect the guest as much as you and the B&B. People tend to be more comfortable when they know the boundaries they can operate in. That's what the Operating Manual lets you create: boundaries to establish your relationship with the people at your inn -- guests, employees, vendors, and even your partner. I'm not talking about a long list of "don'ts" (I once saw a three-page list of single spaced "don'ts"; very inhospitable). I’'m talking about rules to help your inn run smoothly.

Set your business guidelines: when can guests check in, what hours will you answer the phone or be awake for guests, what forms of money will you take and when do you require payment, how will you handle damage done by guests, where are guests allowed to wander at the inn (Is the kitchen off limits? What about your quarters?), under what situation can guests use the pool or hot tub, etc.

Set your hospitality guidelines: how far can check-in/-out hours be stretched, can you accommodate early or late breakfasts, to what extent can you handle special dietary needs, how many guests do you allow in a guestroom, are pets or smoking allowed in the B&B or on the grounds, will you offer "concierge" services.

Your rules are easy for you to break on the spot, if warranted, but are very challenging to create on the spot and still be reasonable or gracious. Rules can be bent whenever you feel like bending them and left rigid when you want that too. But you first have to have the rules and guidelines before you can bend and break them, and before your boundaries can be known and respected.

I see a B&B operation as being like a play: you have a stage and a backstage, you have dressing rooms and intermissions, and you have rehearsals. I equate rules, or at least the creation of them, as the rehearsal. By rehearsing you allow for a smooth play; by thinking through and creating rules you allow for a smooth B&B operation. The Operations Manual is the script, complete with director's comments, lighting directions, and all the details that going into making a play -- or your bed and breakfast -- successful.

The Operations Manual should be a detailed document. That's why I urge you to start writing it now. You'll put your all into writing the first drafts and as you proceed with your B&B dream you'll think of more items to add and issues to cover. As life happens to you, you'll realize you need to address that for your B&B inn too. The document will grow and fill out with time. If you start too late you'll end up like I did, running an inn with incomplete policies, procedures, and guidelines.

An incomplete Operations Manual leaves you open for problems. Be proactive and fix that, starting now. Your Operations Manual should consist of:

  • Procedures Manual
  • Policies Manual
  • Employee Guidelines
  • Technical Operations
  • Emergency Handling

The Manuals Quick Guide gives suggestions for how to write these various elements plus sample Phone Scripts and Guest "Letter", both important elements of your Operations Manual.




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