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Task To-Do Lists

April 6, 2008

by Kit Cassingham

The use of checklists to help manage your bed and breakfast's daily operations paves the way for consistency in how things are done and look. And they free your mind for artistic expression and offering hospitality in your day.

Your job as innkeeper is to keep the inn running smoothly. As the "manager" you have to oversee all tasks so you can't get too entrenched, as it were, in any one shift task -- the trenches. On the other hand, you must be comfortable with each shift task so that you can jump in and do the job if necessary, both so that you can train others to do that job, and so that you know if the job is being done right.

I have a Quick Guide of checklists that is designed to be a sample for you, a template to use in creating your job descriptions and daily operations checklists. Here I've included some of my innkeeping philosophies here to assist you in your work of creating your approach to daily operations.

The descriptions below are from the style of operation I used at the first B&B I ran. Though the shifts are distinct, everyone worked as a team creating a united front. We all took such "ownership" of the B&B that guests often thought the employee they were talking to was the owner. I felt that was the highest compliment we could be paid! As a new manager I sat with the long-time employees and wrote down what they said about how each shift operated. Once I had a schoolbook education I worked beside them to understand the shifts more completely. Then I "published" the job descriptions with accompanying checklists for us to use. Operations became even smoother with the use of those checklists, showing their importance even in a well-established inn.

I did experience a short spell of resentment by the staff toward the checklists. One or two employees thought the checklists were demeaning, or insulting their intelligence. There was enough conversation about them that I took them down, with the promise from the employees they'd be able to do their jobs as well. After a few days of not using the checklists, they were begging to have them back; they found too many little tasks were being forgotten. I know I valued having them for the days I was pinch hitting.

Since this is how I ran my inn the tasks reflect my style. You'll have your own style, so the operation and subsequent descriptions will be different. But do use these descriptions and checklists as a template for your own shift descriptions.

My approach to shifts was to have distinct hours and tasks, but everyone was cross-trained so they could fill in on any shift. I strived to have each employee, once they were satisfactorily trained, work a minimum of two shifts per week of a given job so they could stay "tuned" for the shift.

Another innkeeper I know used foreign women who didn't speak much English for her housekeepers. Her approach kept the jobs separate so that assistant innkeepers weren't trained for housekeeping and housekeepers weren't trained for innkeeping. The biggest problem I see with this approach is that you can struggle with getting hours filled when an employee trained for one shift isn't available; others may be available, but not trained. Another problem with non-English speakers working at your inn as that they may not be able to interact with guests to provide service; providing service should be the primary purpose of B&B innkeepers and their staff.

And yet another innkeeper's approach was to have overlapping shifts so that each shift had back-up. That was helpful during the high season when the B&B was very busy and hard to get the work done before check-in. It was also helpful during the slow season when deep cleaning was done and two people were needed to move furniture and tackle the job. The way their shifts work is:

  • Breakfast 1 comes in to start cooking breakfast at 6:30. Breakfast 1 decides if she’s going to cook or serve; Breakfast 2 does the other job. When breakfast is over and the kitchen is cleaned, Breakfast 1 leaves.
  • Breakfast 2 arrives at 8:00 to finish setting the table and assists Breakfast 1.
  • As breakfast winds down Breakfast 2 starts housekeeping duties like stripping sheets and towels from guestrooms, putting kitchen linens into the washer, starting laundry, and cleaning the common areas. Phone duty falls to Breakfast 2 so reservations can be taken, guest messages can be relayed, and special event interviews can be set up with the owners. When the common areas are cleaned, Breakfast 2 leaves.
  • Housekeeper comes in at 10:00 to start cleaning, taking over where Breakfast 2 left off. Housekeeper tends to all the housekeeping chores and keeps laundry going as best as possible. Phone duty is passed to Housekeeper when Breakfast 2 leaves. When the housekeeping is finished, Housekeeper leaves.
  • Night Innkeeper comes in at 3:00 to help Housekeeper finish details like laying fires in the fireplaces, start baking cookies for arriving guests, assuming phone duty, and finish laundry duties. Night Innkeeper tends to turndown service, setting the tables for breakfast, putting “midnight” snacks in the living room, and assisting guests with their needs.

Whatever approach you take to covering your innkeeping day, be sure that you and your partner have clearly defined areas of responsibility so that you avoid interfering with each other. Some innkeepers I know don't have that separation of responsibility. One will direct an employee to do their tasks in a certain order and in a specific way. The other will come along and change the order and way of doing the work. The employees are confused and their work is less efficient; creating frustration and anger; the owners have lost some employee respect. You can avoid that by knowing who has what responsibility and only upon invitation can the other offer suggestions or comments. An organizational chart will help you determine who will report to which partner.

As innkeeper, you oversee all the operations and tasks. You verify the work done by the various employees, interact with guests, work the marketing plan, and manage vendor interactions -- like the laundry company, supply ordering, and maintenance contracts. Since you know the inn better than anyone, your main task is to answer the phone. Taking reservations and answering questions about the inn, the guest experience, and the area.

Your biggest job is Public Relations Director. Everything you do is to ensure that the guest experience is top notch and better than anticipated. Making your present guests happy will not only bring them back but also have them tell their friends, family, and work associates about the great B&B they adore going to. Since some people don’t return to the same B&B twice -- that's the way they are because they like new experiences so go to different areas or different B&B inns -- you have to also work at bringing new guests into the inn. The way you talk on the phone, how you interact with guests, the level of service and cleanliness, and the little gestures you make to your guests all go toward the guest experience. Providing a great guest experience is the most successful marketing tool you have.

The use of checklists throughout the inn will make the inn run more smoothly so you can create an experience for your guests that will bring them back and have them tell others about what a great inn you have. Checklists create the consistency your guests will expect and rely on. Checklists are a valuable tool to help make your inn operation a strong one.




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