Frequently Asked Questions
Short of inspiration for blog subjects – having saturated Breakfast, Cleaning and Egg themes – I turned to the ever-faithful Twitter: With 462 followers (not a word I’m a huge fan of using) I thought that if just 2% have a few things they’ve always wanted to know about running a B&B now is the time to ask. With a whole season’s experience under our belts surely we are now experts!
Unfortunately, being the human beings most of us are, most people want to know things that I don’t feel we have any right to divulge like: “What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in a room?” and “What’s the oddest thing someone has said or done?”. For a start, and contrary to popular belief, people are relatively “normal” (to the casual observer) and we haven’t really experienced anything weird or wonderful. Equally, if we had, it would be wrong to put it out there in the public domain, the last thing we want past or future guests thinking is that anything out of the ordinary is fodder for this blog.
No! The B&B owner is in an honoured position. We are allowed into people’s lives, even if only briefly, and with that privilege comes an unwritten confidentiality contract… what I see will remain between you and me.
This all sounds very mysterious and implies that we see lots of strange things – we really don’t. Think about yourself on holiday, think about what’s in your room – that’s all we really see. People are, on the whole, pretty similar and (thank god) perfectly appropriate.
I think that answers about 80% of the questions that were asked. Now onto the other ones:
How do you manage all the cooking there must be?
We manage… it just gets done. I have a tendency to stress out if everyone comes down for breakfast at once but this is nothing to do with the guests who are all perfectly happy to sit there and enjoy the atmosphere while waiting a few extra minutes for their tea / coffee / toast / breakfast.
The baking is the fun part but we’ve had to long since abandon all ideas of baking a different cake each week. During the summer, with an amazing 100% occupancy, there just isn’t enough time in the day to do much creative baking. All Martha Stewart ambitions have degenerated into one oat and syrup biscuit which can be manufactured quickly and easily and, since about June, have all been coming out looking exactly the same. If someone hadn’t already published the recipe I would set up a second business and sell cookies.
Do you ever have any unusual food requests?
Depends what you consider unusual… one of our options is a Bacon and Marmalade sandwich so our benchmark for unusual could be very different to most. As Danny always says “There are no rules in food” (one might think that this makes him a very creative cook but I suspect it’s just an excuse to eat left over apple crumble at 11 in the morning before tucking into a pile of marmite toast).
Do you ever get strange things left behind?
No – but sometimes the guests do; I have been known to leave my socks, which I’d removed to clean the shower, at the bottom of a guest’s bed.
Have you ever had any ‘challenging’ guests and how do you handle them?
Aware that I’m going to sound sycophantic I must confess that the answer to that question is “No, we haven’t”. Surprisingly and somewhat unbelievably but there you have it. While people have requested particular things or asked us to change something in the room they’ve all been ever-so lovely about it and when a request is made (hard boiled eggs / extra pillows / etc.) it’s usually followed by a plethora of apologies for being a pain.
They’re not and it’s really not a problem…
Should we get a challenging guest I will re-direct that question to Danny as he is far more diplomatic and accommodating than I and has the enviable ability to internalise any less-than-pretty reactions. I’d be up the stairs behind closed doors for fear of ruining any decent reputation we might have generated by screeching “WHAT?” – “You want us to do WHAT?”.
What are the pros and cons of accreditation?
Aha! I wonder if this person watches Four in a Bed as it’s something that constantly comes up on that programme, in the manner of ‘They think they’re so good because they have 5 stars and I found dust on the third, unused stairwell at the back of the house’ or ‘We have 5 stars you know so any feedback these jealous B&B owners are giving me is utter rubbish’.
Well… we have 4 stars but I have to admit that I couldn’t tell you if it’s made much difference. Trip Advisor (TA) seems to be the new accreditation and the one thing we can definitely credit additional business / extra calls to. It cost us £245 to put our phone number and a direct link to our website on TA and that has delivered a phenomenal return (provided, of course, that we continue to get good feedback). It cost us £450 to get accredited with the AA and we are yet to hear of anyone that found us on their website.
Saying all that, accreditation does give potential guests an indication of what to expect and enables them to benchmark TA reviews against something official. It’s also a tangible thing for us to say we’ve achieved and I must say that our hotel inspector was fantastic; he gave us at least 2 hours of feedback on what we were doing and, after having only been open 4 days, it was invaluable advice from someone with experience in the hospitality industry (something which we were distinctly lacking).
Without our AA hotel inspector it may have taken us another 3 months to decide that offering people tea and coffee on arrival might be a good idea; and it was on his recommendation that we created a little restaurant book where guests could write comments about the various eateries – something which has been really popular, especially since people other than Danny and I started writing in it.
Additionally, the story of how the Hotel Inspector turned up on our 4th day and presented us with his card on departure to leave me standing there with my mouth open, has never failed to amuse us or the numerous guests we have recounted the story to.
Lastly, and maybe more importantly, we are very proud of our 4 stars and we like the sign at the front door.
Is it best to buy an existing business or start from scratch? I’ve always wondered that.
Having never bought an existing business I probably couldn’t answer this objectively, all I know is that starting something from scratch – while possibly harder – is the best thing we could have done. Little Leaf began with us, there’s no legacy from something else: No one else’s personality stamped across the branding. OK, so we couldn’t capitalise on repeat business and no one had heard of us but that’s half the fun – going from nothing to something rather than something to something else.
We didn’t have to fight any bad reviews that had nothing to do with us and we didn’t have to pander to decisions someone else had made a few years ago that were still impacting on the business.
From a funding point of view it was certainly harder as we had to convince the banks that we were able to set up a business that could cover the running costs and mortgage without anything to demonstrate its viability (see ALL my blogs on trying to get the mortgage July – October 2010); yet once that had been achieved both of us were delighted to not be tied down by any previous iterations of the guest house.
In conclusion I suspect that the questions you really want answered haven’t really been answered at all and questions are so wonderfully predictable; just like astronauts who always get asked how you go to the toilet in space so we must accept that we are always going to get asked about odd guests… Apologies if this blog doesn’t live up to expectations – maybe come find me in 50 years time and I’ll tell you some tales if, which is quite unlikely, anything weird and wonderful has actually happened.