We’re not the traditional “farm” like the ones you’d read about in children’s books; we don’t have pigs and cows or a big red barn, we don’t even own a tractor or spend our days in muck boots. We do have chickens and several acres of farmland (with mainly orchards and vegetable gardens), so we consider ourselves a tiny farm - and we call our bed & breakfast a “farmstay” or rural retreat.
Our guest rooms have been ready since almost a year now; last summer we had a trial run, and this season we've opened our doors to our bed & breakfast for real. We’re not experienced B&B managers yet, but we’ve learned so much already that I thought I’d share it here, while the experience is still fresh in our minds.
1. The scariest part of opening a B&B is the part before opening
Managing a bed & breakfast is nowhere near as stressful as getting ready to start accepting reservations and open the gates of your farm to paid guests. From making the big decisions (How many bedrooms? What type of beds / bathrooms / furniture? Which style? What price category?) to emptying your bank accounts without knowing if you’ll ever earn that money back; having no idea if you’re cut out for this kind of work… All those television programs showcasing picture perfect B&B’s don't make it easier either. The weeks and months before going “live” are just plain scary.
If you have plans to (someday) open a bed & breakfast, let me ease your mind by telling you the preparations are the worst part. Once your B&B is up and running, guests are checking in and out and you get into a routine for preparing meals and cleaning up, there is (usually) not much to worry about.
2. Labour division is key
Before we started our own rural retreat, we stayed at other lodgings to get some inspiration. The owners of the first B&B we stayed at here in the area have become good friends; the best advice they gave us was to divide the labour.
Sadly, we have other things to do than entertaining our guests - there's cleaning to be done, gardens to be tended, animals to be taken care of, food to be bought, cooked and baked - so far, we've had no luck getting the fairies to do the work around the house.
We always make sure one of us is around to check on the guests and to answer their questions, while the other is doing chores... or just having some time off.
3. Routine makes it easier to handle the unexpected
The thing I personally enjoy the most about having a bed & breakfast, is the routine that ensued from having guests around. On the farm, there is no such thing as routine; we start with one chore, then switch to working on an issue that just popped up, get called away to help with something else, go on to the next activity and before you know it the day is gone…
Having (paid) guests helps with getting a daily routine. I’ll wake up, bake bread, put on the kettle and the coffee while setting the breakfast tables and the buffet. I clean the kitchen while the guests have breakfast; by the time I’ve finished cleaning up after breakfast and watering the garden, most guests will be leaving for the day. I’ll do a quick sweep of the rooms (and do some cleaning and laundry if needed), and technically I’m off for the rest of the day.
Having this set routine and knowing exactly how I’m going to do things, make me feel more relaxed; so if anything out of the ordinary pops up, I can handle it! Guests wanting breakfast at 6 o’clock? Not a problem, I’ll set it all up on automatic pilot and with a sleepy brain. Child throwing up all over the bedroom? I’ve got fresh linen just waiting for them - and I can clean up the whole room while they’re having breakfast. Or playing with the dog while the rest of the family is having breakfast, in the sick child’s case.
4. One picture says more than a thousand words
One thing that becomes painfully clear when you deal with people, is that nobody actually reads. Stating in our profile we’re off the grid? They’re surprised upon arrival that we’re not in the village. Sending out directions, emphasising a GPS might lead up the wrong track? They try the GPS route anyway. Writing it's not possible to pay by credit card? Turns out they don’t have any cash.
Thankfully, people do look at pictures. On the booking sites, we now have pictures of the track leading up here, of our off-grid systems, the breakfast buffet,… It does wonders!
5. The days are long on our B&B
Our tiny bed & breakfast doesn’t really involve hard physical work - however, the working days are long. On a regular day, I’ll wake up early to bake bread and make breakfast; we’re rarely asleep before midnight though, after clearing up the dinner table. Off-season, we make up for that by going to bed a bit earlier on week days, when we have no guests; we know we’ll need to have siestas in summer though… hoping our guests won’t need our attention during siesta time.
6. Home-made food is a great asset
When we set up the concept of our little rural retreat, there was one thing we never doubted; we were going to give our guests fresh, home-grown food when possible. I started making my own bread (I now have a super easy bread recipe that gives me the chance to sleep in a bit), we offer jams and preserves made by local friends, the eggs come straight from our own chickens, olive oil from the local "cooperativa" (we’ve eaten all of ours!) and if possible they’ll be offered goat’s milk and cheese from local, ethically (and ecologically) raised goats. And since Spanish guests often just eat a few “Magdalena's” (cupcakes) for breakfast, I’m expanding my array of recipes.
To start with, all that was just something logical for us… but most of our guests seem to love it beyond anything we’d ever hoped for. Of course, you still get a few every now and then who will only eat the industrial and pre-packaged magdalenas (we offer these as a back-up), but the number of compliments we’re getting makes me confident that this is the way to go.
7. Having B&B guests is more fun than we ever imagined
When we thought about doing a bed & breakfast, we considered all the practicalities involved: cleaning rooms, making breakfast, cooking dinner, cleaning up communal spaces, making sure the honesty bar stays full. What we didn’t fully realise, is that we would get lots of guests who like what we’re doing here; we spend time with them talking about what we do here, doing walking tours around the property, telling them about all the fun activities, events and fiestas around here - sometimes they’ll even want to participate, and we’ll set up workshops with them. Planning to do lots more of those in the coming months and years!
Is there anything you've always wanted to know about managing a bed & breakfast off the grid? Ask away, we'll try to answer any questions you might have!