So - You Want to Be an Innkeeper


Whether you've already decided to take the plunge or have just started to dream about the possibilities, here is the definitive handbook on starting and running an inn. Recommended by the American Bed and Breakfast Association and the Professional Association of Innkeepers International and used as a text in workshops across North America, this acclaimed volume from four veteran innkeepers features an in-depth look at everything you need to know to operate an inn successfully. How to evaluate and buy property; ...
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Whether you've already decided to take the plunge or have just started to dream about the possibilities, here is the definitive handbook on starting and running an inn. Recommended by the American Bed and Breakfast Association and the Professional Association of Innkeepers International and used as a text in workshops across North America, this acclaimed volume from four veteran innkeepers features an in-depth look at everything you need to know to operate an inn successfully. How to evaluate and buy property; how to renovate, furnish, and launch a new inn; how to market and promote your business; and how to make your venture fulfilling for your guests and yourself. This revised and expanded third edition also presents a brand-new chapter on including dinner service at your inn; essential tips on complying with the latest laws and regulations; hard-core, up-to-date financial information; and twenty-four easy-to-use checklists.

The long-awaited new edition of this bestselling guide comes highly recommended by both the American Bed and Breakfast Association and the Professional Association of Innkeepers International. The volume contains savvy insider information on how to start, operate, and promote a successful establishment. Illustrations, charts & worksheets.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780811812269
  • Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC
  • Publication date: 3/1/1996
  • Edition description: 3rd ed
  • Edition number: 3
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.94 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.86 (d)

Table of Contents

The Spirit of Innkeeping
A Closer Look 1
Getting Your Act Together 23
Go or No Go? Financial Planning 63
Let's Make a Deal: Buying or Leasing an Existing Inn 95
Getting Inn Shape 115
So - You Want to Serve Dinner 177
Marketing: You Gotta Have a Gimmick 199
Up and Running 237
Appendices 295
Resources 305
Index 310
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First Chapter

Chapter One


Preparing for Innkeeping

Here's the next step in evaluating your innkeeping potential: review the following checklist of skills with comments on how they're likely to be applied in a bed-and-breakfast inn. Some skills you already have, some you've always wanted to learn, and others you wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Give the skills you already have a star, the ones you want to learn a plus, and the others a zero. Your partner should do the same. Then evaluate your combined inventory.

Skills Checklist


    * Bookkeeping and accounting: Balancing a checkbook is just the beginning. You'll also need to balance your books—and know when they're balanced. You must understand how to track the deposits you receive and the checks you write and how to set up your books so that they'll yield the information you want and need.

    * Developing and monitoring a budget: You must know how to predict the future, so you'll know when you can expand your business or hire additional staff. The plan must be reviewed frequently, and changes must be made when the projections aren't panning out.

    * Understanding financial statements: Good financial statements provide information on the equity you've built up, your return on investment, depreciation, cash flow, and problem areas. They need to be set up so that they'll tell you what you want to know, and you need to know how to readthem.

    * Tax benefits and planning: Understanding the tax structure and what it means in your particular situation is critical. How does your tax bracket affect decisions about whether your spouse should continue present employment for a while? What are the benefits of holding the inn as one spouse's separate property? Are the cash benefits of renovating a historical structure sufficient to offset the expense of it?


    In an area like accounting, novices tend to recognize their need for help and gladly pay for it. In the marketing field, however, beginners more often feel they can do it themselves. Be careful; you may need more help than you realize. Getting your inn off to a slow start can be expensive in lost revenues.

    * Graphic design and layout: You'll want brochures and stationery, and possibly advertisements, postcards, confirmation forms, gift certificates, and so on. The necessary skills range from an eye for design to the ability to create a functional reservation form that only you and your staff will see.

    * Copywriting: Maybe you'll want to write your own brochure and regular media releases.

    * Promotion methods: What kinds of things do people do to promote businesses? How will you promote your inn?

    * Telephone skills: Are you comfortable talking on the phone, and is your voice pleasant and warm? Turning calls for booked Saturday nights into midweek reservations depends a lot on phone skills.

    * Media relations: How do you get profiled in the kinds of stories about great inns you frequently see in magazines and newspapers and on television?

    * Photography: Good photographs are a must for courting the media. Sometimes writers send their own photographers, but your good shots enable you to present your inn in the best light. This is especially helpful if there's a tornado in progress when the writer's photographer arrives.

    * Organization of special events: When hosting your first open house or fund-raisers that benefit a favorite charity and your inn simultaneously, confidence in your ability to carry off a lulu of a party is a real asset.


    You may be a crack decorator, but can you fix a toilet? Read on.

    * Understanding basic building terminology and process: You will need to work with contractors and subcontractors; you may even end up being an owner-builder.

    * Basic maintenance skills: From changing a washer to touching up enamel, these skills will save you a lot of money.

    * Landscaping, both planting and design: Which plants stay alive in your area? What lasts in a bouquet? What landscape design will lure passersby to your door?

    * Decorating: Do you know how inviting a cool blue-and-white color scheme is in a snowstorm? (Not very.) Can you make a silk purse out of a sow's ear? You'll probably need to.

    Food Services

    * Menu creation: Color, temperature, and taste combinations must be more than the sum of the parts.

    * Health department standards: Also known as Botulism 101. Protecting the public health and safety is your responsibility.

    * Serving food to a group: There are techniques for getting it all on the table, hot or cold. Do you have them mastered?

    * Kitchen setup and organization: If you do this wrong, you'll be annoyed by it every time you make a pot of coffee.


    Innkeepers often start out convinced they will do all the work themselves. Still others believe that because they ran a corporation, they have managerial skills. Supervising a small corps of people involved in physical labor and customer relations is different from having a personnel director and secretary, or just telling your children what to do.

    * Employing others: Do you understand the basics of hiring, training, supervising, and terminating staff?.

    * Motivating and keeping staff: What motivates housekeepers to keep doing routine jobs perfectly? How do you keep a chef and wait staff happy through a full season, so they won't leave you high and dry two weeks before it's over?

    * Pay: What are the going rates of pay in this market? The benefit packages?

    * Paperwork: What forms do you need to complete? What taxes should you pay?

    Getting What You Need

    Now that you know the skills you want to acquire, start soon. There are numerous resources available.

    Professional Resources

    The Professional Association of Innkeepers International has compiled beginning resource and ongoing reference materials on staffing, marketing, and financial matters. Their information and referral service, available to members, can provide assistance on property and food service skills as well.


    Check the community college catalogs and adult education flyers for professional organization workshops, lectures, classes, and seminars in your interest areas.

    Computer Skills

    If you don't have any, take a class, hire a consultant, read a book, or ask your kids for help. You'll want to be able to write checks and keep your books electronically, establish a guest database, or computerize inn reservations.


    Some of your friends are undoubtedly pros in areas where you need help. Contact them for advice or even instruction. This can be sticky, since you won't want to take advantage of the friendship to get for free something they make a business of selling; you might consider hiring them as consultants. If you're careful and courteous about how you handle the situation, working with friends can be fun.


    If you have a good general grasp of a skill area, but need specific answers to important questions, consider working with a professional consultant. A good consultant can help you design systems you'll live with for a long time. Working with someone on this short-term basis can be a good way to test whether you would work well together for the long term. If your consultant talks slowly and you talk fast, work sessions will be uncomfortable and probably not very productive.

    Libraries and Bookstores

    People in many other businesses need much of the same information prospective innkeepers need. Books written especially for the small business can help a great deal. See Resources for specific suggestions.


    Maybe you could do great layouts and write fine media releases with a little practice. Give it a shot, if it interests you. Ask friends to look over your product and give you frank feedback. To check how clearly your effort communicates, ask a friend to review it and then explain to you what it says.


    Keep your eyes open for the ways others handle tasks and problems with which you'll need to deal. For example, keep a file of inn brochures and advertisements. Observe a wider field, too. How do other businesses promote? What kinds of signs attract attention and still retain a "feel" you like? What can you learn about selling by analyzing television commercials?


    Get some on-the-job experience in budgeting, say, by working with a nonprofit group. Volunteer to organize the Boy Scouts fund-raiser or to do the publicity for the women's center calendar.

    Work Experience

    While you're planning your inn, you may be able to work at a job that will help you reach your ultimate objective. If you're a retail clerk, maybe you can work in a decorator's shop. If you're a graphic designer, maybe you can take on some design work for a local inn.

    Apprenticeship or Internship Innkeeping

    All the research in the world can't fully prepare you for the actual experience of innkeeping. Some workshops arrange for the participants to take over an inn for a weekend, and some innkeepers take interns for varying periods. To be sure your experience serves your needs, consider the following:

    * Be sure you understand the innkeeper's expectations of your time and tasks. Usually the innkeeper does not expect you to continue to carry on your other life while working at the inn, so, for example, your personal or business telephone calls may be a problem.

    * Consider the inn's style, so that your experience can mesh with your future plans. If you want to serve dinner, try to find a country inn, rather than a bed-and-breakfast, for a full taste of the extra complications dinner introduces.

    * Try to get a sense of how the innkeeper functions; does it fit you? Personalities are important in learning. You ought to enjoy your mentor.

    * If you plan to own your inn with a partner, spouse, or friend, participate in the internship together to get an idea of how each of you functions in this setting.

    * Appreciate that, even though you may be donating your time, the innkeeper is giving, too. Training is hard work on both sides.

    * Approach the opportunity with an open and curious mind. Evaluate your experience in relation to your own plans later, when you're back home. Of course you have your own plans and your own ways of doing things, and your unique style is important, but an apprenticeship is not the time to exercise it. You're not there to show the innkeeper how to improve, but to try out a lifestyle for yourself.

Researching Your Market and Site Selection

    If you've bought the inn concept but not the inn, this section will help you make a good choice. If you've already found the perfect inn or place to create one, this information will help you review its pros and cons, which you'll want to include in your business plan, explained in the chapter on financial planning.

Researching Your Market

    To understand the milieu in which your inn will function, you need to research the travel field in general, as well as the bed-and-breakfast industry. Use the following questions as a guide.

    * What are the trends?

    * What is the profile (economic position, family status, interests) of the bed-and-breakfast traveler?

    * Why do people travel?

    * What is the overall economic health of the travel industry in general and of the bed-and-breakfast business in particular?

    * What kinds of competitive influences are there in the travel accommodations market?

    * Do people travel to some areas more than to others?

    * How do the policies, laws, and codes of state and national governments affect local travel?

    * How do people make travel arrangements?

    Be creative in finding the answers. Try these avenues.

    * Watch for sales trends as you travel. Are travelers being offered unusual services or bargain prices?

    * Subscribe to travel magazines and read travel ads. You can get a sense of the health of an industry and a destination by evaluating the desperation of the ads and the number and kinds of special deals.

    * Attend industry meetings, seminars, and training sessions.

    * Interview industry people as you travel. Ask innkeepers, hotel managers, and travel agents the market questions given here.

    * Talk to your librarian. Find out what's new on the shelves.

    * Subscribe to hospitality industry publications.

Meeting Your Personal Needs

    Like everyone else, people considering new careers as innkeepers have distinct likes and dislikes about where to live. Many are city-bred and intend to stay that way; for others, heaven is the desert, or the mountains, or the sea. Don't get so excited about a particular property that you ignore these personal parameters. The first criterion for selecting your site is that the environment meets the needs of you, your family, and your innkeeping partners.

    Look next at recreational, social, educational, and employment needs. Does one of you intend to continue working while another runs the inn? This naturally limits your site to areas with desirable employment opportunities. What about schools for your children? You may dream of living in the desert, but if your child is training for Olympic ice-skating events, your options will be severely limited. Whether your favorite pastime is miniature golf or amateur theater, be sure you choose a place where you can pursue it.

    You can save time and money by establishing and agreeing on some basic search guidelines with the other members of the new inn family or families. The guidelines could read something like this:

    * Ten to fifteen miles from the ocean, for cool climate and love of the sea.

    * A city population of forty thousand to seventy thousand, to satisfy needs for community involvement, good educational system, and cultural events.

    * Not more than a day's drive to parents and grandparents.

    * Employment opportunities in the computer field.

    Starting from a framework like this—and it can have many more selection criteria—use a map to begin choosing possible locations. You can gather a tremendous amount of information even before you leave home, by contacting the local chambers of commerce, subscribing to area newspapers, and doing library research.

    Then the fun begins. Vacation trips become business trips. (Ask your accountant about tax write-offs for these exploratory forays.) Areas you may simply have passed through on the way to somewhere else will become important stopping places. Towns, cities, historical monuments, and scenery suddenly look different.

    Not many people can start from scratch to decide where to live. Enjoy it!

Evaluating Your Selection

    Now that you've found a place that meets your needs, you need to decide whether anyone else would like to spend time there. If not, you won't have any customers.

Who Will Be Your Customers?

    The type of customer you attract is an important factor in the image and size of your inn, what the best location is, the room prices, and the amenities offered. So naturally your first task is to discover which type of visitor comes to your area: tourist, traveler, or businessperson. A tourist considers the area as a destination and normally stays at least two or three days. A traveler stops in the area on the way to somewhere else. A businessperson comes on a specific mission, perhaps to sell a product or attend a meeting.

    Most major cities attract all three kinds of visitors. Seaside villages attract chiefly tourists. Towns along freeways attract travelers. Different sets of features tend to attract each category of prospective guests, so review the following questions carefully.

* * *

Karol Brown and her mother, Nancy, had traveled a great deal and knew what they wanted in an inn by the time they fell in love with the building that is now the Walnut Street Inn in their hometown, Springfield, Missouri. The location seemed ideal. Their historic building is one of two dozen saved in the "heartbeat of the downtown" area. Located right across from the new performing arts center, the inn became the fund-raising hub for the symphony. Located as well in the shadow of several skyscrapers and near a twenty-five-thousand-student campus, the inn is a mecca for business travelers. Karol is the primary innkeeper, with Nancy a staunch partner, supporter, and assistant. Their location also allowed for expansion. Starting with seven rooms, they went to six when they added private baths, and then, using the carriage house and cottage on the property, expanded to fourteen rooms.


    * Are you close to a large city? Americans enjoy minivacations three or four times a year. In general they drive no more than three hours each way for a two- or three-day vacation.

    * Are there enough tourist attractions to encourage people to stay more than a day? Are there good restaurants, historical sites, museums, zoos, gardens, amusement parks, unique shopping areas, cultural events, or beautiful scenery?

    * Is there a high season, and if so, is it long enough to support the property? If snow sports are the main tourist attraction, are there also visitors in the spring, summer, and fall?

    * Is there good public transportation into the area, by airplane, bus, or train?


    * Is your location near a highway or freeway? Are the on- and off-ramps convenient to drivers who hate to lose even ten minutes' driving time? Will your location be visible from the freeway?

    * Is your area a logical overnight stopping point? Portland, for example, is a good stop between San Francisco and Seattle.

    * Are there already signs on the freeway encouraging travelers to stop and eat, buy gasoline, or sleep?


    * Is there a significant, large industry in the area?

    * Is your location a state capital or county seat, which attracts government agencies?

    * Is your location a central shopping area for the surrounding population? Such locations tend to attract salespeople and distributors, who can be regular customers.

    In most areas you will deal with some guests from all three groups, but there may be many more from one category than from another. Consider your personal preferences about the type of guest that would be most interesting. If you've spent much of your life in the corporate world, you may prefer to play host to businesspeople—or you may strongly prefer not to! If you're most comfortable with casual encounters, travelers would be best. If you enjoy knowing people on a more intimate, one-to-one level, tourists who stay awhile and return often would be good guests. Your daily life as an innkeeper will be significantly affected by the guests you choose to attract.

Researching Your Specific Location

    This is where you apply your general field research to the specific area you are considering for your inn. This information will help you in big and little decisions about ambience, breakfast, pricing, promotion, amenities, location, specific property, and so on. Don't skip this research step. Questions to ask include the following.

    * What is the nature of the overnight guest in the area? Consider age, economic status, children, interests and activities, purpose of visit.

    * What is the occupancy level of nonconference hotels, motels, and inns?

    * What is special about the inns in the area?

    * What is lacking in existing inns? How would you make your inn unique?

    * When is the season? Are there off-season prices?

    * Where do guests come from?

    * What hostelries have opened and/or have gone out of business in the last two or three years?

    * How many inns are there in the area? How long have they been in existence?

    * What role does the government or chamber of commerce take in supporting tourism?

    * What kind of recreational and cultural activities are there in the area?

    * What is the restaurant scene like?

    * What new commercial or recreational developments are planned?

    * What special events bring travelers to the area?

How to Find Out the Answers: A Resource List

    The sources below will have answers to the above questions. The more sources you consult, the broader and more accurate the perspective you'll have on a location.

    * Chamber of commerce or visitor bureau. Ask for tourist materials and research materials on the area; have an in-depth discussion with the tourism director.

    * Brochures and rate sheets of lodging establishments.

    * Local reference librarian.

    * Local elected officials.

    * Local Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) consultant of the Small Business Administration (SBA).

    Other Suggestions

    * Stay in local lodgings, especially inns or the most obvious competition.

    * Subscribe to a local newspaper. Read the ads to see what the best hotels stress and when they offer specials. Take a business or travel reporter to lunch and talk about the general health of the economy and the prospects for a new inn.

    * Talk to experienced innkeepers in adjacent areas. They may be more willing to speak candidly about what works in your area than innkeepers located right there.

    * Talk to new and longtime innkeepers in the immediate neighborhood.

    * How do you determine whether the inns in an area are prosperous? Some innkeepers don't keep good records and won't be able to answer questions concretely; others are naturally hesitant about sharing such information. Here are clues to look for.

    * Do they require minimum stays? This often indicates that an establishment is successful enough to be selective.

    * Have existing inns expanded? When, how much, and in what way: more rooms, additional services, more baths? Are price ranges at the area's inns similar? If they are uniformly high, innkeepers may be prospering; if low, competition may be intense.

    * How do special deals and amenities affect prices? Do prices vary based on midweek stays, fireplaces, private baths, bed sizes?

    * When did prices last increase?

    * Does the inn support the innkeepers financially? Is one partner working outside? Are there other apparent sources of income, such as retirement pensions?

    * Is there a supportive innkeeper association in the area?

    * What do innkeepers see as trends?

    * What kind of media coverage have area inns received?

    * What are the impressions of inn staff?.

How To Talk To Innkeepers

    Most innkeepers are helpful and will be happy to talk with you, but they're also busy, and your questions aren't the only ones they get. To make your time together most productive, plan to book a room and stay at the inn on a weekday or during the off-season, when the innkeeper will not be too busy. Identify yourself as a prospective innkeeper and make an appointment to talk. Offer to pay a consulting fee.

    Don't ask directly about occupancy rates. For some innkeepers, this is as touchy as inquiring about their salary level. Other innkeepers will offer the information. If not, ask what a new innkeeper could expect in occupancy for the first year or how long it takes for area inns to become financially successful. Another approach would be to ask what kind of occupancy other inns in the area are experiencing.

    Treat the innkeeper as an expert consultant, even if you don't like the inn or the way business is done there. Innkeepers don't owe you time and information just because they've succeeded or just because you've booked a room.

    Be willing to share your plans and ideas with innkeepers in the area. Don't be secretive; remember, you're getting a great deal of help from them, and you may want to join the local association.

    After you've done the research, sit down and put it all together: the industry, your personal needs, the realities of the area. If people come to your area to hike or ski, capitalize on it; don't proselytize about the joys of fly-fishing. Build on the mood, energy, environment, neighborhood, and facilities that exist. Create a great inn that fits.

Inn Location

    As bed-and-breakfast inns become increasingly popular, you can more often find an established one for sale. The following location guidelines for buying a building to convert to an inn apply also to buying an existing inn. Even with an established property, it is important to look ahead to when you may wish to expand. Consider these factors.

    Location within the Community

    * Close, but not too close, to restaurants, shops, and similar businesses.

    * A safe area, with a low crime rate.

    * Falls within the service area for police and fire departments, emergency vehicle services, and hospital facilities.

    * Convenient to highways.

    * Roads and utilities are developed.

    The Lot

    * Large enough for off-street parking for guests and owners.

    * Room to expand.

    * Outdoor living area for guests that includes a variety of amenities, such as a garden, croquet field, barbecue, swimming pool, spa; a separate outdoor area for the innkeepers.

    * Acceptable adjoining properties, with privacy, fences, landscaping, sound insulation, animals, children, and air pollution all well considered.

    The Building

    * Charm, character, curb appeal, historical significance.

    * Structural soundness.

    * Resale value.

    * Size and number of bedrooms; features of dining room, parlor, and kitchen areas.

    * Number of bathrooms or convertible closets.

    * Private innkeeper quarters and storage.

    * Inn storage areas and laundry facilities.

    * Utilities, water, and sewage systems.

    * Ventilation, natural light, protection from sun, wind, snow.

    * Cost and future availability of energy: gas, electricity, water, solar.

    Of course, no one can say you should consider only properties that meet certain very specific standards, like closets for every guest room or certifiable historic status. Your decisions will relate to many other factors, including the type of inn you wish to have, the community you've chosen, and your budget. The guidelines above are designed to help you compare your first-, second-, and third-choice inn locations. Appendix 1 is a sample worksheet on which you can record impressions.

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