Your Guide to Bed and Breakfast Etiquette
The first time I checked into a bed and breakfast, I felt totally out of my element. I had a long history of staying at chain hotels and youth hostels, and waltzing into someone's home felt downright transgressive. My unease subsided as the innkeeper handed us cups of hot tea and led us around the house. The hospitality was palpable—and in the morning, the breakfast was one for the books.
Yet I haven't stayed at a bed and breakfast since then. "Studies say that the reason most people don't stay at a B&B is because they never think of it," says Susan Baron, who runs Los Gatos Bed & Breakfast in New York's Finger Lakes region. "And I think the second most common reason is that they don't know how it will work."
Baron knows how it works: she and her husband have been running their five-room B&B for 13 years. Read on as she answers my most pressing questions about bed and breakfast etiquette.
How much interaction is expected between guests and staff?
The innkeeper will give you a short tour of the property, tell you about breakfast and how the door locks work, and answer any questions before showing you to your room. "After that, it's up to the guest," Baron says. "Most [innkeepers] have some sort of intercom or buzzer or bell that you can use to reach us, but we're not in your space." As for housekeeping and grounds staff, "you would probably never see them."
How do I know which space is public, and which is private?
The innkeeper will likely indicate which spaces are open to guests. Some B&Bs also have small "Private" signs on doors leading to the innkeepers' quarters.
How does breakfast work?
At Los Gatos, the Barons start serving coffee and tea around 8 a.m. and a housemade breakfast around 9 a.m. It's served family style, with all the guests at one table. Other B&Bs might have individual tables for couples, or buffets, or even restaurant-style service. "Breakfast is probably the biggest variable with different inns," Baron says. If you're unsure, just ask the innkeeper when you check in.
What if I have dietary restrictions?
Most B&Bs are willing to work with you. "If someone is vegan or eats gluten free, those are questions that an innkeeper will ask and accommodate," she says.
Will I have to share a bathroom?
Doubtful. Baron says that shared bathrooms were once common, but "over the last 15 or 20 years, they've really started moving toward individual bathrooms." Most B&B websites will indicate whether bathrooms are shared or private. "I would guess that at least 8 out of 10 would have private bathrooms," she says.
Are B&Bs suitable for children?
B&Bs are especially suited for couples. Most B&Bs will list age restrictions on their websites. Los Gatos Bed & Breakfast requests that guests be 16 or older. Baron explains: "If I'm going someplace to run away from my 3- and 5-year-old for the weekend, I don't want to hear somebody else's."
Should I be tipping the staff?
Generally not. "If a B&B is being run by the owners, [tipping] is really not expected," Baron says. If they do hire outside help, some innkeepers will leave a small envelope in the bedroom for housekeeping. "But it's not like a restaurant server, where tips are how they make their money." And tipping for breakfast is unheard of.
What else should I know about bed and breakfast etiquette?
Communicate with the innkeepers about when you expect to arrive, or if you're leaving early and won't be there for breakfast. If you are there for breakfast, try to not be late—it's a major part of the experience, and it's best served hot.
Keep in mind that every B&B is different. "They're all so unique that you could go to 10 and you'd have 10 different experiences."
How much does a stay at a B&B cost?
The answer there is simple and ultimately perhaps a bit unsatisfying: it depends. Bed and breakfasts occupy a bit of a middle ground between budget and upscale. While they often lack the types of amenities that big hotels have (think massive fitness centers and late-night cocktail bars), they more than make up for it with a personal touch. That said, it doesn't necessarily follow that their smaller size means cheaper rates, with some B&Bs charging $200 a night or more. Thankfully, with Groupon you can cut those rates in at least half, such as with this Pennsylvania hideaway.
How can I choose the right B&B for me?
Location, location, location is the key here. Unlike hotels and motels, the entire concept behind a B&B is to settle into a more relaxed pace of life. It's assumed that you'll be spending a bit more time at the bed and breakfast itself, whether that means exploring the grounds, sipping coffee on the porch, or enjoying a glass of wine by the fireplace. That means you'll want your home base to be as close to your ideal setting as possible. Here are a few weekend getaway ideas to consider to get you started if you can't get in at Baron's Finger Lakes bed and breakfast: