As I write this, our Bayfront Marin House has 365 reviews on TripAdvisor.
I read (and respond) to every one of them. But as I’ve been reading them for the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a trend–there is a large number of reviewers who start their review by saying “We’ve never stayed at a bed and breakfast before.” A large number of those newbies then say something like “We didn’t know what to expect.” (Of course, they then all talk about how much they enjoyed their stay, how wonderful the service is, what amazing staff we have–I could go on all day, but feel free to read them yourself here).
That got me to thinking: what is so intimidating about staying at a bed and breakfast? If you’re not yet a member of the bnb club, what do you need to know?
Here’s what I would tell my best friend, if she wanted to know the “secret handshake” for bed and breakfast veterans.
1. Know what you want. If you’ve stayed at hotels your entire life, you probably have a favorite one (and maybe even a favorite chain). Why do you like it? Is it fancy and formal, with a formal lobby and a telephone in the bathroom? (Side note: what is that for, anyway?) Is it chic and sleek, with modern art and a hip bar? Is it laid back and fun, with a complimentary happy hour thrown by the manager? Are you into homey and comfortable, the kind of place that greets you with a cookie and encourages you to borrow a book from their shelves?
Just like hotels have different personalities, so do bed and breakfasts.
Let me rephrase that. Just like hotels can have one of about six different personalities (your Westins, Marriotts, Country Inn and Suites, funky boutiques, Holiday Inns, and Super 8s), bed and breakfasts have one of 18,000 personalities (that’s how many bnb’s Wikipedia says are in North America).
So figure out which one of those 18,000 personalities best matches your vacation needs, and book a room immediately.
If you’re not sure which one is right for you (it can be hard to tell from websites), call the bnb and simply ask what the atmosphere is. The owner will be happy to tell you–and you’ll get a sense of it from his or her demeanor on the phone, as well. The beauty of staying in a unique bnb–rather than a standard hotel–is that you can find one that fits you perfectly.
2. Once you’re here, talk to people. Or not. Hey…this is *your* vacation. You had to finagle time away from your job, you had to sign the credit card slip. One nice thing about staying at a bed and breakfast is the wide variety of interesting people who stay there too (they’re as unique and interesting as you are, of course), and it’s easy to start a conversation with another traveler. But if you just want to reconnect with your traveling partner, or be alone with your innermost thoughts in a relaxing and beautiful place, that’s completely cool too. The best bnb owners will allow you to do either…or any combination of the two.
3. Ask what’s free. You already know about some of the bnb’s amenities–it’s pretty obvious if you have a jetted tub in the room, or a fireplace, or a balcony. But bed and breakfasts are the most generous places to stay–they give away what other places usually charge for. You may find that your bed and breakfast offers free wifi, or free bikes that you can borrow, or beach chairs/towels/umbrellas. There might be coffee and/or snacks available every day, or a happy hour. They could offer free parking. Ask for a quick list of what’s available, ask what you need to do to use the amenities (do you have to sign up? sign a form? just ask at the front desk?), and use them. Then try not to look pity-ingly at the other visitors in town who are paying for all the things you get for free.
4. Ask what’s cool. Bed and breakfast owners and employees love to interact with guests. But we don’t want to be pests. Generally, I walk around at breakfast and happy hour and ask people if everything is perfect, and if there’s anything I can get them that would make it more perfect. The couples who want to talk will typically respond with a lengthier answer, and we can go from talking about another glass of sangria to talking about my favorite secret bike path, or the best beach to go to in the morning, or the restaurant with the most amazing bread pudding. (For a whole blog on how to find the best restaurant for you, click here). We’re locals, and we’re glad to share our inside information about what we think is the coolest stuff in town. That means you get the coolest vacation ever.
5. Ask, ask, ask. We are bed and breakfast owners because we like to make people happy. Our employees are bed and breakfast people because they like to see people smile. (Trust me, none of us are doing it for the great salary!!) So ask us for help. If you’re sunburnt, ask if we have aloe vera lotion; if you want to go somewhere for jazz, ask us for suggestions; if you want to learn how to make our delicious strawberry soup, ask us for the recipe. When people ask us for things, we feel good. And when we can help you with your request, we both feel good!!
6. Relax. Staying at a bed and breakfast is not brain surgery–it’s pretty simple, really. Just check in, grab a cozy spot on the patio (or the living room or the garden), lean back, and relax. Going on vacation shouldn’t be hard–and if you follow the steps above, not only will it be easy–it will be awesome!!!