Thinking About Running a Bed and Breakfast? Read This First

Image: Hotel room
Paul L under Creative Commons

Karen Lynch can’t help but laugh when guests tell her how they picture her day, a leisurely one spent serving breakfast, pouring wine and chatting up out of town visitors as they relax at her bed and breakfast, the Inn on Randolph.

In reality, Karen’s days are much more hectic than that — more so than she ever imagined in 2011 when she and her husband bought and renovated a then outdated, run-down bed and breakfast in Napa, California.

They now spend their days managing the B&B’s website, responding to reviews, managing social media accounts, bookkeeping, fixing anything that’s broken, taking reservations, greeting guests, finding and hiring employees — the list of tasks goes on and on.

Even though it’s hectic, Karen loves the B&B lifestyle, and has actually made a profit since opening in 2012. But not every new owner is so lucky. Your earnings and success depend on many factors, including location, how much you invest and how different your inn is from others in the area.

Have you ever dreamed of opening a bed and breakfast? Here’s what you need to know to make sure running a B&B is right for you, and to turn a profit as soon as possible.

Realize It’s a Full-Time Job

If you want to make a significant amount of money,running a B&B isn’t something you can do on the side, says John Finneran, who owns the Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast in Salisbury Mills, New York. Sure, you might make a few extra bucks, but how will people find you if you’re not promoting your business? And if you don’t create an exceptional experience for guests who do happen to find you, the chances they’ll come back are pretty slim.

John and his wife, Dena, opened their B&B about three years ago. They bought a five-room bed and breakfast and expanded it to 10. They recently bought adjacent property and plan to add four more rooms and a banquet facility.

Once completed, their efforts will lead to income that folks renting rooms as a side gig can never reach. John, a Professional Association of Innkeepers International board member, says his nightly rate for one room is often three times more than what three-to-four bedroom operations charge for all their rooms combined.

The point? If you just want extra income to help make ends meet or to justify keeping your large, now empty family home, opening a B&B likely isn’t the right venture for you.

Try Before You Buy

Before you buy a B&B, Karen suggests volunteering at other inns. You’ll get a feel for what an innkeeper’s day actually entails, and a good sense for what you do and don’t like. (Like this idea? Click to tweet it!)

If your state has a B&B association, think about joining and taking the classes they offer, recommends Jenn Wheaton, marketing and program coordinator for the California Association of Boutique & Breakfast Inns. This gives you access to experts who can answer any questions you have before you buy.

Buy an Existing B&B

Once you’ve decided running a B&B is for you, don’t feel like you have to start from scratch, says Jenn. Look for an existing bed and breakfast that needs a little TLC, and you’ll be up and running quickly — and likely attracting existing clientele who can’t wait to see how you’ve improved the inn.

When you buy, consider location, says Bruce Abney, who owns El Morocco Inn & Spa in Desert Hot Springs, California. Think about the weather, how many other B&Bs are in the area and what activities guests can enjoy while visiting your inn.

Bruce also suggests finding out what local inns charge and their occupancy percentages. With these numbers, you can estimate your yearly earning potential and decide if you’ve found the right location.

And if at all possible, pay cash, Karen says. You’ll make a profit a lot faster if you don’t have a mortgage weighing you down.

Be Ready to Spend

The money trail doesn’t end after you open your inn. Be prepared to invest in your B&B, John says, and be proactive when it comes to making repairs and improvements.

Every touch you add, whether it’s heated bathroom floors or iPads in every room, makes you memorable — and that will help you bring in more money faster.

Hire Great Staff

When you’re marketing, gardening, cooking, cleaning and fixing whatever happens to break day after day, it’s easy to burn out.

Instead of taking it all on yourself, hire staff members for the jobs you’d rather not do, John suggests, and focus on what you love about your new job as innkeeper. Your inn will flourish and you’ll be raising your rates in no time.

Exceed Expectations

If you want guests to return to your B&B, you have to create value.

Think about ways to stand out. Bruce has a Moroccan theme, offers spa services and pours a special drink at his nightly happy hour. Guests love these touches, spend money on the extra services, and remember the exceptional experience the next time they’re planning a trip.

Is Running a B&B for You?

Opening a bed and breakfast can be a great business opportunity — if you’re ready to invest the necessary time and money. Just realize you might make money right away, or it may take you two or three years to see a profit.

But if you genuinely love people and are looking for a new business opportunity you can keep close to home, you just might be ready to take on the innkeeper title.

Your Turn: Would you open a bed and breakfast?

Renee Knight is a freelance writer, blogger and editor who has a new-found appreciation for B&B owners. Get to know her at