Why Does My 5 Month Old Wake Up Every Hour The Business of Running a Bed and Breakfast

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The Business of Running a Bed and Breakfast

Running a Bed and Breakfast (“B&B”) sounds great at 5 p.m. rush hour on the streets of Manhattan during the cold winter. The fact is, it can be a real job. Let me give you a taste of what life is like for a typical B&B owner.

Imagine it’s 8 p.m. on a midsummer Friday at your lovely B&B. You have just finished clearing up the dining room where your guests recently indulged in light food and drinks. You are tired. It was a long day. You’re about to start washing the dishes, which will take you about an hour, and the phone rings. He is John Smith, a late arriving guest who was supposed to check in at 9:00 PM. He tells you he’ll be there no later than 10pm.

It’s now 9pm, you’ve just finished the dishes and now you’re throwing the dirty towels in the washing machine and picking up new towels to replace the old ones in the bathrooms. This takes you another hour or so. You check your watch. It’s 10pm, not John Smith. “Where could it be? you wonder to yourself. You check the phone for any messages, none. At 22:30 the phone rings. It’s John Smith. It’s on the Garden State Parkway at exit 117. It’ll be there in about ½ hour. At 23:00 John Smith finally arrives. You check him in, show him to his room, and at 11:20 p.m. run to your bedroom to hit the sack because you promised the early bird, Julie Murphy, that you’d have fresh coffee and a continental breakfast for her at 6 a.m. If you’re lucky, you pass out from exhaustion at 11:45 p.m. and get just over five hours of sleep.

Welcome to the peaceful world of B&Bs. Not your typical day, but you get the idea. My point is this, running a B&B is not as easy as you might think. It can, however, be everything you thought it would be, as long as your thoughts are anchored in reality.

Your level of attention to detail, along with the location of your B&B, can make your B&B a real success or a real nightmare. During the busy B&B season (mainly May-September in the Northeast) you are always on the go. Your hours are dictated by the hours of your guests. A late arrival may keep you up late and an early one may require you to wake up at 5am.

Frequent questions

What is a B&B? Generally anything larger than 5 rooms is considered an inn and anything less is considered a B&B.

How do you know if your B&B is successful? 100 nights, out of a year, full to capacity, is a good year.

Can you make a living running a B&B? In most cases you will need about six rooms to live in it. Anything less is just supplemental income. If a host wants to make a living at a B&B, they must open an Inn.

What are the biggest problems B&B hosts face? Usually, it’s the attention to detail required for a well-run B&B and for last-minute cancellations or no-shows.

Do you need to register your B&B with a booking service agency (“RSA”)? If this is your first B&B and you’re just getting started, the answer is a definite yes! Here’s why. A good RSA provides a number of valuable services. First and foremost they can drive business to your B&B. Many RSAs provide brochures at state Welcome Centers. Some RSAs target local businesses and special event coordinators. When a potential guest picks up one of these brochures and calls RSA, they will provide the customer with B&Bs that meet their geographic and personal needs. Other benefits of joining an RSA include valuable advice on how to run your B&B. Many RSAs will usually come to your B&B to see if it is properly set up to accommodate guests.

They usually bring along a checklist and go through some type of inspection process. You will soon learn what your B&B’s strengths and weaknesses are. Often this service is offered free of charge, as a first consultation the RSA will do this to determine if your B&B meets the minimum standards. This inspection helps to solve the problems inherent in your B&B. If you pass the inspection, the RSA will be interested in registering your home. Typical operational services provided by an RSA, in addition to those listed, include answering phones, email/postal inquiries, screening and matching guests with hosts. They will send confirmations to guests who book. Some even send regular newsletters to hosts and help hosts with record keeping and tax preparation. All these services, of course, come at a cost. Generally, an RSA’s commission will be between 20-25% of the rental income from guests who book.

How much should you charge per room per night? Most B&Bs charge at least $100 per night for a double room. Depending on your geographic location, this amount may be significantly higher or lower.

What kind of costs/expenses can you expect to incur at your B&B? The costs of running a B&B include food, drink, coffee filters, soap, shampoo, facial/toilet tissue, cleaning supplies, cleaning assistance, laundry, new sheets, paint, repairs, linens, bedding, towels, fresh flowers, new mattresses, advertising/promotion, office supplies, fees/subscriptions, business cards, reading lamps, telephone, internet access, supply to your RSA, memberships in local business organizations (eg Chamber of Commerce), insurance, utilities, accounting fees, legal fees, income tax, real estate tax and mortgage interest,.

What kind of bookkeeping or accounting system is needed in a well-run B&B? Bookkeeping for a B&B doesn’t have to be so complicated. Your options are a manual accounting system or a computer-based system. A manual accounting system could be as simple as a checkbook, an accordion file, and a few folders. The accordion file should have twelve cases for each month. Include folders for your main expenses in each compartment and place your expense receipts in each expense folder. For those expenses that do not fit neatly into any category, include a “miscellaneous” folder. At the end of the month, calculate your expenses on a checklist that lists expenses on the left and a column for each month on the right. Subtract the month’s total from your receipts for the month and you’ll know how much money you’ve made or lost. A computer-based system should be simple to use. I recommend QuickBooks as it is one of the easiest accounting software programs to learn and use on the market. A few hours with your accountant learning QuickBooks can save you many hours of trial and error, not to mention frustration and stress, down the road. If you feel that you don’t have the attention to detail to keep even a rudimentary accounting system, use your checkbook as an accounting system. Make sure, however, that every expense you make goes through your checkbook, or that a particular credit card is only used for business purchases if you’re not good at keeping receipts.

Should I organize my B&B as a sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation or LLC?

This question is not easy to answer. Before we get to that answer, let me touch on how the B&B is owned. I would recommend the B&B to be personally owned. The reason is that there are tax advantages to owning the B&B personally. An important tax benefit is the personal residence exclusion of any gain up to $500,000 ($250,000 for individual taxpayers) on the personal residence portion of your B&B. Another reason is that this direct ownership better facilitates the use of a tax-advantaged sale of the B&B using a like-kind exchange, which allows the seller to defer taxation of any gain on the sale of the B&B as long as like-kind property (real property) is acquired within six months from the date of sale of the B&B. With a direct personal ownership structure, you could lease the B&B to the legal entity that will run the business. Under no circumstances would I run the B&B business as a sole proprietorship, as a sole proprietorship has unlimited liability.

My first choice would be a corporation where an S election was made. The S corporation offers the best limited liability protection, even better than an LLC or partnership. Here’s why. In an LLC your personal liability is limited, in the event of a lawsuit for some type of negligence, but only if you did not personally cause the negligence or injury (ie, an employee was responsible for the negligence or injury and you did not direct it as an employee execution of this act). If you had anything to do with the negligent act, you and all of your personal assets may be at risk. In a partnership, as a general partner, you can be held personally liable for any negligence or injury, even if caused by an employee. In a corporation, only corporate assets are at risk. Your personal assets are safe. Personal liability at the corporate level would require “piercing the corporate veil”, which is very difficult to do given the long history of corporate jurisprudence limiting it. In an S corporation, any net income or net loss and certain other tax items will flow on your personal income tax return, since an S corporation is a pass-through entity.

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