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The Business of Running a Bed and Breakfast
Running a Bed and Breakfast (“B&B”) sounds good at 5:00 PM rush hour on the streets of Manhattan in the cold of winter. The fact is, it can be a real job. I’ll give you a taste of what life is like for a typical B&B owner.
Imagine it’s 8 pm on a Friday in the middle of summer in your lovely B&B. You have just cleaned the dining room where your guests recently enjoyed light meals and drinks. You’re tired. It’s been a long day. You’re about to start doing the dishes, which will take about an hour, and the phone rings. It’s John Smith, a late-arriving guest who was supposed to check in at 9 p.m. He says he’ll be there no later than 10 p.m.
It is now 21:00, you have just done the dishes and now you are throwing dirty towels in the laundry and collecting new towels to replace the old ones in the bathrooms. This will take about an hour. You check your watch. It’s 10pm, no John Smith. “Where could he be?” you wonder to yourself. You check your phone for messages, none. At 22:30 the phone rang. It’s John Smith. He’s on the Garden State Parkway at exit 117. He should be there in about half an hour. At 23:00 John Smith finally arrives. You check her in, show her to her room, and rush to your bedroom at 11:20 PM because you promised early riser Julie Murphy you’d have fresh coffee and a continental breakfast for her at 6:00 AM. If you’re lucky, you’ll pass out from exhaustion at 11:45 p.m. and sleep for just over five hours.
Welcome to the peaceful world of B&Bs. Not your average day, but you get the idea. My point is this, managing a B&B is not as easy as you think. However, it can be anything you thought it would be as long as your thoughts are anchored in reality.
Attention to detail and the location of your B&B can make your B&B a real success or a real nightmare. During your B&B’s busy season (mainly May-September in the Northeast), you’re always on the go. Your opening hours are determined by the hours of your guests. Arriving late can keep you up late, and being an early riser might require you to wake up at 5am.
Frequently asked Questions
What is a B&B? In general, anything with more 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 in a year is a good year.
Can you make a living at B&B? In most cases, you need about six rooms to live in it. Anything less is just extra income. If a host wants to make a living in B&B, he has to open an inn.
What are the biggest problems for B&B hosts? In general, a well-run B&B requires attention to detail and last-minute cancellations or guests who just don’t show up.
Should you report your B&B to the Reservation Service Agency (“RSA”)? If this is your first B&B and you’re just getting started, the answer is definitely yes! Here’s why. A good RSA offers many valuable services. First, they can drive your business to your B&B. Many RSAs provide brochures for state-run welcome centers. Some RSAs reach out to local businesses and special event coordinators. When a potential guest picks up one of these brochures and calls RSA, they offer B&Bs that match their geographic and personal needs. Other benefits of joining the RSA include valuable advice on how to run a B&B. Many RSAs will usually come to your B&B to see if it has the right setup to accommodate guests.
They usually bring a checklist and go through some type of vetting process. You will soon find out what your B&B’s strengths and weaknesses are. Often this service is offered free of charge, as an initial consultant RSA will do this to determine if your B&B meets the minimum requirements. This inspection helps to specify the internal problems of your bed & breakfast. If you pass the inspection, the RSA will be interested in listing your home. In addition to those mentioned, typical operational services provided by RSA include answering phones, email/email enquiries, screening and matching guests with hosts. They send a confirmation to customers who make a reservation. Some even send regular newsletters to hosts and help hosts with bookkeeping and tax preparation. All these services are of course paid. Generally, RSA’s commission is 20-25% of the rental income of the guests they 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 expenses can you expect to incur from your B&B? B&B maintenance costs include food, drink, coffee filters, soap, shampoo, face/toilet paper, cleaning supplies, cleaning help, laundry, new sheets, paint, repairs, bed linen, bed linen, towels, fresh flowers, new mattresses, advertising/promotion .
What kind of bookkeeping or accounting system is needed in a well run B&B? B&B accounting doesn’t have to be so complicated. Your options are a manual accounting system or a computerized one. A manual accounting system can be as simple as a checkbook, an accordion file, and some envelopes. There should be twelve compartments in the harmonica file every month. Include envelopes for your main expenses in each compartment and place receipts in each envelope. For those expenses that don’t fit neatly into any category, include a “miscellaneous” envelope. At the end of the month, calculate your expenses on a checklist with expenses listed on the left and a column for each month on the right. Subtract the total for the month from your receipts for the month and you will know how much money you made or how much you lost. A computer-based system must be easy to use. I recommend QuickBooks because it is one of the easiest accounting software on the market to learn and use. A few hours with your accountant learning QuickBooks can save you many more hours of trial and error, not to mention frustration and stress. If you feel like you lack the attention to detail to keep even a rudimentary accounting system, use your checkbook as your accounting system. However, make sure that all expenses incurred go through your checkbook or that a specific credit card is only used for business purchases if you are 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, I want to address how a B&B should be owned. I recommend that the B&B is owned personally. The reason is that there are tax advantages to owning a B&B personally. One major tax advantage is that the personal residence does not receive any gain up to $500,000 ($250,000 for individual taxpayers) from the B&B personal residence. Another reason is that this direct ownership makes it easier to take advantage of the B&B’s tax-advantaged sale through a like-for-like exchange, which allows the seller to defer taxation of the gain on the sale of the B&B as long as similar assets (real estate) are acquired within six months of the B&B’s sale date. With a direct personal ownership structure, you can rent the B&B to the legal entity running the company. Under no circumstances would I run a B&B business as a sole trader, as a sole proprietorship has unlimited liability.
My first choice would be a company with an S election. An 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 if there is a lawsuit for some type of negligence, but only if you did not cause the negligence or injury (ie, the employee was responsible for the negligence or injury, and you did not direct that employee to take that action). If you had anything to do with negligence, you and all of your personal property could be at risk. As a responsible partner in a limited company, you may be personally liable for negligence or damage, even if it is caused by an employee. In a company, only the company’s assets are at risk. Your personal belongings are safe. Personal liability at the corporate level would require “piercing the corporate veil”, which is very difficult as this is limited by the long history of corporate jurisprudence. In an S corporation, all net income or net losses and certain other tax items are transferred to your income tax return because the S corporation is a pass-through entity.
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