Kim and I have occasionally thought about opening a bed and breakfast. We could easily picture what it would be like: drinking wine with our guests, who are charming and entertaining people a lot like us, and we would occasionally help them reach some deep philosophical understanding or resolve a pending romantic crisis. Then we would share amusing stories before retiring to our fresh beds. In the morning we would affirm our new friendship over coffee and Kim’s homemade scones with Devon cream.
Before interrupting our retirement with such a plan, we decided to check with some folks who actually ran a bed and breakfast. As it turns out, running a bed and breakfast is a lot like work.
You know that charming touch when the hosts turn down your bed before you retire, and in some b&b’s they put a mint on your pillow? We learned that while they are doing that, they are also checking to see if anyone left a wet towel on the sheets or, as happens with many young people and a few of us oldsters, they used the whole bed as a combination closet, make-up table, and office. Not good for the vintage quilt or sheets! In some cases the guests will move some furniture around, perhaps dragging a chair across a rug or a recently refinished hardwood floor.
The hosts at one b&b where we stayed countered such guests by posting instructions all over the room – what to do with make-up, what not to flush, where to put towels and glasses, where not to put suitcases. These signs subtracted from the charm, but I see what motivated the postings!
What about vacations? Yes, as enjoyable as we may be as guests, the hosts sometimes need a vacation from us. Unfortunately, these are not paid vacations, so the vacationing hosts can watch their income drop as their vacation expenses go up. If it were me, I’d try to claim a tax deduction for “research” at other b&b’s, but I’m not sure that our tax guy would go along with that.
One husband and wife team solved the problem by having separate vacations. When we arrived, the husband was weeding the garden while the wife was touring Europe. Without rising to his feet, he directed us to our room. We opened the door and found another guest’s clothes and suitcases strewn about, but when we went back outside to ask our host about it, he was gone. We explored the charming but not particularly clean premises for an hour or so and, feeling abandoned, we went into town for dinner. Our host joined us at the table, ordered himself a beer, gave us menu suggestions, and explained that he did not really enjoy the b&b experience, that his wife did most of the work, and that he was more interested in tomorrow’s tennis tournament. Only after he left us did we realize that we were buying his beer. Since our suitcases were in the car, we left for a motel. This is a version of what might happen if Kim went on vacation and left me to play the role of host.
Another consideration: sometimes things go wrong. We were staying at a charming b&b in Pennsylvania that was part of a working farm. We got to tour the operation, and fortunately I was not asked to help with the milking. That night a powerful thunderstorm knocked out the power. No problem – we were snug in bed. Then the generator started up just outside our window. The hosts were gracious enough to direct us to an excellent b&b a few miles away, but I don’t think anyone made much money from our stay(s).
Speaking of sitting around drinking wine with guests, it did happen that way at a couple of places where we stayed, with the hosts skillfully guiding the conversation so we all got to know one another. A little more dangerous was the one where the wine and liquor was set out for free (they had no license to sell it), but we were asked to buy mixers and, without being asked directly, to leave tips. This is a practice that I would not want to implement for fear that I would have a guest like me.
No, I think the perfect solution is to stay at a bed and breakfast. Our recent trip to the Cocoa Cottage was perfect in every way. Even more perfect is my twenty-five year stay at Kim’s bed and breakfast, with excellent meals (not just breakfast), meticulous cleaning, artistic décor, and the kind of conversations I mentioned in the first paragraph. As an added bonus, I even get to sleep with the host!