If I've learned anything in 19 years of innkeeping, it's to be hospitable to the innkeeper. Here in the downtown, West End neighbourhood of Vancouver, there have never been more than half a dozen bed and breakfasts. Amongst my innkeeper colleagues, it was only a matter of a few years before my status changed from new kid on the block to the ancient innkeeper of the West End. I have since learned that this phenomenon is widely true across bed and breakfasting. There is rather horrendous burnout in what should be a very happy profession. Why? And how to avoid it?
1. Self-employment is a risk. Not everyone is cut out to handle that kind of uncertainty. It's easy, even a comfort, to gripe with your co-workers about the boss from hell and the inane company strictures, when you know that your salary will be deposited in your bank account every two weeks. Being an employee may be as boring as a clock but not knowing if you can pay the bills in two weeks can be an alarming wake up! Never open a bed and breakfast if you are fleeing the stress and headaches of a 9 to 5 routine. You could be trading that for a 24/7 nightmare. I would suggest that you are ONLY in a position to consider innkeeping if you have already succeeded as a dependable employee, a trusted co-worker, someone the company would be glad to rehire.
2.Plan. Plan. Plan. There are great books, online advice, consultants to hire and local college courses to help you decide if innkeeping is really for you. For me, the definitive guide that asked me all the thought-provoking questions was a book called "So - You Want to be an Innkeeper" by Mary Davies. It is still out there, now in it's third revised edition. The point of planning is to look at finances, locale, zoning etc, but ONLY AFTER you have looked in the mirror. Do you have the disposition to be hospitable? Ask yourself: Am I a warm person? Am I neighbourly? Am I concerned for the well-being of others? Be honest. Much can be learned but some things have to come from the heart.
3. So if you have decided you like people, are you still going to like them inside your home? The greatest downfall that I have observed in innkeeping is an underestimation of one's own primal need for privacy. Even saints need some private time for solitude and reflection. How much do you need? Is the B & B schedule that you have planned conducive to meeting your own needs for rest and recuperation? Is the physical layout of the B & B able to provide you and your loved ones their own "space"? Privacy is often about the psychological separation of the different components of your life. Work and home are symbolic of many things to each person and juggling them both under the same roof can be more than some can manage.
4.Okay, so you are ready to invite the world. It's because your heritage home has now been beautifully restored to museum condition. The design work and decorating details have absorbed and delighted you for months. That is well and good but most guests don't want to vacation in a museum. After the renos are cleaned up and the fun of shopping for the perfect antique armoire fades, you will then have to face the prospect of visiting with your guests, meeting their needs as paying customers, cleaning, cooking, marketing and the thrill of grocery shopping. And did I say cleaning? Only so much can be delegated before you are running a hotel. A major reason for burnout is the dawning realization, that maybe you should have focused more narrowly to become a self-employed contractor or designer or decorator or florist or even that museum curator. Personally, I believe that there is enough variety and multitasking to innkeeping to keep the mind active and the body engaged. Beware if the homebody housekeeping has become a bore. Ultimately, the best antidote to the isolation of working from home is the guest who accepted your invitation, chose your establishment in a crowded marketplace, took a chance on your hospitality and decided to share his/her own time and conversation, wisdom and insight. Just be yourself. Meet your guest as an equal. Communication is two way and over a shared cup of coffee can be surprisingly rewarding.
5. These days, it takes only a mouse-click to find so many beautiful bed and breakfasts on the market that have a proven track record of producing a fat income. Ever wonder why they are for sale? If it wasn't for lack of security or planning or disposition or the love of the actual day to day work, it is probably because a couple decided to do it all together! In other words, the business succeeded just as the relationship failed. Constant togetherness, night and day proximity can bring a relationship into very sharp focus indeed. All too often, it is only one partner who is romanced by the dream of bed and breakfasting and the other goes along - but only to a point. My suggestion is that life partners would do better if they kept some separation in their careers. It gives them something to tell each other at the end of the day. But if you both really want to be full-time innkeepers, try to work out clearly defined areas of expertise and management where you don't trip over each other each and every minute. And remember, be hospitable to the innkeepers! Give yourselves a vacation too!