Last weekend I had planned a little adventure. After the marathon-workload that was my August when I worked for twenty-nine of the thirty-one days of the month, I decided that a little treat had been earned and that treat would encompass one of my passions, Neolithic stone circles.
I did not expect it to be a learning opportunity for me as a potential B&B owner. It was, and I thought I'd share some of my thoughts here to gauge the opinions of others. I do not plan to name the B&B in which I stayed for the sake of fairness since I did not mention any of the points listed below to the owner because I did not think he would take kindly to my feedback.
I had booked a B&B online, chosen for its location and for the rave reviews that others had left about the establishment, and because it looked 'quirky' and 'homely' and I do like quirky, homely places.
It was priced a little on the high-end of the market, in honesty more than I would have expected to pay for a bed and breakfast, but the location was perfect and I thought I'd earned it, so I arranged a stay and the owner immediately took £140 from my bank account which surprised me but perhaps that is the norm?
Point 1. I would not expect people to pay the full amount in advance. What if there were 'issues' either with my establishment or with their travel plans? Would not 50% be more reasonable as an upfront payment?
So, the booking was confirmed and I was told that I would have an en-suite room, which, for that price, I would have expected.
Point 2. Check-in time was 5pm. Check-out time was 10am. I would have liked to have arrived a little earlier, at 4pm perhaps, in order to relax after a strenuous day at Stonehenge, to bathe, change and prepare for dinner at a nearby pub/restaurant. And I would have liked to have had the option to leave a little later, especially on a Sunday morning.
I arrived, was met by the male owner (his wife has a job outside of the B&B) who was polite and smiling in a ... no, no bias here, in an apparently friendly, albeit a little patronising way (my personal opinion), and escorted to my room, past a sign instructing me to remove my shoes, which I failed to notice on arrival and so entered fully-shod, carrying my own laptop case, overnight bag, bag of books on Neolithic stone circles, goodies purchased at Stonehenge, my picnic bag, camera and handbag, none of which the owner offered to carry for me and all of which I had been obliged to remove from my car since a notice in the village's 'resident parking area' had cautioned me that thieves operate in the area. No parking at the B&B itself.
Point 3. I did not feel 'loved'. That may seem like a small point but a middle-aged, oft-times shy woman, travelling alone, does appreciate a few gestures of kindness and consideration. Again, a personal opinion.
My room was 'interestingly' furnished. As I said before, I do like quirky, I seek out the quirky, but there's quirky and then there's a room that looks as if it's the store-room for a junk shop. But, again, a matter of personal taste. There was not, however, a dressing-table or a chest-of-drawers and the only hanging space was a cupboard with a single, sad coat-hanger swinging sadly from a low rail. I was only there for one night and had no need to unpacking but it would have been nice to have had some useful bedroom furniture.
The refreshment tray comprised tea-bags, one herbal, one organic, four 'value', some cartons of long-life milk and cream, tubes of sugar and instant coffee. I had brought my own teabags and some fresh milk, a small packet of biscuits and some decent decaffeinated coffee. I'd have provided those to guests and, I think, home-made biscuits and maybe, being in rural England, a little home-made fruit cake, a scone and jam or a cupcake... A welcoming tea-tray is important, I think, and for £140 a night a biscuit would not have broken the budget.
On a practical point, the kettle and tray were on a low coffee table which made bending double to pour boiling water a potentially hazardous affair. It could easily have been located on one of the 'interesting' pieces of furniture at worktop-height.
The other surprise was that the room was not en-suite, my bathroom being situated along a corridor. This was not welcome news and unexpected since I'd been told I'd have an en-suite. Large bath robes were provided, the bathroom was large and lovely, the toiletries were of good quality but padding along a corridor to perform my ablutions was not a pleasant prospect given that the other guest room had been taken by two men. Call me old-fashioned, call me middle-aged, call me silly, but I felt put-off. My own B&B will not have en-suites but the two bedrooms will only be offered to couples, families or friends and that entire part of the house for guests will be for their sole-use.
Point 4. I think it a good idea for the owners to stay in their own guest rooms in order to test the facilities they are offering.
I did not bathe before dinner. I went out and found the pub that the owner suggested, a 10 minute drive from the B&B and past some lovely small stone circles and one avenue of stones, had a decent dinner and returned to my quirky room.
Being a fan of fresh air I opened the sash windows as wide as possible which proved noisy, given the pub next door at which people were drinking at tables outside, and the road into the village which passed in front of the B&B, and the loud shouts of people leaving the pub at closing time, but I live in a quiet little house at the end of a lane and am accustomed to only hearing owls and the sound of my own eyelids blinking when I am in bed so, again, a personal opinion.
I slept well in a comfortable bed with good pillows and linen, although I did wake several times, once after a dream in which I was obliged to cook breakfasts for everyone and once when I dreamt that I over-slept and missed the check-out deadline, which I take as an indication that I did not feel at ease. And I did have to scuttle to the bathroom once which was not nice. I tweeted that incident and someone replied that for £140 there should have been a limo service, to which I responded, or at least a piggy-back?
The morning shower was not good. The shower head was directly overhead and fixed in place so I risked a thorough drenching which, with long hair that did not need washing, made cleaning myself awkward. I could have had a bath, I'd brought some lovely organic lavender bath soak for that purpose, but I'd been told that breakfast would be served at 8:30 am on the dot, and I hadn't time to linger in the bath.
Point 5. Breakfast at 8:30 am precisely, on a Sunday morning. I would offer guests the choice of eating breakfast between 7 am and 10 am. Later if they wish to have a lie-in. They are, let's face it, on holiday.
I entered the dining room, again furnished like the store-room of a junk-shop, where a table had been laid for one and where the other two guests were already seated at a second table with their backs to me, gazing out of the window. I said a polite 'Good morning' and sat down. I think they replied with a similar greeting but I can't be sure. We ignored each other after that. There being no sign of the host I ate the interesting little bowl of fresh fruit salad that was on my table and then popped upstairs to fetch a book for company. The owner appeared, asked if I wanted the 'vegetarian cooked breakfast' which was all that appeared to be on offer, and would I like brown or white toast which I declined since there was only an odd-looking vegetable spread in little luminous green packets on the table and no offer of butter, and disappeared to find my coffee. While he was gone I drank my concentrated orange juice, observed some packets of cereals on a sideboard nearby and wondered if they were for guests, or for show.
My coffee was, coffee. My cooked vegetarian breakfast was awful - a fried egg, some potatoes, sliced mushrooms a fried tomato sprinkled with something green, cheap-tasting baked beans and the worst vegetarian sausage I have ever encountered. It was tepid, tasteless and truly awful.
Point 6. Breakfast could have been the saving grace of the B&B. A fluffy cheese omelette, pan-fried mushrooms on thickly-sliced, generously-buttered toast, poached eggs and toast, boiled eggs and toast soldiers, cheeses and fruit, the list of possibilities could go on... Needless to say, a nasty pink, cardboard-textured vegetarian sausage should never, ever, ever be included in a meal for anyone. I wished that I'd accepted his offer of ketchup, which I should have taken as a warning and why wasn't it on the table anyway?
I think that breakfast was the nail in the coffin of the B&B.
I could have forgiven the lack of an en-suite because the bathroom was lovely and the towels were fluffy and the toiletries were nice.
I could have forgiven the sad tea-tray because I had brought my own provisions.
I could have forgiven the lack of bedroom furniture because the bed was comfy and the linen good.
I could have forgiven the noise from outside because the view of outside was of a stone circle and sitting in bed, sipping tea and gazing at it next morning was lovely.
But I could never forgive the breakfast and, let's face it, breakfast is one half of the B&B experience.
When I arrived home yesterday evening The Ragazza showed me an episode of a TV series in which a set of B&B owners stay at each others' establishments and compete to win a prize for the best value B&B. The B&B at which I had stayed had taken part a few years ago. They had charged £250 a night. The other B&B owners who judged it raised similar points to mine, above. Needless to say, it came last in the competition. Had I watched the programme before I booked the room I would not have stayed there, but now I understand why I formed the impression of the owner that I did, having seen how he behaved during the competition.
An interesting experience and a good lesson in how not to run a B&B.
Location may be important, being situated next to a stone-circle may be a bonus, but really....