An Introduction to B&Bs
Reservations services around the globe; how to start your own B&B, and more.
Although people from time immemorial have been renting spare rooms in their homes to transient visitors, the activity came of age in the United States only with the creation of large-scale "reservations service organizations" (RSOs) in the early 1980s. Such early RSOs as Bed-and-Breakfast Rocky Mountains, Bed-and-Breakfast Nebraska, Bed-and-Breakfast Philadelphia, and dozens more, provided the marketing efforts and all-day telephone confirmations in their respective cities, states, or regions that no individual B&B household could afford to supply on its own.
An explosion in the use of B&Bs soon followed. The cost-conscious public, on arrival in a large city, had only to look under "B" in the telephone book to find the area-wide reservations service that could recommend any number of B&Bs and then confirm space at them.
To aid matters more, various telephone companies soon created a "bed-and-breakfast" category in the Yellow Pages, enabling travelers to find those few ornery RSO services whose names did not begin with "B": Sweet Dreams and Toast, Urban Ventures, Pinellas County Bed-and-Breakfast, etc.
Suddenly, the public had a surefire means of always uncovering a nearby B&B. But more important, they were able at last to deal only with homes that had been pre-screened for suitability by a larger organization.
The single greatest dread of the traveler--arriving at an improper lodging, to be met by an unshaven and bleary-eyed proprietor--was overcome, and Americans by the tens of thousands began flocking to guest-accepting homes confirmed and vouched-for by a regional "reservations service organization."
The negative reaction
And then the reaction set in.
First from the hotel industry. Whether America's commercial innkeepers are behind the banning of B&Bs in Carmel and Santa Fe is hard to determine. But there are suspicions of their part in drafting fire regulations that impose unreasonable burdens (in my opinion) on the bed-and-breakfast industry. A recently enacted New York State fire ordinance (admittedly, the nation's most stringent) requires elaborate sprinklers, expensive extra stairs, and special fire doors of any establishment housing more than four paying visitors on a habitual basis. The application of such rules to an easily-evacuated, one-story ranch house or simple two-story home seems a bit much.
Other attempts to put B&Bs out of business have focused on residential zoning laws that forbid the taking of "boarders." But most courts have responded that the boarder ban was meant to refer to guests who were full-time residents of the city, not transient visitors, and that other significant differences also made the rules inapplicable.
Such zoning fights--the disputed interpretation of various vague prohibitions against commercial activity--are obviously the result of fears that a steady stream of B&B visitors will cheapen a residential neighborhood, attracting motor vans, backpackers, impecunious wanderers, and the like, to an area of quiet homes.
As sensitive as we all might be to such concerns, there seems no evidence at all to support the prediction. Many B&B houses have no signs outside, nor are they open to walk-in members of the public--as in a hotel--but only to specific individuals who have made reservations in advance. Far from harming a community, experience shows that a thriving bed-and-breakfast industry attracts the best sort of additional tourism: sensitive and reasonably well-financed travelers who prefer the charm of a private home to an impersonal hotel or flashy motel. It brings considerable extra income, even prosperity, to the areas in which those homes are located.
Why you're not seeking a B&B inn
A problem of equal weight has been the adverse reactions of some travelers to the rates charged by B&B "inns," which are frequently higher than in a hotel. Confusing a B&B "inn" with a B&B "house," such disgruntled guests have proceeded to damn the entire movement. It is important that, somehow, both the B&B proprietors and the writers of B&B guidebooks adopt a proper semantic distinction between B&Bs that are inns and those that are homes.
A B&B inn is a multi-room structure wholly devoted to transient visitors. It is often a place of exquisite decor, down comforters, punctilious attentions, and cinnamon croissants (or strawberry-flavored quiche) for breakfast. Its prices are, often justifiably, higher than those of hotels.
By contrast, a B&B home is that of a normal, private family that has simply decided to supplement its income by setting aside one or two spare rooms--rarely more--for occasional paying guests. The family does not derive its entire income from that activity, but simply an extra $3,000 to $6,000 a year--the average earnings cited by most reports on the B&B industry (supplemented by the family's frequent ability to write off a portion of its home expenses or home purchase price on their taxes).