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How to Set up a Farmhouse Bed and Breakfast

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Bed and breakfast signB & B owner Lorraine Allanson looks at the qualities and attitude required to turn your house into a B & B for paying customers, one of the more common forms of rural diversification

Fancy an easy little job where you simply provide a bed and a bit of breakfast for guests with the rest of the day free to please yourself? Well, if that’s the lifestyle you’d like, then running a B & B is definitely not for you! You will need to like early morning starts, late nights, hard work and be flexible enough to provide so much more than just a bed and a bit of breakfast! The rewards, however, can be very beneficial, and not just financially but socially too. Let’s look at running a rural B & B, as that is where my own expertise lies.

Many rural properties that offer B & B are farms or smallholdings looking to diversify. These houses are usually old and not purpose-built to offer rooms for paying guests. This means you will need to create en suite facilities within the bedrooms to meet guests’ expectations. Fortunately, en suites can often be created in the corner of the room – with modern plumbing and building techniques anything is possible.

By opening your house to guests, it gives you the opportunity to earn some extra income whilst still being at home. This can be ideal if you have a family to care for, or a husband who has the habit of storming into the farmhouse shouting: “Cum ’n’ hod this gate hoppen for me while I sort t’yows.” Let me translate: “My darling wife, please will you be so kind, when you have a minute, of course, to come and hold the gate open for me whilst I sort the ewes.” You will feel so much more appreciated by your man, as now you’ll still be at home to help him, but you will actually be earning some money too!

So, what should you consider before venturing into a bed and breakfast enterprise?

1. You will certainly need to feel comfortable about strangers staying in your home.

By opening your doors for B & B, the whole world suddenly has the potential to turn up on your doorstep, and this can be very exciting and interesting – apart from people from the UK, I have had visitors from Russia, Japan, America, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and much of Europe. This is a wonderful way of broadening your horizons, and perfect if your other half doesn’t want to waste a heap of money on travelling abroad to learn about foreign cultures!

2. You will need to be a good listener.

You will become an expert on many different topics, but especially on every disease known to man, as people always love to tell you about their ailments! I was once asked at breakfast: “How do you get rid of skin tags?” I knew the answer, but I wasn’t about to start tying cotton tightly around anything dangling in my dining room! I have had to cope with dental and doctor referrals, hospital admissions and even piles (please don’t ask!).

3. You will also need to decide what standard of service you are prepared to offer.

You are not just providing a bed and some breakfast – you will need to be eternally polite and always have the attitude that nothing is too much trouble. You will need to be a font of information about what there is in the area for guests to see and do, and also know about the best places to eat and any other delights that guests may enjoy seeing or doing. It is extremely important that you do everything involved with the business to the very highest standard.

I have always had a rule that I stick to, which is: never, ever, think, “It will do”, and this applies to the decor in your property, the quality of your furnishings, bed linen, towels, and absolutely everything you provide.

No standards should ever be allowed to fall. Even if you feel exhausted, stressed or ill, your guests really don’t want to know that – you must always give an excellent level of service. Remember, they are paying you, and you are enjoying being paid!

Do not underestimate the pulling in power of the traditional farmhouse breakfast

Do not underestimate the pulling in power of the traditional farmhouse breakfast

If you take pleasure in cooking and enjoy food, then that is a great start. People have high expectations when staying in the countryside. They anticipate quality local produce cooked to perfection. One tip is to not allow anything you serve for breakfast to be below par. If you ruin something you are preparing, forget about the fact you have wasted it, just make sure you don’t serve it to your guests; start again, they will wait. It is a false economy to send a breakfast out that is not perfect, as that is all they will remember and they will not grace your doorstep again.

Not many people have a cooked breakfast at home, so this is a real treat for them, and even the skinniest fashionista can succumb to enjoying a proper home-cooked breakfast rather than dining on the memory of their last one back in 1983.

What you are trying to achieve is for your guests to love staying with you so much that they can’t wait to return.

Repeat guests are much cheaper to obtain than new ones! Use your personality, it’s your gift, and guests enjoy the light-hearted fun that you can provide. I have made many friends over the years, but being a Yorkshire lass I still charge them for the joy of staying in my home! I have never gone down the route of giving free stays to any guests, no matter how often they have stayed with me. We have a saying in Yorkshire: “If you ever do owt for nowt, do it for thesen.” This is a good rule to follow, because the very rare times that I have been swayed into giving a huge discount, it has usually backfired. On one occasion the guests accidently broke something that cost more to replace than they paid me!

So, what should you charge?

It depends on many variables, such as how much competition there is around you, and are you positioned in an area with a high demand for B & B or not? Research the B & Bs in your area. You don’t want to be too expensive, and if you are too cheap people will think your accommodation might be of a lower standard. Above all, remember you are not a charity; you are in business to make money and not just to be a very busy fool making no money! There is a happy medium.


Of course, it’s no good offering wonderful accommodation if no one knows about you, but it’s also very easy to waste money on advertising that doesn’t work. Many companies claim to offer you really wonderful opportunities, but greatly overstate the number of bookings their newspaper, magazine or website can actually bring you. Be very wary, as many are only interested in taking your money and don’t care if their advertising will actually work for you. If you are by the side of a busy tourist route you may not need to do much advertising compared to a place that is off the beaten track. You can do plenty of research online to make informed decisions. Ask yourself what makes your place unique. Try to offer a different experience and sell that to the public – there is a lot of competition out there and you will need to stand out from the crowd.

First impressions online or when your guests arrive are of equal importance.

First impressions online or when your guests arrive are of equal importance.

A really amazing organisation is Farm Stay UK, a national co-operative set up to help promote farm and country stays. FSUK is a not-for-profit organisation and is there to help individuals promote their accommodation and to help them make a profit. Members offer many types of accommodation, including B & B, self-catering cottages, caravans, camping, teepees, shepherd’s huts, camping pods, etc. You, the B & B owner, pay a membership fee and this gives you a presence on the FSUK website and a listing in their full-colour brochure, which is free to the public and distributed countrywide. FSUK is now a major driving force in the tourist industry, and has raised its profile in recent years, earning a reputation for providing quality-inspected accommodation with high standards of service. By joining FSUK you become part of a network of small businesses wishing to succeed and offering each other support and advice when needed, with handy information on all the latest legislation. Members also do a referral system, where they will pass on customers to other members when their own establishment is full. Visit the FSUK website (, or phone the head office on 024 7669 6909024 7669 6909 for more information.

The Yorkshire region of FSUK recently celebrated its 30th anniversary by publishing a recipe book which also promotes each participating member’s accommodation. The initial print run was 500, but already over 3,000 have been sold in eight months. The book sells for £5 per copy, with all the profits going to the Yorkshire Air Ambulance charity. This was a fun project to undertake, with a serious aim to raise money for charity and help publicise our properties.


There are regulations and red tape you will have to comply with. Firstly, inform HMRC you are setting up a new business – if you are earning you are liable for tax, contrary to what Joe Public might think! Regulations also mean that you need to meet certain standards for food hygiene. Most local councils now operate a ‘scores on the doors’ scheme based on a star rating, so speak with your local council. Any size B & B will have to carry out a fire risk assessment too, so speak with your local fire officer, who will be happy to assist you with this.

If you intend employing someone to help, even if they only work one hour, you will need to declare this using HMRC’s Real Time Employment system on their website. You should also take out public liability insurance to cover you against any claims by guests, and a special television licence is required when guests have access to televisions; the cost is the same as a domestic licence but covers up to fifteen TVs. If you play music, e.g. a radio in your premises, you will need a Performing Rights Society licence, and as regards advertising and Trading Standards, be aware that if you make a statement in your brochure or on your website, it must be true – ten minutes from a swimming pool has to mean ten minutes.

These regulations may seem daunting, but this is when being a member of a body such as FSUK can be very helpful. There will always be someone available to guide you through the requirements. And remember, it is better if all your guests leave your premises alive; you will then stand a much better chance of them returning!

There are certain other issues to consider. You can take up to six paying B & B guests in your home in three bedrooms without having to pay business rates on your property. If your income gets to be over the VAT threshold (which at the time of writing is £81,000 per year) you will then have to add VAT into your tariff, which is 20% at present. Beware if you are a partner in any other business, as this may be combined with your B & B income, which can push you into the VAT bracket. Seek expert advice to ensure the best route for you to go down if another business is involved.

We were only tenant farmers when we initially started our bed and breakfast enterprise, but through having the capacity to earn some extra income we were able to eventually buy the farm. This gave us the opportunity to develop the old stone barns into a range of luxury holiday cottages. From humble beginnings much can be achieved, and never underestimate the power of hard work, determination and the ability to utilise your surroundings to your benefit.

I have had lots of laughs and fun running a B & B and meeting some wonderful people. The rewards have been amazing: I even won the AA’s Friendliest B & B of the Year Award 2012/2013 – out of the whole country! Certainly don’t underestimate the amount of work there is involved, and it is never ‘just a bed and a bit of breakfast’!

Lorraine Allanson, Rains Farm Holidays, Allerston, Pickering, YO18 7PQ www

Tel: 01723 859333 01723 859333 | |







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