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How To Run a Bed and Breakfast In France
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Guide: how to run a B&B in France
Looking for a B&B for sale in France?
Fed up with work? Need a change of direction? New career? Ever thought about earning a living by setting up and running a Bed and Breakfast, holiday cottage, gite or tourist accommodation in France? I ran a B&B in Limousin, France for six years and have learned a lot by trial and error. This is how to run a B&B and to avoid some of the pitfalls and traps.
It's not very hard to run a guest house, and most people have a bit of experience as guests at hotels and bed and breakfasts (or chambres d'hotes as they are called in France) so you will already have a wealth of experience even if you don't already know it!
This article is intended as a bit of a guide and consists mostly of a list of mistakes made on my part together with a few triumphs along the way. It is really aimed at anyone who would like to set up a modest, homely guest house in rural France - not a big hotel or massive money-making machine.
Professional advice? Not at all - I'm an artist not a hotelier - so if I can run a chambre d'hotes in France - anyone can.
Our B&B story in rural France
We started Les Trois Chenes farmhouse Chambres d'hotes and gite five years ago, to live the good life in the depths of the French countryside. We did not expect to earn a fortune, but aim to make a modest income and we are now achieving this nicely. It's time to move on so Les Trois Chenes is now for sale.
We love it here and would do it all again - but better so I'm passing on some of my experience here! A few things I'd like to change and a few tips I would like to pass on to you to help you make money in France.
While vacuuming the bedrooms and struggling to make beds this morning, it occurred to me that I could have avoided many of the pitfalls I have set up for myself, if I had only taken the time to do a little research beforehand. So here are a few things to avoid, and a few tips I have picked up along the way.
Do you dream of owning your own Bed and Breakfast in France?
Are you looking for a bed and breakfast for sale in France?
How to set up a bed and breakfast in France - rules and regulations
We are based in France, and the rules and regulations may well be different in different countries. Also remember, the rules change! When we started out with our project six years ago a Chambre d'hôtes could have six bedroom. By the time we finished all the building work and actually set up the B&B as a business, the number of rooms allowed was five. So much for intricate and exacting businesss planning!
In France the rules and regulations seem to be surprisingly few - although they are tightening up all the time.
In 2014 you need to register as a business (Auto-entrepeneur is OK) unless you are running the B&B as a second occupation. You also need to declare it at your local Mairie where they will give you a very simple form to complete.
If you are serving food you need to get a drinks licence which was about 10 euros and allowed me to serve wine, beer and typical Limousin aperitifs like Pineau de Charante and Kir. Now you also have to go on a short food safety course. Gites de France will give you more information on this as this is a new introduction - there was nothing in my day.
Check out the rules where you are - but be prepared for changes.
Help and rules for buying and running a B&B in France
- Gites de France
Location Vacances Gîtes de France - 'les Trois Chênes' parmi 55000 Chambre d'hôtes en Haute-Vienne, Limousin
Training courses for the hospitality business
I am sure there are training courses which may help you to provide a professional service quickly but you can also watch the TV programmes 'Four in a Bed' (UK) or it's French equivalent 'Bien Venu Chez Nous' - as good as a course.
One thing I did learn from these programmes is that you can't please all of the people all of the time.
A guide to Limousin
Best location for a bed and breakfast Location, location, location
We came to France because property was cheap, schooling and health provision excellent, the weather, food and wine is very much to our liking and my mother speaks French.
We chose our house because we thought it was lovely, had great potential for a b&b, gite, studios and even café or gallery. It was in lovely countryside, quiet and, above all, only five minutes from the lake of Videix with a host of facilities to make a perfect family holiday.
Our decision was based on our personal preferences for greenery, solitude and peace and quiet. It doesn't take a genius to work out that this sort of place is not a honey-pot for tourists! You could check out the number of tourists and the competition before buying but of course it is a balancing act between clients and competition.
One thing we did have in our favour, by chance rather than good management, is that we are about half way between Holland / Belgium and Spain - a good overnight stopping over point.
Also what is there in your area that might attract tourists and aid advertising?
Key attractions in our area:
Rochechouart, the main town, is only 10 minutes away, and it has a fabulous medieval castle which is now a museum for contemporary art.
Cassinomagus, an impressive Gallo-Roman site is just 10 minutes away.
Oradour-sur-Glane, the famous martyr village destroyed by the Nazis, is about thirty minutes away
Points to consider when choosing a location for a B&B
- Personal preference - it will be your home
- Transport routes - your clients have to get to you. It might be a good idea to be within easy distance of a main road carrying lots of tourists and business travellers.
- Attractions for your guests - this can be tourist attractions, but it could also be business or work-related attractions. Many of our clients, for instance, were looking to buy property in Limousin
- Tourtist or business hotspots - but remember the competition
How to check out guest house demand
OK - I never really thought about this and still don't really know how to guage demand but you could try contacting your local tourist information centre, Gites de France, Booking.com and other agents and booking sites.
You could also look on sites like Booking.com and Gites de France to see how many rooms are available.
Agents, advertising and websites
My B&B really only took off when I signed up with Booking.com. I am in no way affiliated with them, I'm simply stating a fact. Early in the decision making you should consider how you will advertise and how you will book clients. I found that all my pictures were too small for Booking.com. You can also put buttons for booking on your web site.
This is a huge area and I'm not an expert. I'm working on an article that covers this area and I'll put a link here as soon as I've finished it.
I had good reviews on Booking.com and Trip Advisor
Videix lake - a great place for a family holiday
The trampoline is a great attraction for kids
Who are your target clients?
What sort of people do you want to attract? Although we do have the occasional business person staying with us, it is a good guess that in the middle of nowhere, far from main transport routes, we are not going to be inundated with sales people and business people. Nor students, nor anyone wanting a seaside holiday - I could go on.
Our target clients are families and we have set up the B&B with families in mind. Notwithstanding that, we have many couples, single travellers, locals staying for family get-togethers and weddings etc
Still, we thought of the young couple with two children who have been in the car for 12 hours. We have swings and a trampoline in the garden, tables for picknics, books in the rooms, games, toys, baby beds, baths, changing mats etc. I do not pander to picky children by having a children's menu.
Your clientel will dictate the facilities you provide, the ambience and the décor - even the food!
Warning: make sure you are insured for all the facilities you offer and take all health and safety precautions to protect yourself in case of accidents
Maximising your rental rooms
Think about your clients and your client needs. When I set up, Gites de France suggested I have two double rooms (no space in those rooms for extra beds), one room with three single beds and a family room with a double and a single on a mezzanine. We added a folding camp bed for additional children - never very satisfactory. This worked but it wasn't the best solution.
It took me a long time to realise that I had room to put another single on the mezzanine and to change the single bed to a double bed. This gave me two family rooms each with a double bed and two singles. They were very popular with families and I let them out at 100 euros a night. They also allowed me to book the rooms to couples who wanted separate beds, families with three children, three friends who could share a room but not a bed - very flexible.
Maximize your rooms and make them as flexible as possible.
Decorating and furnishing your rooms
You are selling bed and breakfast so that means you have to get your bedrooms right - it's half of the deal. It is really important that you make the right choices when it comes to furnishings, bedding and all those little extras that make all the difference. Here are my thoughts on setting up your bedrooms and bathrooms:
Another area that I have yet to tackle is how exactly to make and serve breakfast. I have written, though, about our Breakfast menu. Take a look at A Breakfast Menu from Les Trois Chenes
Making your B&B special
Offering additional attractions is good for marketing, client satisfaction and might give you an advantage over the competiton
What will make your B&B special?
Great food, fresh farm eggs from your own chickens, Llamas, a field for horses so that you can welcome people on equestrian holidays, donkeys for kids to pet, beautiful gardens .... It all helps with marketing and advertising plus sends your quests away with a smile on their face.
Bed and Breakfast with horses?
Three of the five lovely donkeys from F'anes de Carottes
Where is Limousin?
To sum up - Tips for a successful guest house
Advice and things to avoid at all costs. I made so many mistakes when set up our Bed and Breakfast - and I'm still suffering from them, so here are a few things that I wish that I'd done differently when I set up my B&B:
- Buy good bedding - ironing sheets is a killer. Good quality polyester/cotton mixes wash easily, dry quickly and always look super.
- Buy good mattresses. Your guests are buying BED and BREAKFAST. They need a good nights' sleep.
- Make sure all your beds, mattresses, duvets bed linen and pillows are standard and all the same. It is maddening to try to match duvet covers to different sized quilts. Winter project - cut my king-sized duvets and covers down to match the others.
- Provide a wide choice for breakfast - everyone has different ideas about what they want to eat first thing in the morning. (More of that to come)
- Vacuum up before cleaning the bathrooms and suck up all those hairs!! Yuck - but is real life and the bathrooms need to be spotless.
- Finally, for today, make sure you do do your housework and do not spend all your time on computer! There are always the odd surprise guests.
- By well but buy cheap. A good way of doing this is to buy reputable second hand goods. Have a look on ebay or Le Bon Coin for bargains that could be delivered to your door.
More useful advice for B&B owners
- Bed and Breakfast 5, Taking a Booking
Bed and breakfast; taking a booking by phone.
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- How to Clean Plastic Garden Furniture
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- Lay My Hat - advice for rental owners, from rental owners
All you need to know about the hospitality business.
© 2009 Les Trois Chenes