When Jim and I first considered changing gears and starting a new business, running a Bed and Breakfast or lodge was high on our list. So I did some research, and read two books that helped us narrow down our focus, if we decide to make the leap. The books, “So You Want to Be an Innkeeper” and “I’m Living Your Dream Life,” dive into the gory details about the daily demands of catering to tourists. I highly recommend them if you’ve ever considered running a tourism business.
What’s It Like Running a Bed and Breakfast?
We’re still considering this type of business as an option, so when we checked into Melfort Cottage in Toronto, we were on a mission to learn more about that line of work. Melfort Cottage is a small three room Bed and Breakfast, run by Heather Donaldson, a retired schoolteacher. Located in the middle of the posh Oakville area, Melfort Cottage is perfectly situated in an historic neighborhood, within walking distance to restaurants and shopping.
Back in 2002, Heather and her husband Bob started making extensive renovations to the home they lived in, and planned on starting a lodging business soon thereafter. Tragically, Bob passed away when work was almost complete. In a gutsy move, Heather made the decision to pursue the business that she and Bob dreamed about, and hasn’t looked back. Today, she still lives in the house, and goes about her day to day life while making her guests feel so welcome, as if they’re a part of her family.
I asked Heather a few questions about what it’s like runing a Bed and Breakfast, and she had nothing but praise for her occupation. One of her favorite aspects is getting to know her guests.
“The relationships you form with people are great! There’s this wonderful serendipitious aspect of’ ‘wow, look who’s dropped into my life!’
“You really get to know families, and become a part of their lives. It’s really so enriching,” she said.
Because her guests are typically on vacation, they’re more relaxed and easygoing. Maybe it’s because many little details about her life are scattered throughout, like family photos on the refrigerator in the kitchen, that people immediately feel at home, and the atmosphere “takes on almost a family sort of way,” she said.
What Do You Do About a Grumpy Guest?
Rarely does she have an intolerable guest. On the one occasion when she’s encountered one with a challenging personality, she reframed the situation to help her get through it (and did a lot of meditating, she added!).
“It was only temporary. And there’s redeeming aspects to everybody, so because this is a business, it forced me to turn that (negativity) into a positive” and move on, she says.
Because she caters to a small number of guests, Heater can give each one individualized attention. She loves helping them out with information about where to eat and what to see. For Jim and I, she loaned us a great map book of Toronto that helped Jim find the cemetery his grandparents were buried in, in the middle of Toronto. We never would’ve found it without her help.
Many of Heather’s friends wonder how she does it. Isn’t it a real cramp on her lifestyle? they ask. And they wonder why she does it, since she’s “not getting rich from it.” Her answer to them; no way, she loves having people over. “It’s definitely not for everybody,” she says. But by being a host, she makes so many friends, and the extra money allows her to travel more often.
Never a Slave to the Business
Heather also dispels the myth about how a Bed and Breakfast host is always a slave to being at home and never gets away. Whenever she wants to go on vacation, all she has to do is block out those dates in the calendar on the online booking system she uses, BBCanada.com, and that’s it.
After staying at Melfort Cottage, it was so obvious that Heather is cut out for this type of work. She was so pleasant and fun to talk to her about everything from politics to food, and she had a lot of great advice about Toronto that helped us with our visit. Jim and I both enjoyed our stay, and will hold up Heather’s business as a model to emulate, if we decide to take on something like this in the future.