Bed and Breakfasts: 10 Etiquette Questions Answered

I used to avoid staying in bed and breakfasts. The pictures I saw of them were lovely, but I wasn’t sure of the etiquette. Do I knock when I get there? How about every time we come and go? Will coming in late at night be a problem? Will we have to share a bathroom with other guests? (Please—no!)

Then I went on a press trip, and they assigned us to a bed and breakfast. Oh no! What to do? Everything worked out just fine that weekend. The beautifully decorated Victorian mansion included a Jacuzzi tub in every room, and we were the only guests staying there that night. Since then, bed and breakfasts have become one of our favorite types of accommodation, and we stay in them often.

If you have yet to stay at a B&B for any of the fears I had, fear no more. Here are answers to 10 questions you may have about staying in a bed and breakfast.

Summers Riverview Mansion - bed and breakfasts

1. Is there a particular check-in time?

When you make your reservation, you will likely need to let your host know what time you will check in. This took us aback on our first B&B stay, since we often add things to our itinerary on the spur of the moment, and we get to the hotel when we get there. It makes sense, though, since B&B staffs are small and perform many functions. It isn’t cost effective for them to have someone on desk duty around the clock. So confirm your arrival time, and let them know as soon as possible if it needs to change.

2. Do I ring the doorbell or walk right in when I arrive?

Often there will be instructions on the door when you arrive. We’ve stayed in a few places with business-type doors that were obviously meant for you to walk right in. In those cases, the B&B had a registration desk similar to an inn. Otherwise, we always ring the doorbell, as many times doors are locked for security purposes.

3. Must I let the host know every time I come and go?

More often than not, the main B&B entry door has a coded lock. Your host will give you the code when you arrive, so you can come and go as you please. Your host will also give you a key to your room, or the key may be in your door’s keyhole. We stayed in one B&B in which the locks on the bedroom doors could only be locked from the inside, not the outside. That’s very unusual, however.

4. How do I know which is common space and which is private?

Besides your bedroom, B&B’s provide common space. Your host will give you a short tour upon your arrival, pointing out space available to all guests. Usually it’s a parlor with a television, as many B&Bs don’t have televisions in the bedrooms. You may find games or books to enjoy while you’re there, as well. Outdoor porches and gardens are often available for you to relax or stroll. And sometimes B&Bs will provide complimentary beverages in a common refrigerator, as well as light snacks.

5. Will I have a private bathroom?

We’ve only stayed once in a B&B with a shared bathroom, and the bathroom adjoined two bedrooms from opposite ends. There was no one staying in the other guest room, so it worked out for us. It’s likely the bedroom that shared the common bathroom is only assigned to parties traveling together. A few B&B’s however, have some rooms that share baths, so be sure to clarify when you make your reservation. Some people don’t mind a shared bath, but I prefer my own bathroom space.

6. Do bed and breakfasts offer wheelchair accessible rooms?

If you need a wheelchair-accessible room, be sure to ask when making your reservations if they can accommodate you. Some can, if they have space on a first floor. However, B&Bs are commonly in older homes, so many cannot. Climbing stairs is a common requirement.

7. How does breakfast work?

Breakfast varies from place to place. We’ve had everything from a continental breakfast (Amish-baked breads, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, and such) to multi-course gourmet meals. Some give you a plated meal, while others offer a buffet. Some hosts will ask what time you want breakfast, and others give you a window of time that breakfast is served. In one place we stayed, we were given a window of time and were presented with menus with several breakfast options, although most don’t offer multiple breakfast options.

Usually your host will ask about dietary restrictions when you arrive. If they don’t, be sure to mention any restrictions you may have.

Breakfast is where you’ll likely meet other guests, as well. Some B&Bs have separate small tables, restaurant style, but in others, you all sit around one common dining room table. We’ve met some wonderful people and have had great conversations around the breakfast table.

8. Should I tip?

If a B&B is run by the owners, no tipping is necessary. If they have housekeeping help come in, you may want to leave a tip in your room. How do you know? If they have housekeeping staff, you’re likely to see them during your visit. Or you may find a tip envelope in your room. However, do not leave a tip for your breakfast meal.

9. What is this book in my room?

Most B&Bs leave a journal-type book in your room in which you can make comments about the room, the property, the hosts, or what you did while you were in the area.

10. How do I check out when it’s time to depart?

The most common practice when you depart is to simply leave your room key in the door keyhole of your room. If your hosts are available, let them know you’re leaving, and thank them for their hospitality.

Some of our favorite bed and breakfasts

If you’re like us, once you stay in a bed and breakfast you’ll look forward to staying in them. Read about some our favorites via the links below:

Goldmoor Inn, Galena, Illinois

Summers Riverview Mansion Bed & Breakfast, Metropolis, Illinois

Kintner House Inn, Corydon, Indiana

Marmalade Sky Bed and Breakfast, Danville, Indiana

Market Street Inn, Jeffersonville, Indiana

Seldom Scene Meadow B&B, Richmond, Indiana

Kingsley Inn, Fort Madison, Iowa

Red Umbrella Bed and Breakfast, Grantville, Pennsylvania (near Hershey)


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Bed and Breakfasts - Questions Answered



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7 thoughts on “Bed and Breakfasts: 10 Etiquette Questions Answered

  • July 18, 2018 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks for the tips on what to expect when staying at a bed and breakfast. I had no idea that you shouldn’t tip if it is just the owners; I thought you would always want to tip. My wife and I want to start staying at different B&B’s but we aren’t sure of what to expect; I will be sure to share this with her.

    • July 19, 2018 at 8:21 am

      It would be fine to tip the owners if you’d like, but it isn’t necessary. We’ve stayed in a couple more B&Bs the past couple of weeks. One was the Covington Inn, an old towboat that had been converted to a B&B and docked on the Mississippi River in St. Paul, Minnesota. It was the most unusual B&B we’ve experienced–and such fun!

  • March 19, 2019 at 6:08 pm

    Thank you for these tips! I have a question: the B&B I will be staying at seems as though they serve small breakfast portions (a reviewer online said the same thing). I am accustomed to having a larger breakfast especially as I will be sightseeing and not eating lunch until mid-afternoon. Is it rude to request a second helping? It’s not a buffet and there is no menu of several options to choose from. They seem friendly but I don’t want to ask them and have them think I will be a difficult or greedy guest. Thank you.

    • March 19, 2019 at 7:12 pm

      That’s a tough one! Certainly the hosts want you to be satisfied with every aspect of your stay, including your breakfast. Yet, if they prepare only one serving of food per person, it would be awkward for them if someone asks for seconds. Perhaps when you arrive and you’re discussing breakfast time, you can let them know that you won’t have a chance to eat lunch until much later, so you want to make sure you have enough breakfast to hold you over. That said, I’m going to ask a group of travel writers their thoughts. Stay tuned…

    • March 24, 2019 at 4:37 pm

      I’ve had two people suggest that you ask what the cost would be for an extra breakfast. Another option is to pack some snacks to hold you over. Both great ideas.

  • July 18, 2022 at 7:36 pm

    It’s nice that you pointed out how you would likely need to let your host know what time you would check in when you make a reservation in a hotel bed and breakfast. I am planning to go on a short vacation next month and I am trying to look for a good accommodation to stay in while having my vacation. Staying at a bed and breakfast seems good so I’ll probably stay in one later.


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