What is the difference between staying at bed and breakfasts and guest houses?

Silver teas set on a bed in a bed and breakfast
Silver teas set on a bed in a bed and breakfast

One of the biggest questions that prospective purchasers ask is what is the difference between a B&B, a Guest House and a Hotel. Chris McDonagh, Senior Partner at Stewart Hindley, explains the differences.

Firstly, there is no legal dividing line between these businesses and no generally accepted rule either.

VisitEngland calls both B&Bs and Guest Houses ‘guest accommodation’, and AA Hospitality have decided that an establishment with ‘Hotel’ in its name should be treated as a Hotel. So, to say the least, the distinction between these terms is a grey area.

Star Rating Schemes

There is, however, a sharp distinction in the star rating schemes between ‘guest accommodation’ and ‘hotel’, with star ratings for each being decided on very different criteria. Don’t expect a 4-star B&B to have the same facilities as a 4-star hotel. It was possibly clearer when the former used to be awarded diamonds, and the latter stars.

The Size of the Establishment

As a broad rule of thumb, though, B&Bs tend to be smaller – most being under 10 rooms or so, and Guest Houses larger (often roughly 10-25 rooms). None of those dividing lines are exact though – and you will find 15-room B&Bs and eight-room Guest Houses (and indeed ‘hotels’).

How any individual establishment is named is in most cases historic, rather than the result of a measured decision.

Boutique Establishments

Meanwhile, the term ‘Boutique Hotel’ or ‘Boutique B&B’ is relatively new and has no official definition. It is used by owners who want to emphasise that their property is stylish and high quality, even if small. It tends to indicate design-led establishments, but it is a highly subjective judgement.

Serviced Apartments

There is a recent trend to converted traditional B&Bs and Guest Houses to serviced apartments, that generally offer larger rooms, sometime studios with small kitchenettes, to provide for longer stays. There is minimal host intervention with bookings taken on-line with automated access via a smart phone or electronic key pad.

These stays are graded on convenience rather than on guest host interaction which works for some but not for all dependent on the type of stay. Business travellers generally prefer minimal interaction whereas vacationers like the personal meet and greet service.

What makes B&Bs and Guest Houses Special?

The common factor for B&Bs – is that they are owner-managed, and not part of a chain. That means that they can offer the sort of individual welcome and service, local knowledge and home-cooked breakfast that larger, purely commercial businesses can’t replicate.

Consumers love these added extras, with millions of guests rating B&Bs and Guest Houses higher for guest satisfaction than hotels.


Stewart Hindley
Specialist financial experts helping you secure commercial loans across the hospitality, leisure and commercial property sectors.

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