The first-timer's guide to bed and breakfast etiquette

Warm, personalized service and mingling among guests are part of the appeal of bed and breakfasts. But hospitality goes both ways. Depending on the property, you might be staying in someone's private home, sharing common rooms, or dining with fellow travelers. At B&Bs, as in life, communication and common courtesy are key.

We asked some innkeepers for advice on basic B&B etiquette. If it's your first time at a B&B, the following simple tips will help you have a smooth, relaxing stay. Here's everything you need to know about being the best guest ever.

What are some things that guests should tell hosts in advance?

Many B&Bs offer services and amenities specially tailored to the needs of individual guests. But because policies can vary from inn to inn, it's crucial to communicate your needs and expectations before your stay.

Tell your hosts about any dietary restrictions, food allergies, room preferences, and special requests you might have. If you have physical limitations, ask if your room is handicap-accessible. When traveling with kids, make sure your B&B is child-friendly. You may want to disclose your arrival and departure times too, especially at smaller properties where innkeepers personally welcome arriving guests.

Are you celebrating? Many innkeepers will happily help you plan something fun for an anniversary or birthday, as long as you inform them in advance. Rick Litchfield, Innkeeper at Captain Lord Mansion in Kennebunkport, Maine, shares his property's policy on special occasions: "For every celebratory getaway, we offer complimentary upgrades. For anniversaries, we do a split of sparkling wine and chocolates. For birthdays, we do a 6-oz. jar of Maine blueberry jam. For other special getaways, we'll offer sparkling wine or nonalcoholic wine."

Do I have to eat breakfast with other guests?

A home-cooked breakfast shared with fellow travelers is a much-loved perk of the B&B experience. It may seem like breakfast is a must—after all, it's usually included in the price of your stay—but the reality is a lot more flexible. If you want to try a local restaurant, or if you'd like to skip breakfast and sleep until noon (a wonderful idea), go for it. It's your vacation, and innkeepers understand that.

If you're staying at a large property with a full-service restaurant, you probably don't need to announce that you'll be skipping breakfast. But at a smaller inn with limited seating and a small staff, it's a good idea to communicate your breakfast plans ahead of time. Check your B&B's website or contact the innkeepers if you're not entirely sure what to do.

Is it rude to take breakfast to go or to eat breakfast in my room?

It depends on the property, but many B&B owners are happy to accommodate guests who'd like to grab breakfast and go. For example, at Snow Goose Bed and Breakfast in Keene Valley, New York, the innkeepers are happy to pack a healthy to-go breakfast for guests hoping to hike the Adirondacks trail routes the morning. Not all inns and B&Bs offer takeaway breakfast, of course, so get in touch with your innkeepers first.

Some B&Bs offer in-room dining, others don't. At B&Bs outfitted with antiques and period furniture, owners may prefer to keep food out of the rooms.

What if I'm late for check-in?

Flights get delayed. Traffic jams happen. Busses break down. Innkeepers are well aware of the uncertainties of travel. It's okay if you're late for check-in, but the important thing is to touch base with your hosts when there's a change in plans.

Before you leave, make sure you have the contact information for your B&B. Save your hosts' phone number and email address on your phone and keep a hard copy of these details in your carry-on bag (just in case your phone battery dies).

May I bring my pet?

Each B&B has its own rules about pets. Some are perfect for them, while others are strictly humans-only. If you're traveling with a four-footed companion or two, ask your inn about its pet policy before you book.

What should a guest do if he or she has spilled something in a room?

Accidents happen. Litchfield says, "We never shame or blame a guest. Be up front and honest so that it can be immediately cleaned. Especially if it is red wine, the sooner the better."

Any advice for conversation topics around the breakfast table?

According to Eric Huenneke, owner of Prospect Place in Cambridge, Massachusetts, "Part of the adventure with breakfast conversation is to see what happens with the combination of guests." Have fun getting to know your fellow travelers—you never know what you might learn. A few of the innkeepers we talked to advised staying away from religion and politics as early-morning conversation topics with strangers.

A bit of breakfast hobnobbing is a great opportunity to discover more about your destination, too. We recommend using the morning meal as a means for gleaning travel advice. Ask guests what they've seen and done in the area, and share your own experiences. You could gain valuable firsthand guidance on the best way to explore your destination.

May I ask my hosts for trip-planning advice or ideas on what to see in the area?

One of the best B&B benefits is the personalized travel advice on offer from extremely knowledgeable innkeepers. Few people know their home base better than B&B owners, and they can provide an insider's know-how combined with years of experience helping travelers explore their surroundings.

Many inns offer brochures, books, and other helpful resources for guests. Some have fully stocked libraries with guidebooks and maps galore. Litchfield says, "At Prospect Place, we offer advice on sightseeing, beaches, lighthouse tours, theater tickets, dinner reservations, water excursions such as sailing, whale watches, and lobster boat cruises. We even offer [use of] free bicycles."