Concern for people's comfort is the key to operating a successful bed & breakfast establishment, Lawrence area B&B; owners say.
"If they don't say `I slept like a baby,' I'm sure finding out why they didn't," B&B; owner Tom Ryan said of his customers.
Ryan and his wife, Marcella, have accommodated 19,000 guests since opening The Barn Bed & Breakfast Inn six years ago at their Valley Falls farm.
Other area B&Bs; include Halcyon House in Lawrence, Almeda's B&B; Inn in Tonganoxie and Stone Crest B&B; in Oskaloosa. In recent telephone interviews, all the owners said concern for guests had to be paramount if a B&B; was to be successful, but they differed on how best to achieve that goal.
THREE YEARS ago, Ryan helped found the Kansas Bed & Breakfast Association, to help set state standards for such inns. He also conducts workshops for prospective B&B; owners at which he tries to discourage people from going into the business for any other reason than catering to people's needs.
He said he tells his workshop participants that B&B; customers are adventurous but they expect, and deserve, quality.
Lana Gardner, who operates Stone Crest Bed & Breakfast in Oskaloosa with her husband, LeRoy, said she liked the idea of standards put forth by the Kansas association, as well as that group's methods for ensuring quality control within its membership.
She and her husband were able to join KB&BA; after passing an inspection conducted by Ryan for the association.
RYAN SAID about 40 items are checked during such inspections of prospective members, including safety features, cleanliness, parking, type of breakfast and the attractiveness of the establishment's exterior.
The KB&BA;'s 47 members also place evaluation cards in their rooms so guests can issue complaints directly to the association's standards committee should they be inclined. If the committee receives several complaints about a B&B;, another inspection is conducted. If the B&B; fails that inspection, its owners are asked not to renew their membership.
Gardner said she thought B&Bs; should be inspected.
"Just because you send your name in and pay your dues and get printed up in a book, doesn't mean you're inspected," she said.
Ryan said he hoped that in a few years, a KB&BA; sign outside an establishment would signal safety, hospitality and good quality to potential guests.
ESTHER WOLFE and Gail Towle, who have owned and managed the Halcyon House Bed & Breakfast, 1000 Ohio St., since 1985, take another perspective. They don't belong to either the American or Kansas Bed & Breakfast associations.
Wolfe said that in general, B&B; owners are independent people who like to set their own standards.
If customers want B&Bs; to all be the same, they might as well go to a Holiday Inn, she said, adding that the only way B&Bs; can maintain their regional flavor is by not being `regulated.'
There are several ways for potential guests to determine a B&B;'s quality, whether or not it is associated with a professional organization, she added.
One thing people can do is compare the price of a stay at the B&B; to the price of a stay at local hotels. If the prices are about the same, the B&B; is probably a reputable establishment.
ANOTHER WAY to judge the quality of a B&B; is to find out the number of bedrooms and the number of bathrooms it has, Wolfe said. If those numbers are close, the B&B; is probably a good one. The Halcyon House has eight bedrooms and 5 bathrooms.
Wolfe said many of the same customers keep coming back to Halcyon House, which she takes as a good sign she and Towle are doing things right. People from Ukraine, Peru, Brazil, Australia and other places around the world have stayed with them, she said, bringing a variety of expectations about the service they want to receive.
"We have never had anybody complain," Wolfe said.
The only other Lawrence bed & breakfast, Kentucky Home, closed several months ago, its owners said, because of problems securing inexpensive insurance.
ALMEDA TINBERG, who with her husband, Richard, opened Almeda's Bed & Breakfast Inn in Tonganoxie in 1982, said their inn had benefited from complimentary write-ups in travel books for 10 years.
They also belong to the Kansas association, she added, and have never had a complaint. Rather, she said, they have served guests from every state and received lots of letters thanking them for their hospitality.
Tinberg said she and her husband were committed to the B&B; business despite the fact that they are of retirement age. They enjoy meeting people, she explained, and giving them good beds to sleep in.
"That's what our operation is all about, to make people feel at home with us," she said.