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How To Be A Bed And Breakfast In WI


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Jacquelynn Pack



Welcome to the world of bed and breakfasts (B&Bs) in Wisconsin! If you have a passion for hospitality and dream of running your own charming inn, then opening a bed and breakfast could be the perfect venture for you.


Wisconsin, also known as the “Badger State,” is known for its picturesque landscapes, friendly communities, and rich cultural heritage. Whether you’re situated in the vibrant city of Milwaukee, the tranquil lakeside towns of Door County, or amidst the natural beauty of the Northwoods, there is no shortage of opportunities to create a unique and memorable experience for your guests.


Operating a bed and breakfast offers a personal touch that larger hotels often lack, allowing you to cultivate meaningful connections with your guests. From serving delicious homemade breakfasts to recommending local attractions and providing a cozy and comfortable environment, your goal is to offer a home away from home.


However, opening and running a successful bed and breakfast requires careful planning, attention to detail, and knowledge of the industry. In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through the essential steps and considerations for starting and managing a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin.


From understanding the licensing and permitting process to marketing your B&B effectively and providing exceptional guest experiences, we will provide you with the insights and guidance you need to make your bed and breakfast a success.


So, if you’re ready to embark on a rewarding journey of fulfilling the hospitality dreams of travelers, let’s dive into the world of bed and breakfasts in Wisconsin!


Requirements for Opening a Bed and Breakfast in WI

Before you can start welcoming guests to your bed and breakfast in Wisconsin, there are several requirements you need to fulfill. These requirements ensure that you meet the necessary standards and regulations established by the state. Here are some key factors to consider:

  1. Business Entity: To operate a bed and breakfast, you need to establish a legal business entity. This can be a sole proprietorship, partnership, limited liability company (LLC), or corporation. Consult with an attorney or a business advisor to determine the most suitable structure for your venture.
  2. Location: Choose a location that is suitable for a bed and breakfast operation. Consider factors such as proximity to popular attractions, accessibility, and the overall ambiance of the area. Ensure that your property complies with local zoning regulations.
  3. Size Limitations: Wisconsin has size limitations for bed and breakfast establishments. According to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), B&Bs cannot have more than 10 guestrooms or accommodate more than 20 guests at any given time.
  4. Sanitary Standards: Your bed and breakfast must meet specific sanitary standards outlined by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. This includes proper kitchen and bathroom facilities, as well as adherence to food safety regulations.
  5. Accessibility and Safety: Ensure that your property meets accessibility requirements and has safety measures in place, such as fire alarms, smoke detectors, and emergency exits. You may need to undergo inspections to obtain the necessary permits.
  6. Building Codes: Familiarize yourself with relevant building codes and ordinances to ensure that your property complies with structural and safety standards.
  7. Water Testing: B&Bs in Wisconsin are required to conduct regular water testing to ensure the safety and quality of the drinking water provided to guests. This helps safeguard their health and comply with state regulations.
  8. Food Licensing: If you plan to serve meals or snacks to your guests, you may need to obtain the appropriate food licensing and certifications. This ensures that you maintain the highest standards of food preparation and safety.

It is important to consult with local authorities and regulatory agencies to ensure that you comply with all the necessary requirements and obtain the required licenses and permits. By meeting these requirements, you can establish a legal and reputable bed and breakfast in Wisconsin.


Licensing and Permitting Process

The licensing and permitting process is a crucial step to legally operate your bed and breakfast in Wisconsin. Here are the key steps you need to follow:

  1. Business Registration: Register your bed and breakfast as a business entity with the Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions. Choose a unique name for your B&B and ensure that it complies with the state’s naming requirements.
  2. Tax ID Number: Obtain a federal Employer Identification Number (EIN) from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This number will be used for tax purposes and to identify your business.
  3. DATCP Registration: Register your bed and breakfast with the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), specifically under their Transient Lodging Facility program. This registration ensures that your B&B is in compliance with state regulations.
  4. Health Department Approval: Contact your local health department to ensure that your B&B meets the necessary health and safety requirements. They may conduct inspections or provide guidance on specific regulations related to food handling and waste disposal.
  5. Alcohol License (if applicable): If you plan to serve alcohol in your bed and breakfast, you will need to apply for the appropriate alcohol license. Contact the Wisconsin Department of Revenue for information on the application process.
  6. Employer Responsibilities: If you plan to hire employees for your B&B, you will need to register as an employer with the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and obtain the necessary permits for withholding taxes and unemployment insurance.
  7. Other Permits: Depending on the specific features and amenities of your bed and breakfast, you may need additional permits, such as a music or entertainment license if you plan to host events with live performances.

It is important to research and comply with all the licensing and permitting requirements specific to your location, as regulations may vary between cities and counties in Wisconsin. Additionally, stay updated with any changes in local ordinances or regulations that may affect the operation of your bed and breakfast.


Remember to maintain proper documentation of all licenses and permits, as they may need to be displayed or provided upon request by government authorities or guests. By adhering to the licensing and permitting process, you can ensure that your bed and breakfast operates legally and with peace of mind.


Zoning and Safety Regulations

When opening a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin, it is crucial to understand and comply with the zoning and safety regulations that govern your property. These regulations ensure that your B&B operates in a safe and appropriate manner within its designated zoning area. Here are some key considerations:

  1. Zoning Restrictions: Contact your local zoning office or planning department to determine if your property is zoned for bed and breakfast operations. Some areas have specific zoning requirements for transient lodging or home-based businesses. Ensure that your property meets the necessary zoning regulations.
  2. Occupancy Limits: Wisconsin has specific limits on the number of guests that a bed and breakfast can accommodate. This includes both the maximum number of guestrooms and the maximum number of guests allowed at any given time. Adhere to these occupancy limits to maintain compliance.
  3. Fire Safety: Install fire safety equipment, such as smoke detectors and fire extinguishers, in accordance with state and local regulations. It is also important to clearly mark emergency exits and develop an evacuation plan for guests in the event of a fire or other emergencies.
  4. Building Inspections: Local building departments may require inspections of your bed and breakfast to ensure compliance with safety codes. These inspections typically focus on structural integrity, electrical systems, and overall safety features of the property.
  5. ADA Compliance: Ensure that your bed and breakfast meets accessibility requirements outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This includes providing accessible entrances, parking spaces, and accommodations for guests with disabilities.
  6. Food Safety Regulations: If you plan to serve meals or snacks to your guests, you must comply with food safety regulations established by local health departments. This includes proper food handling, storage, and cleanliness practices in your kitchen area.
  7. Liability Insurance: Obtain liability insurance coverage for your bed and breakfast to protect yourself and your guests in the event of accidents or other unforeseen incidents. Consult with an insurance professional to ensure that you have appropriate coverage for your specific needs.

It is essential to research and understand the zoning and safety regulations specific to your location, as they may vary between cities and counties in Wisconsin. Working closely with local authorities and consulting professionals in the hospitality industry can help ensure that your bed and breakfast meets all the necessary requirements and operates safely and legally.


By complying with zoning and safety regulations, you provide a secure and comfortable environment for your guests and maintain the integrity and reputation of your bed and breakfast.


Insurance Coverage for Bed and Breakfasts

As a bed and breakfast owner in Wisconsin, it is vital to have the right insurance coverage in place to protect your property, guests, and business. Here are some key insurance policies to consider:

  1. Property Insurance: Property insurance provides coverage for damage or loss to your bed and breakfast property, including the building and its contents. This policy often includes protection against perils such as fire, theft, vandalism, and natural disasters. Make sure to adequately assess the value of your property to determine the appropriate coverage limit.
  2. General Liability Insurance: General liability insurance protects you in case of third-party claims for bodily injury or property damage that occur on your bed and breakfast premises. This coverage can help cover legal costs, medical expenses, and potential liability damages. It is a critical policy to have, as accidents or incidents can happen unexpectedly.
  3. Business Interruption Insurance: Business interruption insurance provides coverage for lost income and additional expenses if your bed and breakfast operations are disrupted due to covered events, such as a fire or natural disaster. This coverage can help you maintain financial stability during the recovery period when you are unable to welcome guests.
  4. Workers’ Compensation Insurance: If you have employees working at your bed and breakfast, workers’ compensation insurance is typically required by law. This policy provides benefits to employees who experience work-related injuries or illnesses. It covers medical expenses, lost wages, and rehabilitation costs.
  5. Cyber Liability Insurance: In today’s digital age, protecting guest information and data is crucial. Cyber liability insurance helps cover the costs associated with data breaches and cyber-attacks. It can provide financial assistance for legal fees, notification costs, credit monitoring, and reputation management in the event of a cyber incident.
  6. Umbrella Insurance: Umbrella insurance provides additional liability coverage above the limits of your other primary policies, such as general liability and auto insurance. It offers an extra layer of protection and can help safeguard your bed and breakfast from potential large-scale claims that exceed your primary policy limits.

Consult with an insurance professional who specializes in hospitality insurance to assess your specific needs and determine the appropriate coverage for your bed and breakfast. They can help you understand the risks associated with your business and recommend the most suitable insurance products to mitigate those risks.


Remember to regularly review and update your insurance coverage as your business evolves. By having the right insurance policies in place, you can have peace of mind knowing that you are adequately protected in case of unforeseen events.


Marketing and Promoting your Bed and Breakfast

Marketing plays a crucial role in attracting guests to your bed and breakfast in Wisconsin. With effective marketing strategies, you can increase your visibility, build a strong brand presence, and entice potential guests to choose your B&B over competitors. Here are some key marketing tactics to consider:

  1. Website and Online Presence: Create a professional and user-friendly website that showcases your bed and breakfast’s unique features, amenities, and the surrounding area. Optimize your site for search engines and ensure it is mobile-responsive. Utilize high-quality images and descriptive text to entice visitors.
  2. Online Travel Agencies (OTAs): Partner with popular OTAs such as Airbnb, Booking.com, and Expedia to reach a wider audience. These platforms enable potential guests to discover and book your bed and breakfast easily.
  3. Social Media: Establish a strong presence on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Engage with your audience by sharing captivating photos, guest testimonials, local recommendations, and upcoming events in your area. Run targeted ads to reach potential guests who fit your target demographic.
  4. Content Marketing: Create engaging and informative content such as blog posts, articles, or videos that showcase your expertise and highlight the unique experiences guests can have at your bed and breakfast. Share this content on your website and social media channels to establish yourself as a trusted resource.
  5. Email Marketing: Build an email list of past and potential guests and send regular newsletters or special offers. Use email marketing to stay in touch with your audience, share updates, and promote exclusive deals or packages.
  6. Local Partnerships: Collaborate with local businesses, attractions, and events. Offer cross-promotions or special discounts to their customers, and ask them to recommend your bed and breakfast to their visitors. Attend local travel and tourism events to network with industry professionals and potential customers.
  7. Online Reviews: Encourage satisfied guests to leave positive reviews on platforms like TripAdvisor, Google Reviews, and Yelp. Monitor and respond to reviews promptly, addressing any concerns or issues raised. Positive reviews can significantly impact your reputation and attract new guests.
  8. Promotions and Packages: Create enticing promotions and packages to attract guests, such as weekend getaway deals, seasonal specials, or themed packages. Offer unique experiences or amenities that set your bed and breakfast apart from competitors.

Remember to continuously monitor and analyze the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. Track website traffic, online bookings, and social media engagement to see which strategies are generating the most success. Adjust and refine your marketing approach based on these insights to optimize your results.


By implementing a comprehensive marketing strategy, you can effectively communicate your bed and breakfast’s unique offerings and attract guests who are seeking an unforgettable experience in Wisconsin.


Maintaining and Managing a Successful Bed and Breakfast

Running a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin requires consistent effort and attention to ensure the satisfaction of your guests and the smooth operation of your business. Here are some key factors to consider when maintaining and managing a successful bed and breakfast:

  1. Impeccable Customer Service: Providing exceptional customer service should be a top priority. Train your staff to be friendly, attentive, and knowledgeable about your property and the local area. Respond promptly to guest inquiries and feedback, addressing any concerns or issues in a professional and efficient manner.
  2. Cleanliness and Maintenance: Maintain a high standard of cleanliness throughout your bed and breakfast. Regularly inspect guestrooms, common areas, and amenities to ensure they are well-maintained and in good condition. Pay attention to details and address any maintenance issues promptly to provide a comfortable and inviting environment for your guests.
  3. Quality Breakfast Experience: Breakfast is an integral part of the bed and breakfast experience. Offer a delicious and varied breakfast menu, accommodating dietary restrictions and preferences whenever possible. Use fresh, locally sourced ingredients to provide a memorable dining experience for your guests.
  4. Personalized Guest Experiences: Go the extra mile by providing personalized touches for your guests. Remember their preferences, offer local recommendations, and provide assistance with booking activities or making dinner reservations. Tailor the guest experience to their individual needs and preferences to create a memorable stay.
  5. Efficient Operations and Systems: Implement efficient systems and processes to streamline operations. This includes reservation management, inventory control, housekeeping schedules, and financial management. Utilize technology and software solutions to automate tasks and improve efficiency.
  6. Regular Training and Development: Continuously invest in training and development for yourself and your staff. Stay updated with industry trends, attend hospitality workshops, and provide ongoing training to ensure your team delivers exceptional service and stays motivated.
  7. Guest Feedback and Reviews: Regularly solicit feedback from your guests to understand their experiences and make improvements. Encourage guests to leave reviews on online platforms, and monitor and respond to reviews promptly. Use feedback to identify areas of improvement and enhance the overall guest experience.
  8. Community Engagement: Get involved in the local community by supporting local businesses, participating in community events, and engaging with tourism organizations. Building strong relationships with the community can lead to valuable partnerships and referrals.
  9. Financial Management: Maintain accurate financial records and establish a comprehensive budgeting system. Continuously monitor expenses, track revenue, and regularly review your pricing strategy to ensure profitability and financial sustainability.

Managing a successful bed and breakfast requires dedication, attention to detail, and a genuine passion for hospitality. By focusing on providing exceptional service, maintaining a well-maintained property, and continuously improving the guest experience, you can establish a reputable and thriving bed and breakfast in Wisconsin.


Financing and Budgeting for a Bed and Breakfast

Starting and operating a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin requires careful financial planning and budgeting. Understanding the costs involved and having a solid financial foundation is crucial for a successful business. Here are some key considerations for financing and budgeting:

  1. Startup Costs: Determine the initial capital required to purchase or lease a property, renovate or furnish the space, and acquire necessary equipment and supplies. This may include costs for permits, licenses, insurance, marketing materials, and professional services such as attorney and accountant fees.
  2. Business Plan: Create a detailed business plan that outlines your vision, goals, target market, marketing strategies, and financial projections. A well-crafted business plan will help you secure financing from lenders or investors and serve as a roadmap for managing your bed and breakfast.
  3. Financing Options: Explore different financing options, such as small business loans, lines of credit, or personal savings. Consider approaching local banks, credit unions, or other financial institutions that are familiar with the hospitality industry. Research potential grants or incentives available for small businesses in your area.
  4. Operating Expenses: Identify and estimate your ongoing expenses, including mortgage or rental payments, utilities, maintenance, insurance premiums, employee wages, marketing expenses, property taxes, and supplies. Create a budget that allows for flexibility and accounts for seasonal variations or unexpected costs.
  5. Pricing Strategy: Set competitive but profitable room rates based on factors such as location, amenities, target market, and operating costs. Consider your occupancy rates, local market trends, and market demand when determining your pricing strategy. Regularly review and adjust your rates as needed.
  6. Revenue Streams: Explore additional revenue streams beyond room rates, such as offering packages, hosting events, selling merchandise, or partnering with local businesses for referral programs. Diversifying your revenue sources can help generate additional income and enhance the guest experience.
  7. Financial Tracking: Implement a robust financial tracking system to monitor revenue, expenses, and cash flow. Use accounting software or hire a professional bookkeeper to ensure accurate record-keeping and tax compliance. Regularly review financial reports and analyze key performance indicators to make informed business decisions.
  8. Contingency Funds: Set aside contingency funds to cover unexpected expenses or revenue fluctuations. Maintain an emergency reserve to provide a safety net during challenging times or to invest in future upgrades or expansion opportunities.
  9. Professional Assistance: Seek advice from financial professionals, such as accountants or financial advisors, who specialize in the hospitality industry. They can provide guidance on financial planning, tax strategies, and help ensure you have a solid financial foundation for your bed and breakfast.

By carefully managing your finances, maintaining a realistic budget, and regularly reviewing your financial performance, you can ensure the financial stability and long-term success of your bed and breakfast in Wisconsin.


Hiring and Training Staff for a Bed and Breakfast

Building a successful bed and breakfast in Wisconsin requires a dedicated and well-trained team of staff members who can deliver exceptional service and create a memorable experience for your guests. Here are some key considerations when hiring and training staff:

  1. Define Roles and Responsibilities: Determine the specific roles and responsibilities you need to fill, such as front desk staff, housekeeping, breakfast preparation, maintenance, and guest services. Clearly define job descriptions and identify the skills and qualities required for each position.
  2. Recruitment and Selection: Advertise job vacancies on platforms and websites relevant to the hospitality industry. Conduct thorough interviews and background checks to assess candidates’ qualifications, experience, and fit with your bed and breakfast’s culture and values.
  3. Training and Onboarding: Develop a comprehensive training program to familiarize new staff members with your bed and breakfast’s policies, procedures, and service standards. Provide hands-on training, shadowing opportunities, and ongoing support to ensure staff members can perform their duties with confidence and professionalism.
  4. Customer Service Skills: Emphasize the importance of excellent customer service in your training programs. Teach staff members how to engage with guests, respond to inquiries and complaints, and anticipate and exceed guest expectations. Foster a culture of exceptional service throughout your bed and breakfast.
  5. Attention to Detail: Train staff members to pay close attention to detail in all aspects of their work, from room cleanliness and maintenance to breakfast preparation and guest interactions. Stress the importance of creating a welcoming and comfortable environment for guests.
  6. Communication and Teamwork: Encourage open and clear communication among staff members. Foster a positive and collaborative work environment where employees can share ideas and provide feedback. Implement regular team meetings and training sessions to enhance communication and build a cohesive team.
  7. Continuing Education: Invest in ongoing training and development opportunities for your staff. Encourage them to attend industry workshops, seminars, or courses to enhance their skills and stay up-to-date with industry trends. This investment in their professional growth will benefit both your staff and your bed and breakfast.
  8. Performance Evaluation: Conduct regular performance evaluations to provide feedback and recognize staff members’ achievements. Set clear performance goals and expectations, and offer opportunities for advancement and incentives based on merit.
  9. Team Building and Employee Morale: Organize team-building activities and social events to boost morale and foster a positive work environment. Recognize and celebrate employee accomplishments to create a sense of camaraderie and appreciation among your staff.

Remember, hiring and training the right staff is an ongoing process. Continuously assess staffing needs, adapt your training programs, and provide opportunities for professional growth. A well-trained and motivated team is the backbone of a successful bed and breakfast.


Providing Exceptional Guest Experiences

Delivering exceptional guest experiences is the key to the success of your bed and breakfast in Wisconsin. Your ability to create memorable stays for your guests will not only encourage repeat business but also generate positive word-of-mouth referrals. Here are some tips to provide exceptional guest experiences:

  1. Personalized Welcome: Greet each guest with warmth and personalized attention upon arrival. Take the time to understand their needs, preferences, and any special occasions they may be celebrating during their stay.
  2. Attention to Detail: Pay attention to even the smallest details to make your guests’ stay extra special. Whether it’s providing fresh flowers in their room, remembering their favorite breakfast item, or offering complimentary amenities, these gestures go a long way in making guests feel valued and appreciated.
  3. Tailored Recommendations: Get to know your guests’ interests and offer personalized recommendations for local attractions, dining options, and activities. Provide maps, brochures, and insider tips to help them make the most of their stay in Wisconsin.
  4. Exceed Expectations: Go above and beyond to exceed your guests’ expectations. Surprise them with unexpected gestures or amenities, such as a complimentary upgrade, a handwritten welcome note, or a small treat in their room.
  5. Excellent Communication: Ensure effective communication with your guests throughout their entire stay. Be responsive to their inquiries and requests, whether in person, over the phone, or via email.
  6. Tasteful Decor and Comfort: Create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere in your B&B. Pay attention to the interior design, ensuring it reflects the unique charm and character of your property. Provide high-quality bedding, comfortable furniture, and well-maintained amenities.
  7. Delicious Breakfast Experience: Breakfast is a highlight of the bed and breakfast experience. Serve freshly prepared, locally sourced, and varied breakfast options. Accommodate special dietary needs and strive to deliver a memorable dining experience.
  8. Thoughtful Amenities: Provide thoughtful amenities that enhance your guests’ comfort and convenience. This could include complimentary Wi-Fi, toiletries, snacks, beverages, and information about local attractions.
  9. Prompt Issue Resolution: Address any guest concerns or issues promptly and professionally. Apologize for any inconvenience caused and take swift action to resolve the problem. This demonstrates your commitment to guest satisfaction.
  10. Personal Farewell: Bid farewell to your guests with a sincere thank you for choosing your bed and breakfast. Ask for feedback on their stay and express your hope to welcome them back in the future.

Remember, exceptional guest experiences are built on genuine care, attention to detail, and a passion for hospitality. By providing unforgettable stays, you create loyal guests who will become your best ambassadors and help grow your bed and breakfast in Wisconsin.



Opening and running a bed and breakfast in Wisconsin can be a rewarding and fulfilling venture. By following the necessary steps and understanding the key aspects of the industry, you can create a successful and memorable experience for your guests. From meeting licensing requirements and understanding zoning regulations to providing exceptional guest experiences and implementing effective marketing strategies, every aspect of managing a bed and breakfast requires careful planning and attention to detail.


Remember, success in the bed and breakfast industry is built on a foundation of excellent customer service, attention to detail, and a commitment to creating personalized experiences. By focusing on providing exceptional service, maintaining a well-maintained property, and continuously seeking ways to enhance the guest experience, you can establish a reputable and thriving bed and breakfast in Wisconsin.


Always stay updated with industry trends, adapt to changing guest expectations, and invest in ongoing training and development for yourself and your staff. Nurture relationships with the local community and constantly seek opportunities to promote your bed and breakfast. Continuously monitor and evaluate your financial performance to ensure profitability and make informed business decisions.


With passion, dedication, and a commitment to delivering exceptional guest experiences, your bed and breakfast in Wisconsin can become a sought-after destination for travelers looking for a unique and memorable stay. Embrace the journey of fulfilling the dreams of travelers and enjoy all the rewards that come with being a part of the hospitality industry.