A UK daytime TV favourite, Four in a Bed follows four bed and breakfast owners as they visit and grade each other’s premises. Each week contestants visit one B&B a day, regrouping in the fifth and final show to air grievances, find out who paid the most, and learn which among them has won.
During their stays, the eagle-eyed professionals pay particular attention to the friendliness of the welcome, the cleanliness of the room, and the quality of the night’s sleep. Oh, and the standard of breakfast. Breakfast is very important.
I never tire of watching grown men boast about the quality of their sausages throughout the week, as if anyone actually cares. At the end of each week all the men learn that, as in real life, it’s not about their sausage. It’s all about the eggs.
Here’s my take on how to win this most competitive of game shows. It’s based on way too much time spent watching a show in which middle aged women in fleece gilets run their fingers along skirting boards in the hope of finding dust. That sentence is there simply to prove that, despite its wink-wink name and the fact that much of it is shot in bedrooms, Four in a Bed is the least sexy thing on television.
1. Value is in the eye of the holidayer
If you’re charging more than £200 a night, no-one will care that your B&B is in the centre of SW1, or overlooking the sea in Padstow. You won’t get the full amount when the guests ‘cash up’ at the end of their stay. Underpayments are rife; over-payments rare. Overt ‘gaming’ is frowned upon, but it is a game show, after all.
Unlike the markets for contemporary art, vintage cars or fine wine, value is fixed. Anything below £50 is a bargain, but you’ll be scratching bed bug bites for weeks. Anything over £200 isn’t worth it, because that’s getting into bidet territory. Which might be classy, but is unnecessary in a dismal B&B in Telford.
2. The luxury gap
That said, people stay in B&Bs because hostels are too basic, and hotels too expensive. A certain amount of luxury is therefore expected, even if claiming to run a luxury B&B — or worse, a ‘boutique’ establishment — opens you up for criticism when you come up short. Because you will.
Luxury in this context therefore means cotton sheets, not nylon. Biscuits and shortbread with the tea making facilities, or a Ferro Rocher on each pillow. You know, a mattress that wasn’t found in a fly-tipped layby.
3. Fancy a brew?
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of a decent, descaled kettle. Although, as someone always more eager to get to the bar than brew a cup of tea when I arrive in a room I have paid for, I don’t understand why.
Also, it appears the ladies like a full-length mirror. That said, no one ever mentions the lack, or otherwise, of a hairdryer. I don’t know why. A trouser press is no longer a necessity.
4. No alarms and no surprises
When you have finished cleaning the rooms, clean them again. Then once more. Then examine the loo for one final time, and fix your stare at the sparkling bowl as you walk backwards out of the room, closing the door softly and ensuring that nothing could have jumped in and sullied the Holy Bowl.
The most common crimes against cleanliness in the programme, in ascending order of offensiveness to the guests, appear to be dust, cobwebs and pubes. So, none of that, either; make sure you clean up after any spidery mature sex action among your guests.
5. Breakfast in utopia
Even if your guests have had a good night’s sleep, they will find something to complain about, so breakfast is your chance to pull it back. Firstly, don’t boast all week about how good your breakfast will be, as otherwise expectations will be unmanageably high. Ask your diners how they want their eggs done. Don’t ask them to order the night before: for some strange reason, decisions about poached or fried eggs can only be taken on the morning itself. No, I don’t understand why, either.
Tell your guests what is in the full English breakfast: it’s a misunderstood dish that allows for sinful additions and inexplicable omissions. The breakfast buffet may be all well and good at Gosford Park, but not in a B&B near Chingford’s park, where guests expect to be served at their breakfast table. Oh, and serve the baked beans in a ramekin, dear, this isn’t a transport cafe off the A1.