Self-catering do’s and don’ts before you welcome guests
You’re ready to turn that dilapidated garage, rondavel, worker’s cottage or outside room into a self-catering place that will earn you an extra income. It’s a great plan, provided you sleep and cook there yourself every now and then to make sure everything is perfect for your guests.
More and more South Africans choose to go the self-catering route for weekend getaways or holidays. That kind of “home” not only feels more homely, it’s also usually much cheaper than a guest house or hotel – plus you’re able come and go and eat as you please without inconveniencing anyone.
This growing market is a great opportunity to supplement your income, especially if you live where there are all kinds of fun things to do for people who like to keep busy, but also plenty of peace for those who just want to sit back on the stoep with a glass of wine and a good book.
Unfortunately, many homeowners don’t really understand what selfcatering means. Platteland has heard many horror stories, including one of a couple who arrived early in the evening, after a journey of five hours, at their self-catering weekend destination. Private and secluded. Beautiful view of the sea. The “honeymoon suite”, according to the website and email communication. Exhausted but pleased, they unpacked: meat for the braai, potatoes in foil (prepared at home), a bottle of white wine in the cooler that just needs a quick half-hour in the freezer compartment…
But where is the fridge? Actually, where is the kitchen? Are the “cooking facilities” that ancient kettle and two chipped mugs on the table in the corner? And outside there’s no braai, never mind a grid or wood.
That’s lesson number one: if you use the word “self-catering”, you must provide the necessary facilities catering for your guests’ basic needs. Visitors should be able to live, cook, sleep and bath or shower in reasonable comfort.
Be completely honest in your marketing and advertising – the key is to underpromise and overdeliver. Take clear pictures that show the entire place and explain clearly what is provided so people don’t bring along unnecessar items like salt and pepper or dishwashing liquid. (Remember, in this digital era it only takes a quick message to tell the whole world how awful your accommodation is.)
But you don’t need to blow half your inheritance on fixing up that old rondavel. The vast majority of people who book a getaway in the platteland expect an unpretentious, charming place that’s neat, clean and comfortable.
“Work with what you have,” says Christiaan van der Westhuizen, an accountant from Bloemfontein. Christiaan and his partner Melinda Bekker recently converted a storage room and garage into a convenient selfcatering unit on their smallholding in Ferreira just outside the city.
“If you don’t have thousands to spend, you need to think creatively. Don’t allow crooked floors, walls or windows to stop you – use and celebrate them! You don’t need to hide a raw facebrick wall with expensive plaster – scrub it and varnish it. Browse second-hand shops or your neighbour’s shed or garage for things you can use, such as windows and sinks.
“Do as much as possible of the work yourself, and get knowledgeable friends to help you where they can. You could always offer them a free week or two every year in return,” says Christiaan.
Peter (left, here with his daugther Bella) and Karen Dorrington, who farm in the Winterhoek Mountains near Porterville, follow the same approach. They’re busy converting worker’s houses on their protea farm into weekend getaway spots, one by one. The two of them are clearly doing something right, because the cottages are often fully booked well in advance.
Peter, an engineer, does much of the work himself. He uses stone and other materials from the area and doesn’t hesitate to accept friends’ offers of unused houseware, stoves, lights or taps.
Peter and Karen feel strongly about privacy, proximity to water (they build a swimming pool close to each cottage), and great beds and linen. “Supply whatever you yourself would like or need for such a getaway – down to crates full of firewood. The place must be cosy, warm, uncluttered and absolutely peaceful. Provide enough blankets. A Queen Ann stove or fireplace in the spacious living areas. No TV. Shelves full of great holiday reads…” >
Frik de Jager of Weskushuis in Jacobsbaai on the West Coast says providing self-catering housing is a solution if you don’t want to work for someone else for the rest of your life and want to be in control of the end product.
Seven years ago, after numerous trips and severe irritations with the deficiencies of overnight accommodation, Frik decided to concentrate on providing self-catering “the way I always wanted it to be”. He focuses on romantic places for couples and comfortable family accommodation.
“Make it cosy but don’t overdo it. Ensure the kitchen is properly equipped with quality utensils and equipment. I like to cook and I regularly test the units I rent out to make sure everything works. Focus on quality, specifically when it comes to crockery and bedding. People respect quality.”
Like Peter, Frik emphasises that every now and then you should cook and overnight in the self-catering accommodation you offer. If you miss your own house after one night, you’ll know something’s wrong! It’s the only way to make sure everything is where it belongs – or to find out in advance that the curtains are too thin to keep out the harsh morning sun, or the shower spits out only a faint trickle of water, or the water takes five minutes to heat up… It’s the least little thing that can spoil someone’s holiday.
The best advice is to talk to the owners of self-catering places where you enjoyed staying – most people would be happy to offer advice and tips on pitfalls.
Remember, there’s a reason why so many places use that somewhathackneyed phrase “your home away from home”. This is exactly what people look for in a weekend getaway: a happy space, just not their own.
MORE INFORMATION Download the Tourism Grading Council of South Africa’s minimum requirements and grading criteria for self-catering accommodation at
www.go-southernafrica.com – search for “Minimum requirements: Guest accommodation”. >