From http://www.ruthdoanmacdougall.It is odd, Mrs R. And although just sentences ago I promised a 'they call it this/we call it that' post, I can't hono(u)r my own promise, because Americans don't call it anything.
"She had once stayed in a rented cottage in Surrey, and she remembered the odd term the British use for this arrangement: self-catering."
Is it odd? And what do Americans say?
Why? Because Americans don't expect their holiday/vacation abodes (and their prices) to include any meals. The British notion of 'bed and breakfast' is regarded as a quaint one that was only imported in earnest (as tourist accommodation) to America a couple of decades ago (or so). In fact, I recently had a conversation with an Englishwoman who had come over to the US for our second wedding reception and was still talking (two years later) about how incredibly wonderful the B&B in my hometown was. While that B&B is especially nice (elaborate, different breakfasts every morning, warm cookies every evening, all antique furniture, scented bath potions, and so forth), I think it especially impressed my English friend because B&B accommodation in the UK can be somewhat dire (it can also be very, very nice). In fact, B&Bs often serve the roles in the UK that (AmE) motels do in the US (except that there are far fewer films involving murders in B&Bs than in motels!). For evidence, see this article that recalls a B&B's role in housing homeless families.
I'm finding that increasingly one can get a room in a hotel without breakfast in the UK (for a lower price), just as in the US provision of included-in-the-price breakfast (or at least doughnuts and coffee) has increased.
But back to self-catering. This is generally used by BrE speakers to refer to (BrE) holiday/(AmE) vacation accommodation such as cottages, cabins, and (BrE) flats/(AmE) apartments,where there is no restaurant or service staff to provide meals, but cooking facilities are available. In the US, we'd just say we were renting a cottage somewhere, and that would be that--no need to mention the eating arrangements. One often hears BrE speakers saying things like "We want to go self-catering this year", to mean that they want a reduced-cost, back-to-basics holiday/vacation.
One often sees (BrE) package holidays advertised as 'self-catering' (as opposed to 'bed and breakfast' or 'all inclusive'). Here's another contrast: Americans rarely take package holidays unless (a) they've got a deal to go to Disneyworld, or (b) they're in their 'golden years'. This is probably because (a) Americans are wary of anything that might 'tie them down' too much, (b) [and therefore] they often just get in the car and drive, and (c) they get almost no holiday/vacation time (usually two weeks' paid vacation for Americans versus the six weeks or so that Europeans usually get)--and therefore often use what they've got to do things that need to be done, like visiting family or undertaking big projects, rather than going on treks to new and different places.
We've discussed a couple of other differences in tourist accommodation in past posts--so click back if you'd like to read/discuss (BrE) flannels/(AmE) washcloths in hotel bathrooms or (BrE) en-suite accommodation.