Hotel breakfasts aren’t what they used to be. The pandemic has changed them, sometimes making them better, sometimes making them more expensive, and sometimes making them disappear. And as many travelers are about to find out this summer, the changes could be permanent.
I’ve seen hotel buffets where everything is wrapped in plastic, including fruit. Others where you are not allowed to touch anything. (Only the waiters will help you.) In some hotels they only serve a la carte breakfasts, and the staff are getting used to it, so breakfast takes over an hour.
“Before the pandemic, brands were going crazy and expanding breakfast items with more and more items at select-service hotels,” says Vimal Patel, president of Q Hotels, a hotel management company. “There were over 40 items on the menu, and it was becoming a financial burden for hotels.”
These days, many hotel breakfast menus have been scaled back or replaced with takeout. At a time when many hotels are understaffed and struggling to make their numbers, these options are more sustainable, Patel says.
About a third of all U.S. hotels (35%) offer free breakfast, according to hotel researcher Randy Greencorn, who runs a website that tracks hotel charges. Slightly fewer (31%) charge for breakfast. The others don’t offer any on-site breakfast options.
The historic Smithton Inn in Ephrata, Pennsylvania doubled down on the first meal of the day after the pandemic hit. Owner Rebecca Gallagher has purchased new serving pieces to deliver the hotel’s omelettes and French toast to guest rooms upon request and at no additional cost.
Others took the opportunity to reorganize their offers. The Conrad New York Downtown has eliminated its breakfast buffet and switched to an a la carte menu that includes healthier options, according to Juan Gonzalez Izquierdo, the hotel manager. “We emphasized using local ingredients from vendors in the area,” he says.
Many chain hotels have also revised their breakfast menus during the pandemic. At IHG Hotels & Resorts, several brands have focused on breakfast. Some things were non-negotiable. The Holiday Inn Express brand, for example, has kept its crepes and cinnamon buns station.
“But given the changing nature of guest preferences, we’ve added new options that guests want,” says Stephanie Atiase, vice president of marketing and global brand management for Holiday Inn Express. Its hotels have revamped their breakfast menus to include healthier items such as Greek yogurt, fresh fruit and oatmeal.
Similarly, Marriott last fall unveiled a new hot breakfast program across its Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites, Fairfield and TownePlace Suites brands. The refreshing breakfast offers hot items such as a spinach and cheese crustless quiche; sausage, egg and cheese on a whole wheat bagel; or a jalapeño cheddar soufflé. Marriott also added fresh fruit and gluten-free options.
Changes vary by hotel. Jill Fischbarg, travel consultant at Ovation Travel Group, says some have eliminated breakfast buffets, while others have changed them. At the Four Seasons Taormina in Italy, the breakfast buffet was “heavy,” but only waiters could plate your food, she said. “I much preferred it to an open buffet.”
Hotel breakfasts are changing in other ways, too. Chris Michaels, who lives outside of Chicago and edits the budgeting website Frugal Reality, says the Hilton properties he’s stayed at provided breakfast vouchers for his entire party. But that benefit was cut short during the pandemic. As a Hilton Honors member, he’s still entitled to a free breakfast, but now the rest of his party has to pay.
With the change, guests are better off booking the hotel’s breakfast package, which covers all guests for an additional $10 per night per person, Michaels says.
Hilton recently changed its breakfast offerings, allowing loyalty program members plus one additional guest checked into the same room to receive a credit of $10 to $25 per night, depending on brand and location.
Michaels isn’t the only one noticing changes. I saw them too. In the US, they include things like a relatively minimalist breakfast (but surprisingly tasty coffee) at the AmericInn by Wyndham Fairfield and the more decadent meals at the Fairmont Century Plaza, where the toast to the sourdough avocado with lime, pickled Fresno peppers and jammy egg. And abroad, they include simple buffets at the Holiday Inn Express Lisbon and extravagant spreads at the Address Sky View in Dubai. The only thing these meals have in common – besides being breakfast – is the hand sanitizer stations at the entrance.
Of course, it’s not just the menus that have changed. Nicholas Massimilian, catering manager at Lake House in Canandaigua, recommends calling ahead for hotel restaurant hours and menus.
“A survival tactic from the food and beverage world has been to adjust opening hours to manage demand and our staffing structure,” he says. “It is important that visitors know our hours before showing up at 11am to know that breakfast is no longer being served.”
If you’re a frequent hotel guest and want a sure thing for breakfast, there’s only one solution: bring your own. Oatmeal and dried fruits have become a staple while I travel (just add hot water). When faced with a disappointing hotel breakfast, I simply ask for a bowl and enjoy the most important meal of the day in the privacy of my room.