In years gone by, the words ‘hotel breakfast’ have come with low expectations: a humdrum selection of pastries and juices, a conveyor toaster that never seems to toast properly and a tray or two of lukewarm meat and eggs. In certain hotels, this is still a reasonably accurate summation of the meal regularly described as the most important of the day. In many places, however, things have moved on.
Depending on the property, guest breakfast today might involve anything from inventive à la carte dishes (avocado, poached eggs, chilli cress and sourdough, anyone?) to elaborately styled buffets groaning with local organic produce and freshly squeezed juices. “Guests’ expectations have changed where food and drink is concerned,” says Laura Israelsson, Breakfast Manager at Stockholm’s Downtown Camper by Scandic – and her job title alone shows how seriously this fact is being taken.
Investing the necessary time, money and effort to create a high-quality breakfast seems to make good business sense, too. A 2019 survey from the Hyatt Place brand showed that 63% of frequent travellers have chosen a hotel because of its breakfast offering. It’s not just a perk, in other words – it’s a hugely important component of the overall guest experience.
Providing a good breakfast is vital, agrees Chris Barber, Director of London-based F&B experts Catering Business Food Solutions, pointing out that it’s also a showcase for a property’s culinary skills. “For many hotels, breakfast is probably going to be their busiest service of the day. They’re absolutely packed but they’re putting their most junior team on – how does that make any sense? The penny’s dropping. You’ve got this captive audience, show them what you can do. Don’t just give them a bog-standard fry-up – enhance the experience.”
Many bed and breakfast properties are adopting a more modern approach too. Heather Turner is the Marketing Director of the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, a US-based body that represents B&Bs and boutique hotels. “We’re seeing the B&B industry being influenced by what restaurants are doing,” she says. “There’s a lot of farm-to-table cooking, and more cultural cuisines in place of the Americanised eggs, waffles and pancakes.
“I think owners know that with the competition of vacation rentals, upping their game is important in terms of what they’re offering,” she continues, also pointing out the quality of many of today’s restaurants and cafés. “There’s a lot more education in terms of what’s available out there and guests are looking for something a little bit different. A quality breakfast can really affect your review score too. I know through tracking B&B reviews that a good portion of the really great reviews mention breakfast.”
Getting things right, however, is about far more than just providing ingredients from producers that happen to be local. “Provenance is as important as local,” says Barber. “If you can say this is beautifully made dry-cured bacon from a particular farm, from a very well-kept herd that’s been properly fed and maintained, that’s great.”
Good service is just as important – you need the right breakfast staff
The way in which a hotel displays its breakfast is a major factor too, he adds. “Some hotels used to be akin to a motorway service station – just stainless steel bain-maries – but now you’re seeing all sorts of wooden crates and heated marble counters. That type of investment is definitely reflecting the need to be more competitive in the environment.”
Israelsson of Downtown Camper by Scandic agrees that presentation is key. “You have to give it proper thought,” she says. “We have different dishes at different heights, for example, and we think about the lighting. Good service is just as important – you need the right breakfast staff. They don’t necessarily have to know as much about the food as the staff at dinner do – it’s more about being professional and having personality. Even the background music’s important. We’re a big and busy hotel, so we turn the volume up when we’re at our busiest and lower it when we’re quieter.”
The suggestion that by hotels providing a substantial, filling, high-quality breakfast, they might be having an adverse effect on guests purchasing lunch, meanwhile, is something of a red herring. “If you’re a hotelier,” explains Barber, “instead of thinking ‘am I killing my lunch trade?’, think ‘if this fantastic breakfast is the trigger that has made someone come and pay to stay at my hotel, does it really matter?’ – you just think differently about it.”
Many guests have altered their breakfast expectations, tying in with the broader ‘food revolution’ of recent years
A good quality breakfast can help grow revenue and have a significant impact on review scores
The food itself is just one element of a good breakfast. Presentation, service and atmosphere are also key
The quality of many restaurants and high street cafes has also encouraged hoteliers and B&B owners to improve their breakfast offerings