For as long as I’ve been reading travel websites, one of the biggest advantages of having status with a hotel chain was getting free breakfast. At first, I wondered what all the fuss was about. I mean, I’d received free breakfast at hotels before. They consisted of some stale bagels, bread and pastries, powdered eggs, flimsy bacon, one flavor of yogurt, a vat of oatmeal and maybe some unripe bananas. Oh, don’t forget the really bad coffee and the broken pancake maker.
The breakfast rooms were usually packed at the normal eating times and the food wasn’t refreshed nearly enough. Why were people so excited about this benefit?
Broadening My Horizons
As I traveled more, I discovered that some hotels have nicer breakfast spreads. When we stayed at the Waldorf=Astoria in New York, we had access to the lounge, where they served breakfast in the morning and snacks in the afternoon. The atmosphere was nicer, we had real silverware and china plates but it was the same basics. The bagels weren’t stale, just bland. The eggs weren’t powdered, just overcooked from sitting in a chafing dish. The coffee was drinkable, but still not fresh. There were additions of cold cuts and cheeses but nothing more than Boar’s Head from the deli.
Breakfast at the Hyatt House in Raleigh, NC was surprisingly good. Items were fresh and service was prompt and pleasant. It was like we were eating in a restaurant and not a side room off the hotel lobby. The spread at the Sheraton Times Square was great for our needs (read: we didn’t have to go outside the hotel in February and freeze just to get a coffee and bagel). But I still wouldn’t put any of these breakfasts on the list of life-altering experiences.
I know that in other areas of the world, breakfast is more important. Travelers from the United Kingdom will look for hotels that include a full breakfast every day, but I just can’t see how you can eat a full English breakfast and then do anything else that morning. When we were in Australia, our hotels had a full spread set up (including Vegemite, EW!) When we visited Paris, our hotel had a breakfast setup where you were required to sit down and have the waiters bring the items from the buffet to your table. When we were in Salzburg, our first hotel, Hotel Schloss Leopoldskron, had a full buffet in the main building every morning (we went more to see the rooms that inspired The Sound of Music than for the food).
When we stayed at the Goldener Hirsch (one of my most memorable hotels ever) our breakfast included hot and cold items and waiter service.
When my dad and his wife visited Southeast Asia, they were treated to a full breakfast every morning of their six-week trip. After a week or so, they just wanted to have some juice, maybe oatmeal and fruit. The overall value of an over-the-top breakfast spread diminishes each additional day you have access to it.
Has My Opinion Of Free Breakfast Changed?
Previously I didn’t care about getting a free breakfast because I didn’t have the status necessary with a hotel to get one. Now that I have status with hotel loyalty programs that give a free breakfast as a benefit, I’ve come to the conclusion I still really don’t care about hotel breakfasts. Like, at all. Zilch, Nada.
Even with access to breakfast, it’s not a big deal for us. In Key West at the Waldorf Astoria Casa Marina, I had to ask for our free breakfast vouchers only to find out they didn’t cover the full cost of breakfast. We much preferred going to Sarabeth’s and paying for our breakfast. In Washington D.C., the hotel breakfast was nice but the restaurant was understaffed. I had to wait to be seated, to get my coffee and then for a check (for a free buffet breakfast) before I could leave. All I had to eat was coffee and a bagel with peanut butter; hardly worth the time spent. I’ve already mentioned our two New York hotel breakfasts; they were suitable but if I’m in New York I’d much rather walk to Ess-A-Bagel than eat a bland copy at my hotel.
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When traveling with family, a free mediocre breakfast buffet has value to me, it “checks the box” for breakfast, everyone can find something simple they like, people can eat at different times. But if a hotel has a coffee shop with simple low cost items (Starbucks. Peet’s, etc.) that works for us too.
Yeah, I hear you to a good extent. That said, free breakfast can save big bucks in crazy expensive locales like French Polynesia, Maldives, etc. And there’s something nice about being able to wake up and wander down to the lobby to a nice, free breakfast buffet to start the day. Then again, sometimes I might gorge myself and kill my day lol.
It’s important to me as someone who works remotely. If I’m on a work trip and know I need to work in the morning, I’ll either (a) stay at an Airbnb where I can cook my own breakfast or (b) stay at a hotel with free breakfast. I’m a Hilton Diamond member and taking away the free breakfast just means I’m much less likely to stay a domestic Hilton hotel (although most of my travel is international anyway).
As someone that enjoys food this post makes me sad. There are so many wonderful experiences to be had at the breakfast table beyond bland nutrition of a bagel and coffee. For people that travel frequently (me) or those with kids the economics of free breakfast do add up. Having made those points, at least in the US, I largely agree with you. The food is almost universally of low quality and a local coffee shop is almost always more interesting for a relatively modest expense. As mentioned above, if staying at resort hotels free breakfast or rate including breakfast is huge. List price is very expensive and there are often no real alternatives. Given that most bloggers write about aspirational travel (often resorts) I do think it is fair to focus on free breakfast as a big deal.
Breakfast has become a very expensive meal, especially in large cities. For me, it is about time and cost. Generally speaking, I like the included breakfasts. What I don’t like is a hotel that charges $30-40 for breakfast. Because then it is all about gouging the customer.
Free breakfast or breakfast credit is a HUGE deal at resorts. Resorts are (often) miles away from cheaper eating options and getting 1 or 2 free $42 breakfast buffets for a family of 4 can save a few hundred dollars over a few days.