Once a symbol of pandemic-era hospitality, the cold grab-and-go breakfast bag has fallen out of fashion, as hotels strive to not only bring back hot breakfast and buffets but also ensure their spread is better than ever.
After all, breakfast often proves to be a key differentiator for guests, according to a recent consumer survey commissioned by Hilton.
According to its January poll of 2,000 Americans, respondents ranked breakfast as the top amenity when booking a select-service hotel. The first meal of the day outranked other options, such as the presence of a restaurant or bar, a pool and free WiFi or parking.
And with the price of food continuing to rise, free breakfast is likely to appear more attractive than ever. Seventy-three percent said unexpected food costs are a major pain point when traveling. The survey also found that guests want plentiful options, with 82% saying they prefer breakfast buffets.
Fresh pancakes with a wave of the hand
According to Adam Crocini, senior vice president and global head of food and beverage brands at Hilton, the company recently completed a review of its complimentary hot breakfast offerings, bringing back signature items across its Embassy Suites, Hampton, Tru, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites brands.
Hilton also removed "high-waste" fare and added innovations, such as automated, hands-free pancake makers at its Tru locations. The conveyor-belt-like machine is designed to portion out batter and cook a pancake with the wave of a hand.
"The pandemic [has] pushed us to reimagine how we provide our guests with the best food and beverage services and experiences possible," said Crocini, adding that the company has since managed to bring "guest satisfaction scores back to pre-pandemic levels."
A Marriott-branded hotel’s display showcasing complimentary hot breakfast items from Mason Dixie Foods. Photo Credit: Mason Dixie Foods
A new perspective on comfort food
As part of a similar breakfast revamp across its select-service portfolio, Marriott International recently forged a partnership with Mason Dixie Foods, a company specializing in frozen, artisanal biscuit dough and breakfast sandwiches sold primarily at retail through vendors including Whole Foods.
The brainchild of Baltimore native Ayeshah Abuelhiga, Mason Dixie Foods touts its all-natural, preservative-free and additive-free recipes. Abuelhiga, a woman of color whose parents are immigrants, said she grew up eating American comfort food and wanted "to bring a new perspective" to the segment.
Under the Marriott partnership, a selection of pre-baked Mason Dixie Foods offerings are prepared on property and are available as part of the hot complimentary breakfast options at more than 3,500 U.S. locations, including at hotels flagged under the Courtyard, Aloft, Fairfield, Springhill Suites and Residence Inn brands.
Available items include cinnamon, chocolate chip and blueberry lemon mini-scones, a cheddar biscuit and a variety of biscuit breakfast sandwiches.
"At those select hotels, complimentary breakfast is an expectation," Abuelhiga said. "So for Marriott, this is really a great way to come out of the doldrums of Covid-19 and come out with killer-tasting products that are a little less of a guilty pleasure."
A value-add that makes a difference
In notoriously expensive markets, such as Hawaii or Aspen, Colo., the comeback of the traditional complimentary breakfast has been particularly welcome.
Marc Tonti, a travel consultant with Illinois-based Classic Tours and Travel, said it is a perk clients consider when booking.
"When you look at full-service hotels for Hawaii, when we can offer a full-breakfast inclusion, it does play into the choice of the property and has had more impact," he said. "The hardest part of 'real breakfast' inclusions at full-service hotels is whether they have a full-service product operating."
Aspen Skiing Co.'s original Limelight Hotel Aspen has been serving up a complimentary breakfast buffet since 2010, with the amenity also available as a brand signature at sister properties Limelight Hotel Ketchum and Limelight Hotel Snowmass.
"Limelight has been famous for having breakfast included," said Noemi Kiss-Baldwin, hotel manager for the Limelight Hotel Snowmass. "We're certainly not a five-star, five-diamond property, but when your peak season rates are as high as $1,500 a night, people do expect something extra other than just the room and a great location."
Although the Limelight properties were forced to put their signature breakfast on hold during the pandemic, substituting with a selection of to-go items, they reintroduced the breakfast buffet last summer, even adding several health-conscious enhancements during the most recent winter season.
The new offerings include a rotating hot vegetable option, such as mushrooms and spinach or cherry tomatoes and broccoli. A green juice made with a blend of fruit and vegetable juices has been particularly popular.
"Among some guests who are finally now able to get out and travel, expectations have actually grown during the pandemic," Kiss-Baldwin said. "And Aspen is already a high-expectation market. So for those guests, everything has to go perfectly, and that includes the small details like breakfast."
Regardless of a client's expectations, however, Jennifer Walker, owner of Illinois-based Jennifer Walker Travel, makes it a point to inquire about a complimentary breakfast offering ahead of every booking.
"I always ask for breakfast to be included when I'm creating a quote or reservation for my clients, because I know it is a value-add, even if the client hasn't thought to ask for it," Walker said. "And I'll often recommend hotels which do include breakfast over hotels which do not."