When it comes to breakfast, hotels strive for fresh, fast and cost effective

Hyatt House Raleigh (N.C.) North Hills

There is increasing pressure on hotels to provide impeccable service and offer more options at breakfast, according to hotel operators and brand managers. And for good reason: breakfast is not just the most important meal of the day from a nutrition perspective, for hoteliers it’s seen as the final touchpoint with guests before they check out.

“More people will eat breakfast in a hotel more than any other meal,” said Dean Wendel, corporate director of food and beverage at Concord Hospitality, which operates more than 100 hotels across nearly 30 brands.

But it’s easy to get carried away.

Keri Putera, VP of brand operations at Wyndham Hotel Group’s Travelodge Hotels, said over time there has been a tendency for economy brands to keep up with midscale segment breakfasts. “We’ve added so much to the continental breakfast that it becomes cost prohibitive to the owner and we find guests are not eating all of it.”

Therefore, Travelodge is considering the possibility of streamlining its breakfast—offering two cereals instead of three, for instance, to control costs and potentially accommodate a grab-and-go option.

On top of menu-item creep, guests also expect that self-service breakfast is newly prepared and ready to go, according to Wendel.

“Many of the brands require that products are being displayed in smaller vessels, which means the food is fresh and replenished often,” he said. “It’s more of a home feel and more comfortable. The presentation has taken a very nice turn in quality and appearance.”

Wendel said it does create the need for efficient attendants to refresh the displays, but it is a crucial aspect of guest perception of a high-quality buffet offering.

The importance of the breakfast attendant is an area of focus this year for the Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites brands, which rolled out a new hearty and healthy breakfast program last year, and are now working on brand-standard breakfast attendant training to roll out by the end of 2017, according to Megan Brumagim, head of domestic brand management, Comfort brands at Choice Hotels International.

“One of the challenges in this segment is that we want to deliver an experience that meets and exceeds expectations and is also cost effective for our franchisees,” she said. “From the operational side of breakfast, you can’t just keep adding new items that we know will resonate with guests.”

The increase in satisfaction is countered by the labor impact, Wendel said. “That takes some effort, scheduling and planning to make sure you have an attendant checking the hot food and making sure the fruit and pastry items are out and fresh. A family of six could deplete a pan of breakfast sandwiches by themselves.”

Brumagim said they want attendants at the brand’s 1,700 properties to feel empowered to own the breakfast experience. “They must do everything from getting the food to keeping it clean; it’s a multifaceted job,” she said. “We are looking at addressing how to find the right balance between serving guests at peak and reducing waste; keeping things stocked, but recognize when the peak volumes occur and fully understand the cycles.”

Wholesome Breakfasts Nourish Guest Satisfaction

Healthy starter options are a continuing guest expectation, according to hoteliers who offer self-serve breakfast.

“The brands are all concerned with the healthfulness—organic and local items: Several of our hotels are using cage-free eggs in omelets for that farm-to-table factor,” Wendel said. “Fresh products are an important part of breakfast. It’s one of the highest captures for our guests and many brands have breakfast included.”

Concord uses high-quality whole-hog sausage patties or links when possible and cage-free eggs. “Some of our brand standards for omelets or eggs cooked to order require cage-free eggs,” Wendel said. “It’s absolutely more expensive. But it’s very hard to beat. It’s a great product.”

Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites brands considered feedback from more than 10,000 guests when the breakfast program was revamped and rolled out in March 2016, Brumagim said.

“We needed to deliver a free, hearty and healthy hot breakfast that would help us stand out,” she said. “We always had hearty options: eggs, meats and waffles. But based on the research, we added new healthy items like Greek yogurt, healthier cereals and a healthy toppings bar.”  

“One of the challenges in the [upper-midscale] segment is that we want to deliver an experience that meets and exceeds guest expectations and is cost effective for our franchisees,” Brumagim said. Looking at the overall strategy, breakfast is one of the key drivers of guest satisfaction.

When you offer healthy options, guests feel like they have control over what they’re eating, Wendel said. Guests can now build their own yogurt parfaits with fresh granola and Greek yogurt, which is in almost every brand now.

To be sure, sales of yogurt and sour milk products are projected to grow by a compound annual growth rate of 2 percent between 2016 and 2021 in the U.S., according to Euromonitor.

“Breakfast has evolved into much healthier options, and many travelers try to eat healthier on the road,” Wendel said. But of course bacon, eggs and potatoes are still offered alongside the newer choices, he added.

Travelodge Tries Grab-and-Go

Travelodge is piloting a breakfast that gets guests out the door even quicker than a buffet. The brand has historically been known for a laid-back atmosphere and a sense of adventure going back to its roots in California, Putera said.

“Our positioning lands on Travelodge as a basecamp,” she said. “We really wanted to focus on that positioning, with that sense of quick and easy and stay on the side of healthy.”

The brand is currently testing two options in the United States: the traditional continental breakfast with a grab-and-go option and grab-and-go only. The white grab-and-go bag with Travelodge branding includes fresh fruit, a granola bar and a bottle of water. Franchisees mostly needed to order the granola bars because fresh fruit is on the continental breakfast already and most hotels have bottled water, Putera said.

During the 90-day pilot, Travelodge will be asking franchises for feedback on guest satisfaction, suggestions for improvement and costs.

Putera said early feedback has led her to consider addressing current trends for high-protein, low-carb options. A protein breakfast bar is a possible solution, but would cost more than a retail brand granola bar.