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5 Different Types of Hotel Breakfasts

Hotel breakfast presented on a buffet.

There is an art to the hotel breakfast. Honestly, I will go out of my way to stay at a place that provides breakfast. However, not just any breakfast will do. My favorite is when the hotel provides a nice spread of options. It is, after all, the most important meal of the day.

Perhaps it is so meaningful because it is breaking the fast from the day prior. A long time has passed since I’ve eaten. That is compounded by the fact that I’m traveling and food is not as readily accessible as it is back home. Hunger is at a new level, just short of hangry.

I’m not talking cold cereal and muffins. I mean eggs, turkey sausage, Belgian waffles, and any other creative hot item they can come up with. Is it the top-quality food you would find at a five-star restaurant? Not necessarily, I know breakfast buffets specifically aren’t meant to be top quality. They are meant to fill you up with warm goodness. 

If you’re a hotel breakfast newbie, like I once was, get ready to take notes. 

Why Eat Breakfast at a Hotel?

A woman enjoying coffee and breakfast on a hotel.

Before we go through the types of breakfast, let’s get a better idea of what that means. To begin with, yes, you can eat breakfast anywhere else. There are many situations that might have you staying in a hotel and all of them might still lead someone to wonder why they’d bother.

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I get it, a hotel’s specialty is keeping you comfortable while you’re sleeping. Some offer a restaurant service, but that’s not really their forte. You might be reminded of cafeteria food and want to keep the delights they produce at arm’s length. So, here are a few reasons why you should take the chance, when possible:

1. A Comfy Convenience

There’s nothing quite as nice as being able to walk to the elevator in your pajamas knowing there’s food downstairs. At first thought, you might be appalled by the idea of being in public and dressing down that far. However, you’re not in public, you’re in a hotel. Guess what? None of these people will cross your path again. 

You can relax knowing no one will remember your bedhead because it’s possible they just woke up, too. Don’t forget, it’s early! 

2. Travel Lag Motivation

Another benefit of eating breakfast at a hotel is you’re forced to rise and shine at times that might be quite foreign to you. The first meal of the day starts being served around 6 am and is over by 9 am. That means no oversleeping. You will literally lose if you snooze

You can take that one of two ways. The first is to use it as motivation to get your day started. Whether you’re traveling for business or pleasure, why waste a day when you’re up anyway? The other is an opportunity to cash in on free food during your stay. It’s your hotel room and check-out isn’t until 11 am or noon. Go back to bed and sleep a little longer.

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3. Needed Savings

There are plenty of hotels out there that offer a free continental breakfast. That’s basically a breakfast buffet that includes both hot and cold breakfast selections. You have a choice of pre-made items and no one is keeping tabs on how much you get.

The money you save by not leaving the hotel for breakfast plus the time you save by not having to go somewhere after you leave for the day is a win. Also, take an extra muffin for a snack later. 

Types of Hotel Breakfast

Alright, now that we have a solid understanding of what makes hotel breakfast valuable, let’s get an overview of what the options are. There are several types of breakfast provided by hotels that usually involve a few different factors. Sadly, not all hotels have breakfast, but at least if you see certain phrases, such as grab ‘n go or continental, you’ll know what it means.

1. Continental Breakfast

Continental Breakfast with fruits and bread.

Technically, a continental breakfast means a light breakfast that includes a hot beverage with buttered or jellied toast. However, many a hotel chain has evolved what they define as continental by creating an entire breakfast buffet. Continental breakfast is often free and has a come-as-you-are policy. The food is located near the lobby in a dining area specifically for breakfast.

Many hotels don’t charge for continental breakfast, but there is no guarantee. If the hotel is in a touristy area, it will often come with a fee. Ironically, the more money you pay for your stay, the less likely you are to have a free breakfast. Which, I guess, makes sense in some ways. But then in other ways, it seems kind of dumb. I digress.

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As mentioned, this type of hotel breakfast comes with hot and cold dishes. Take your preference and enjoy your day. Here’s an overview of what you can expect to put on your plate at a continental breakfast buffet:

  • Eggs
  • Meat
  • Potatoes
  • Waffles
  • Oatmeal
  • Cereal
  • Toast
  • English muffins
  • Bagels
  • Donuts
  • Fruit
  • Juice, tea, milk, or coffee

Oh, and let’s not forget the toppings such as cheese, cream cheese, butter, syrup, chocolate, jam, salsa, and ketchup. 

2. Grab ‘n Go Breakfast

This is the default option when hotels can’t serve food in an open, buffet-style setting. Most often these are served in brown lunch bags, the type you see with school children and adults who bring their lunch. A table with bags on them should be placed somewhere near the lobby. So, don’t march up to the front desk saying you can’t find it if you haven’t taken a moment to look around. There should be signs directing guests to them.

So, what will you find inside your mystery bag? Typically an assortment of non-perishable items. For example, a blueberry muffin, a banana, and maybe a pack of crackers with a napkin. Sometimes there is also a yogurt included. In order to keep guests from disturbing unclaimed bags, you will likely find the bags stapled shut. 

Some hotels make sure there’s a cooler for drinks, usually milk or juice. 

3. Full American or English Breakfast

Full American or English Breakfast on a hotel.

Now is when we get the menu. Due to this being more work for the staff, a full breakfast is not something the kitchen can whip up in mass quantities. Therefore, you come in and eat in the dining room and have a server you order from. Of course, this breakfast is not free.

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However, instead of paying for individual meals, there’s usually an all-encompassing fee. What that means is you pay one price and order what you want from their strategically curated menu. On one hand, it’s nice to not need to look at individual prices. On the other hand, it might feel like not everything is equal. It is easy, though.

“The American Breakfasts also offers multiple courses as a part of the meal, and is similar to English Breakfasts, except that American Breakfast does not offer any fish dish on the menu,” as reported by Hotel Talk. Otherwise, there is quite a bit of overlap. Whether it’s called American or English has more to do with where in the world you’re staying. 

There’s also a lot in common with the buffet, as far as what’s being offered. It’s just that you’ll be getting a plate made for you instead of spooning out whatever is left in the pan. 

4. Room Service Breakfast

A woman enjoying coffee in the morning.

Most hotels have room service for a limited time during the day and evening. The best part about room service is that you don’t have to go anywhere, not even to the elevator in your pajamas. Room service is the most convenient of all, which you will end up paying for.

Some hotels have become innovative with their technology and allow you to order meals from your smart device or computer. That’s probably a dream scenario for people who aren’t fond of sitting with a multitude of others in a dining hall and who aren’t super keen on chatting over the phone. There are hotels where your entire stay will not have to cross paths with another person. Genius. 

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Unfortunately, a majority of hotels still require putting in a phone call for room service. Rooms should come with a menu either on the nightstand or next to the television. If not, a quick stop by the front desk can get one in your hand. It’s possible to call down and ask what’s available, but please don’t do that unless it’s an emergency.

What’s available to put on a menu in the first place will vary from hotel to hotel. Still, you will want to go into it expecting more or less of the same from what has been mentioned. Regional favorites, such as grits, are always fun to try. So are the timeless classics that aren’t in the continental breakfast, such as French toast.

While room service is for you, personally, be sure to inquire about the times the kitchen is available. There might be more wiggle room, aka not having to go downstairs before 9 am, but it’s better to play it safe than miss out. 

5. Restaurant Breakfast

Guest enjoying restaurant breakfast in the morning.

You might be thinking that we already covered this under the American or English breakfast category. I mean, it is taken in a restaurant setting. However, the dining room is not exactly a restaurant. Hotel staff cooks are separate from legitimate restaurants that specialize in the dining experience.

Welcome to restaurants inside of hotels. Not many hotels have full-on restaurants as part of their building. You see this sort of thing in big hotels, hotels in big cities, and high-traffic tourist destinations. These can be nationwide chains you see wherever you go or local favorites. 

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What this means for the guests is the restaurant is a separate entity from the hotel, so it can’t be added to your final bill. What it does for you as a guest is it gives you the full dining experience without needing a shuttle or rental car.

The range of what it will cost to enjoy such a luxury can vary wildly. There are quick-eat options that are budget-friendly, and there are also five-star meals that are the price of a night out on the town. 

Be sure to check the restaurant hours to make sure they are open for breakfast. There might even be a special menu for hotel guests to simplify the process. 

International Hotel Breakfast

A buffet of International Hotel Breakfast.

Before you travel to a new country, be sure to do some research. No matter where you go, there’s a unique vision of breakfast. In Paris, I stayed in a hotel that mentioned they offered a full breakfast. Since I hadn’t eaten a ton my first day, I was insanely excited about getting warm food before I got on with sightseeing.

What I got was chocolate cereal and three different rolls, one of which was a croissant. While I realized I had never been exposed to the purest form of bread before, I was a bit confused by the rest of it. Being American, my idea of a full breakfast was the opposite of the French version. Of course, one hotel does not make a statement for an entire country. However, it taught me an important lesson about doing some work ahead of a trip. 

Malavika Kumar from travel.earth explains, “This meal is often heavily connected to a country’s traditions and can tell you much about it. Breakfast around the world offers a window into different cultures and regional variations.”

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Because what’s served for breakfast can fluctuate so much between countries, so can what’s provided in hotel breakfasts around the world. When in doubt, always ask. Below are some popular destinations and what you might expect to have for breakfast there, whether ordering room service or at a buffet:

  • Brazil – coffee, cheese rolls, meat, fruit
  • China – hot tea, noodles, fried veggies, steamed buns, hot soup
  • Germany – beer or coffee, bread, sausage, cheese, jam
  • Greece – juice or coffee, savory pie, eggs with feta, yogurt with honey
  • India – tea, fermented rice and lentils (idlis), vegetable stew, chutney
  • Italy – cappuccino, croissant
  • Jamaica – coffee, cooked fruit (ackee), saltfish, fried plantains
  • Japan – miso soup, rice, sticky soybeans, pickled vegetables, fish
  • Morocco – coffee, pancakes with jam or cheese, olives, eggs
  • Nigeria – coffee, cornmeal and bean cakes, yams, eggs, fried plantain

FAQs

1. Do you have to be a guest at a hotel to eat breakfast there?

The full breakfast is ordered in the dining room and would be open to the general public. As would the on-site restaurants. Now, if you’re asking about the free continental breakfast, that should go without saying. Technically, yes, you have the privilege of eating for free because you’re staying there. Is there anyone policing the buffet? Not necessarily, but not worth the risk.

2. How do you ask about breakfast in a hotel?

If the attendant doesn’t let you know upon check-in what the breakfast hours are, don’t hesitate to go back to the front desk or to call down from the room. All you have to say is, “What time is breakfast served?” When answering, they will probably let you know what type of breakfast the hotel participates in and when it’s available.

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3. Do hotels serve brunch?

Not usually, unless otherwise stated. The cooks at a hotel have a limited window to get everything started, served, and cleaned up before check-out. Brunch is in the hours after normal breakfast. To eat later, check out the hours of on-site restaurants or plan to go off-site.