Hotels That Serve Glorified Prison Food For Breakfast

I’ve never been to prison, but I can’t help but wonder if convicts get a nicer breakfast than what you find on the breakfast buffets at most American chain hotels these days.

This year, I’ve had the displeasure of sampling the breakfast buffets at almost every major hotel chain, including Hampton Inn, Residence Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Hilton Garden Inn, Hyatt House, Westin and others. I’m no Gordon Ramsay, but I’m not impressed with any of them, even when the breakfast is free.

In fact, I view the free hotel breakfast as a decidedly mixed blessing. I love going out for a nice breakfast when I’m traveling but I’m also budget conscious and I have a hard time treating my family of four to breakfast when there’s a free breakfast at the hotel, no matter how dreadful it may be. But on many occasions, going down to eat the free breakfast feels more like an obligation than a pleasure.Last week, I stayed at an otherwise excellent Hyatt House location in Illinois and encountered one of the more pathetic breakfast buffets I’ve seen in some time. On one morning, I put three silver dollar pancakes on my plate only to discover that they were as hard as hockey pucks. It was 8.30 a.m. and they clearly had been sitting around since the buffet opened at 6. I approached the front desk with them in hand and handed them to the sweet young woman on duty, more or less for fun, but also to make a point.

“Would you eat these?” I asked.

“Oh, my God, no, I would not,” she admitted, upon noticing that the pancakes were hard enough to crack someone’s skull with.

She apologized and I asked to have the pancakes back as a sort of bizarre souvenir but she wanted to keep them to show to her manager. Sadly, bad food is par for the course at many breakfast buffets not only in the U.S. but also around the world. Here are a few ways hotels tend to ruin their breakfast buffets.

Not everyone wakes up at the crack of dawn

I’m usually traveling with two little boys who like to sleep in, so I almost never get down to breakfast at 6 or 7 when they first open. In places that are very busy, they might replenish the food and beverages frequently, but at places that aren’t very busy, they might just set a large quantity of food and drink out at opening time and just leave it there for the next two to four hours.

Beverages are warm, Food is cold!

Some places set the milk and juices out without any way to keep them cold, and have inadequate heating to keep the food warm.

Nothing but sugary, dessert-like breakfast items

OK, I admit it: those Otis Spunkmeyer muffins taste pretty damn good, but putting a bowl of those suckers out is more appropriate for Halloween than breakfast. Men’s Health did a piece on the worst foods you can eat for breakfast at hotels, and the least healthy things to eat are items you see everywhere: sausages, waffles, cranberry muffins and fruit flavored yogurts to name a few.

Stale Cereal

I wish hotels bought their cereal from Trader Joe’s but that’s probably a pipe dream. The reality is usually a choice between Cheerios, Wheaties, Raisin Bran, Frosted Flakes and Fruit Loops, often stale, and sometimes with lukewarm milk to boot.

Wonder Bread (or worse)

I don’t actually require a ton of food for breakfast. In fact, I’d be satisfied with a piece of toast, if it were from good bread, but hotels tend to buy the cheapest, blandest bread, English muffins and bagels imaginable. I’d be satisfied with a hotel that had nothing more than some good quality bread products: croissants, bagels, toast, etc.

No Variety

This problem is particularly pronounced when you stay in a hotel for several days or weeks. How many days in a row can you eat runny eggs, shriveled up, fatty sausages or very lame, yet highly fattening waffles?

Do you want some coffee with that warm, murky liquid you’re drinking?

Finding a good cup of coffee at a hotel breakfast buffet is difficult indeed. I tend to bring my own cup in places that have high quality coffee in the room but not down at the breakfast buffet.

Quantity, Not Quality

Most hotels feel like they need to provide options, but I’d rather see a hotel provide a few high quality items than a dozen poor or mediocre ones.

Bottom line

You get what you pay for, right? But is the “free” breakfast really free? Not really, because hotels build the cost of it into your room rate. Of the hotels I’ve stayed at that have a free breakfast buffet, I think the Residence Inn is the best, but that’s not saying much. Small bed and breakfast places tend to have the best breakfasts, but many of them don’t welcome families with very small children. Personally, I’d rather have lower room rates and go out for breakfast. What about you?

(Photos by Dave Seminara and Tim Pearce, Los Gatos on Flickr)