Bringing Back the Hotel Breakfast Buffet

Bringing Back the Breakfast Buffet

I recently took a 4,000-mile road trip back-and-forth across the American West to help my son move. The 8-day, 7-night adventure was filled with unexpected events such as wildfires, dust storms, mid-September snow, and a variety of novel approaches to the pandemic-era, limited service-hotel breakfast buffet. The latter may not be exciting to the average person, but on a long road trip, the drive-through gets old fast. And as a 15-year professional in the foodservice equipment and supply business, I am always eager to share great ideas that protect the health of the foodservice and hospitality industry and those we serve.

Many travelers choose a specific hotel because the cost of a night’s lodging includes a hot breakfast. Since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a temporary shutdown of hotel buffet-style operations around the globe, hoteliers have been taxed to find ways to safely serve their guests a satisfying meal to start their day or resume their travels. Many have found clever ways to deliver. 

On our journey, what the hotels we visited all had in common was clear signage requiring masks and social distancing, like the TableCraft signage pictured at left, and hand sanitizer everywhere. The rest of their approach to breakfast varied wildly from one property to the next, even amongst properties in the same hotel chain. 

Here are a few approaches we experienced and ideas to consider as you continue to adapt your breakfast service to ever-changing conditions, local health codes and mandates.

The Cool Send-off

If local requirements are strict or labor resources are limited, the breakfast-in-a-bag approach shows your guests that you’re doing everything you can to make good on the promise of a free breakfast. Bags can be distributed from an insulated cold holding carrier or cart by front desk staff or grab-and-go self-service from a cart, preferably one that looks nice front of house, such as the Cambro Service Cart Pro. Wrapped whole fruit, individually packaged fruit cocktail cups, muffins, yogurt, cereal bars, and bottled water, along with pre-packaged cutlery and a napkin, were amongst the offerings we received in our bagged breakfasts. One property included a frozen breakfast burrito to round out their breakfast with a savory protein addition, directing guests in advance to allow time to take it back to their room to microwave prior to checkout.

Another property we visited provided a limited buffet spread of ambient foods such as fruit, muffins, and protein bars that were all individually pre-packaged. Cold items such as yogurt could only be accessed by front desk staff who held the key to the countertop reach-in merchandiser. 

The key to safety with this type of buffet is providing individually packaged foods preferably in merchandisers that don't provide opportunities for guests to dig around for the best one. TableCraft's spiral fruit basket is a perfect example of a stylish display that safely and gently dispenses a single piece of fruit at a time. 

Although vigilant hand hygiene and utensil cleaning practices are always a must, antimicrobial tongs or utensils are valuable tools to have as an added layer of protection in your food safety program

Attendant Service

With this service model, you can still make use of traditional buffet equipment and create a more impressive presentation for your guests that provides a sense of "normalcy". An attendant serves each guest from the buffet as the guest identifies their choices. This way, only the gloved, masked attendant touches tongs, spoons, and handles of chafers and other buffet equipment. 

One property we visited went so far as staffing a dedicated attendant at the normally self-service coffee station, an added measure of safety that we deeply appreciated as guests.

Self-service Buffet with a Twist

The approach of a hotel in Wyoming really caught my attention. Considering there was still snow on the ground from the fluke, late-summer storm I mentioned earlier, a hot breakfast was especially welcome. They came through with a full buffet supervised by a friendly staffer witty enough to make me laugh before my first cup of coffee. As usual, hand sanitizer was at the ready. The gloved and masked attendant greeted us at the entrance to the buffet line, where he handed us disposable plates, napkins, and cutlery. Clear display dome covers showcased individually wrapped pastries, while signage directed guests to use a napkin to hold tongs and lift lids.

When I began to lift the first chafer lid, napkin in hand, much to my surprise, I noticed through the glass something I hadn’t seen before. Inside each labeled chafer, everything from sausages, omelets, and rosemary potatoes were pre-portioned into single servings and hygienically wrapped in heat-resistant bags to be lifted out with tongs. It looked unorthodox, but we appreciated the extra time the staff took to protect their guests. Once we reached our table in the socially distanced dining room, we un-bagged the items to reveal an appealing and satisfying hot breakfast.

In 7 hotels, we saw 7 different ways of managing breakfast, proof that there is no single, one-size-fits-all solution. Only one property opted out of breakfast entirely, putting us back on the road hungry and sadly in search of yet another drive-through.

If you're ready to retool your breakfast buffet so you can send your guests off happy, we're here to help. With product solutions and ideas from buffet innovators like TableCraft, BauscherHepp, Cambro, Hatco, and more, we can help with anything from compliance signage to hot and cold holding to touch free dining. Contact us.


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