“Good hotel, bad breakfast.”
If you plug this phrase into Google, you’ll find a litany of guest reviews for hotels all over the world, from boutiques in Ireland to big chains here in Australia. The common thread running through these reviews is that a given hotel’s free breakfast was more trouble than it was worth. Either that or it was not worth the trouble at all.
Following the economic crisis in 2008, there was a notable increase in the number of hotels offering complimentary breakfast to guests. People — especially business travelers on dwindling budgets — were happy to tick breakfast off the list at no added cost. One of the day’s three meals is a nice thing to have in the bank, even if the food and drink leaves a little (or a lot) to be desired.
There are three basic reasons why this is changing in 2017 and beyond. First, the economic situation (while not ideal) has stabilized. Second, greater numbers of people have become more health conscious in the last decade, with items like nut milk and cage free eggs becoming mainstream. Third, the hospitality industry has diversified through the share economy revolution. This makes it more important for hotels to differentiate.
As a result, mid-range properties around the world are reinventing their complimentary breakfast offerings. According to a recent New York Times article, many hotels in the AUD $150-200 range are revamping breakfast spreads to address common complaints and earn more loyalty.
So what’s the working model for a better breakfast amenity? By taking a look at the common pitfalls, a better path forward emerges.
Complaint #1: Poor quality & lack of variety
There’s an obvious reason why extensive breakfast buffets are not standard practice. It takes lot of money to put on a big show every morning. Cost-benefit ratios can easily slide away from you.
But let’s face it: Many free hotel breakfasts look like a stubborn attempt to guard against losses. The processed cereals, the cheap pastries, the burnt coffee and fake fruit drinks — a great deal is lost in translation here. Guests will take advantage, but as review platforms often indicate, they won’t necessarily be happy about it.
The lesson: Investing in the health wellbeing of guests by offering quality fuel is a good way to invest in your hotel’s long-term reputation. Filling stomachs as cheaply as possible? Not so much. Many value-focused properties are now offering natural oatmeal and yogurt bars, omelette stations with cage free eggs, coffee from local or popular roasters, and juice that’s actually made from fruit. The message is clear: We know you care about your diet, and we care too.
Complaint #2: Upcharges
Guests at a hotel in Poland were upcharged to have milk added to their coffee. The fee could not be charged to the room, and had to be paid in cash on the spot. The guests drank tea instead, and wrote a scathing review. Guests at many other hotels have complained about being upcharged for items they thought should be included in the complimentary breakfast spread including espresso coffees and specialist teas.
The lesson: Nickel-and-diming is bad for the customer experience, plain and simple. If breakfast is included, upcharges shouldn’t be.
Complaint #3: The breakfast police are watching
Whenever a buffet is offered, you trust that your guests are going to make fair use of it. But scolding guests for taking a few items with them, or clearing their tables before they’re finished, is the worst kind of interaction. The idea that hotel staff would treat guests with contempt for taking advantage of free breakfast (an amenity that is openly promoted by the hotel itself) is ludicrous. It may be true that some guests abuse breakfast privileges, but how great are their numbers?
The lesson: Give your guests the benefit of the doubt. If you’re going to offer breakfast, be generous about it. If the amenity is costing too much, assess the situation and invent solutions that are nuanced and do not compromise quality. Whenever breakfast becomes a source of negative interaction between guests and staff, it’s probably better not to offer it.
Complaint #4: The breakfast ship is sailing
Obviously breakfast has to end at some point. But guests commonly complain that when they arrived for breakfast during the final hour (sitting down at 9:30, for example, when breakfast ends at 10), items have not been replenished and staff are busily carting things away.
The lesson: There may be only one or two guests in the dining room toward the end of breakfast, but their experience is just as important as anyone else’s. They shouldn’t be rushed or made to feel like they’ve missed the boat. Staff should be better trained to either make guests feel welcomed toward the end of breakfast hours or alternatively trained to offer an à la minute top up.
A new era of complimentary breakfast?
In a hospitality environment where every competitive edge counts, complimentary breakfast is an important way for hotels to win the approval of guests, boost review scores, and cultivate brand loyalty. It can also be a liability, especially if the offering is bleak and half-hearted.
Mid-range properties the world over are showing that with a few intelligent changes, it’s possible to offer a healthier, heartier, more generous breakfast experience that guests appreciate and remember in a positive light.
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It has been said that for a healthier life we should eat breakfast like a king/queen, lunch like a prince/princess and dinner like a pauper. What would you serve royalty?
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