Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Proposal: Abolish Continental Breakfast

Hello. So something about me you may not know... I love breakfast. What you may know is I also love travel. Even tiny travel like visiting a nearby town for a conference gets me excited, like a few weeks ago when I had the chance to visit Stanford.

When you're traveling and want a bright start to an adventurous day in a new place, what do you do? You get yourself a nice breakfast. If you're in a hotel or at a conference, usually the free breakfast is the ubiquitous Continental. And you always begrudgingly eat it because who wants to pay for breakfast when someone is giving it away for free.
Perhaps that is why Continental Breakfasts suck so bad! Because what company wants to pay for quality when they're giving it away for free. And since giving it away for free is the norm I guess they can't stop now. Yes, we're in a vicious cycle here. And we have to do something about it!

Bed & Breakfasts have "breakfast" in their title so are naturally expected to provide a nice complete breakfast for their guests, which they always seem to do. Their breakfasts are called Full Breakfast and these usually include carb-y homemade yummy stuff like pancakes or French toast stuffed with berries and bananas. You can also order such things at fancy hotels via room service however this will cost you your life savings. To accommodate the frugal, fancy hotels do offer room service Continental Breakfast for maybe $17, or for a little more money you can order what you really want: the American Breakfast. This basically translates to some sort of bread basket (straight from the Continental) plus eggs, and bacon if you're lucky.
What I want to know is, have you as a person, with the exception of airport discussions, ever used the word “continental” in a sentence in this century or the last several decades? You would use this word only if you now lived in the proverbial '50s or were Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live. The joke of The Continental skit on SNL is how dated Mr. Walken's character is, how dated his hotel is too, and how creepy. True, continental used to suggest a sense of luxury, that the person who was continental in nature was some sort of jet-setter, literally jetting around the continent like a star. Now all it means is crappy free breakfast.

Another thought: I'm assuming "continental" in this context may have referred to “items from around the country” back in the day, when Americans were starting to fly and see the country outside of their home town. People started to get more excited about cooking and trying new things. I imagine Continental Breakfast could have referred to regional specialties, or a variety of regional specialties, served at the breakfast table. Now it is, appallingly, drab tasteless pastries, dry untoasted fake-ish bagels, with packets of cream cheese, butter and jam. If you’re lucky and have a generous host, there may be some non-organic high fructose corn syrup-sweetened yogurts also served. And if you’re really lucky you may get a nice cut fruit plate with melon and berries, which everyone loves, though come on who eats that and stays full until lunch?

For another extra fee a host can add on a lox platter to go with the fake-ish untoasted bagels. This helps. Sorta. Same as adding butter to stale movie popcorn and suspending disbelief.

And for another extra fee the host can add on the buffet-style hot stuff,
which on the agenda or menu changes the name of the meal to simply "breakfast." I'm talking about the add-on of scrambled eggs, home fries, bacon and sausage. This would be the free breakfast of choice to most people, who perhaps wouldn't even mind paying a little extra for the hot stuff. But hey, about that, have you ever noticed that these items ALWAYS are served THE SAME WAY everywhere ACROSS AMERICA. Nothing is unique when a hotel or conference center offers these items. THEY SAY WE LIVE IN THE LAND OF THE FREE, BUT WE LIVE IN A LAND OF COPY-CAT BREAKFAST BLANDNESS. There is no uniqueness to breakfast in too many places charged with serving it. CONTINENTAL BREAKFAST IS NO LONGER AN ACCEPTABLE OPTION, it is BAD and it is the worst thing about traveling. That is, UNLESS YOU ARE TRAVELING OUTSIDE OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

* * intermission * *

Let's talk about the free breakfasts provided at hotels in Europe. Let’s especially talk about breakfast in Denmark. My free breakfast in Copenhagen, at the lovely and charming Admiral Hotel, was one of the most satisfying hotel breakfasts ever. Sure, there were no hot stations of scrambled eggs or a chef-manned omelette or waffle station. But I ask you, who cares! In its place were tables full of hearty breads and crackers, organic European yogurts with fun flavors like "forest berry," hard-boiled eggs, smoked ham along with country paté, rows upon rows of fresh Danish cheeses (some beautifully fresh and white as snow, most of which you have never seen on these shores), and Danish pastry. Yes, Danish pastry! The most incredible pastry in the world (and never to be confused with what we here in the U.S. call Danish pastry). All this magic was included in my free hotel breakfast.

In other European hotels I've been happy to experience fresh baquettes, cheeses and meats, and as always a fine selection of European yogurt, and it's good, very good! It's not crap. (Note: one brand of fantastic Swiss yogurt is sold is several high end food stores in the US, and in LA! It's called Emmi, pictured above. I especially recommend the pink grapefruit and the apricot. You can find it at Surfas in Culver City and Bristol Farms).

So America, please hear my plea. If you're going to serve free breakfast, can it please not suck? Can it please be good? Turn to Europe for inspiration, or anywhere else. At least serve some decent yogurt. Now you know where to buy it too, so there's no excuse.

Until we eat again,


  1. Yay...a new post! Marly, I couldn't agree more. Depending on where you're staying, what a better way to discover the local flavors of a city than to be forced to go outside the hotel to eat, which is what would occur if they would only abolish those horrific offerings called "continental" breakfasts. If you're going to eat bad carbs, at least they should have some flavor. Good gripe.

  2. Hi, Honey. I think the term "continental breakfast" refers to the usual fare in European (on the continent = continental) hotels of the past. In Paris, for instance, about 20 years ago, a typical free breakfast in a hotel was a croissant and a pot of strong coffee with cream. So, I guess that would translate to what is now known as a "continental breakfast" in the USA. To me, it means a few rolls and dessert breads with butter and jam and a pot of coffee. But, I agree with you: A great breakfast in a hotel room is a rare treat.

  3. My experience in europe has been the same crappy continental breakfast. Sometimes I"'d rather not eat than eat that crap.