On Hotel Breakfasts, and How Not to Have Them

Much has been written about plane food and its associated plights, but I don’t think enough ink has been devoted to the matter of hotel breakfasts. And as I get ready to embark on my book tour, the subject is very much on my mind.

Breakfast is, to me, the most intimate meal of the day, the one that you eat barefoot and in your pajamas, the one that eases the transition from your helpless, sleeping self to the person you are in the daytime and to the outside world. What you eat then says a lot about you: I have it on authority that Brillat-Savarin meant to write “You are what you eat for breakfast” (“Dis-moi ce que tu manges au petit déjeuner, je te dirai ce que tu es”) but the maxim had to be edited for space.

The challenges of hotel breakfasts

If you feel the same way, I’m sure you’ll agree that breakfast poses a serious challenge when you travel for work. Hotel breakfasts, even in nice hotels, make me want to cry — remember, we’re all children at breakfast — as I stand by the buffet, trying to identify the least unappealing items and more importantly, the most nutritious, so I won’t feel faint an hour later.

I usually manage to scrape up some sort of fresh fruit (an eerily shiny apple or a pith-full orange), yogurt (preferably plain), and a bit of bread (the darker the better), which is fine until I get the bill: those buffets are priced with ogres in mind, and unless you’re the type to stuff muffins and bacon strips in your purse for later, they’re not very good deals.

My strategy for dealing with hotel breakfasts

So, whenever possible, I take matters into my own hands, and try to keep the makings of a healthy breakfast in my hotel room. The invaluable bonus is that you get to eat it in the privacy of your own hotel-issue bathrobe, without having to endure other guests’ early morning conversations (if I had any sort of power, I would make it illegal to talk business over breakfast).

Admittedly, this strategy requires a little forethought: if it’s a short trip, I’ll bring a few of my beloved organic apples and a package of reasonably health-conscious cookies (I like these and these). But if I’m traveling for a longer period, or to a country where bringing my own food might get me in jail, I hit the local supermarket (or, better yet, a natural foods store) to stock up on fruit, yogurt (Siggi’s Skyr, here I come!), and muesli*.

The yogurt I keep in the room’s mini-bar if there is one, but while in the US, I’ve once used an ice bucket filled with ice as an improvised cooler. Then there is the question of tools: I usually pack a plastic spoon and knife in my (checked) luggage, or I’ll request a set from the hotel desk. And the glass that sits by the bathroom sink (washed very carefully to remove all traces of window-cleaning detergent), works as a fine vessel from which to eat muesli and yogurt.

This, of course, does not solve the coffee issue, but in the places where my publishers send me, it is considerably easier to find good coffee than an acceptable breakfast.

And this sums up my strategy — what’s yours?


* Pictured above is the perfect breakfast parfait I enjoyed every morning while in Australia: a local mango that would make my fingers smell wonderful all morning, Mundella natural yogurt, and Good Girls’ Summer Fling muesli with macadamias and cranberries — just thinking about it makes my tastebuds tingle. (And it is pictured here in a proper bowl, because I took that picture in Albany, where my room was equipped with a kitchenette. Oh, the luxury.)

  • est

    i do exactly the same, granola yogurth and fruits I find at the local market or supermarket. the one thing I only bring with me is rice cakes cause they are nice as a snack or for breakfast when decent bread isn’t available!

  • I agree this is a huge problem – my work trips are interstate in Australia and you can’t take food between states unless it is packaged but the supermarket is an important stop and the hotels charge like wounded bulls (which even when work picks up the bill seems immoral)

    I like buying a packet of english muffins, little tins of baked beans and little tubs of fruit in juice – I try and stay in a served apartment rather than a hotel so I have a kitchenette with a toaster and microwave rather than soggy overpriced breakfast that has been sitting around in the bain marie

  • Meg

    Oh, you are so right! I find hotel breakfasts to be such a depressing start to the day.

    In European hotels, whether Spain or Slovakia, I find always the same spread of salami and cheese (for breakfast?) alongside giant bowls of fruit cocktail.

    I get the yogurt, some powdery muesli, and pay €14 for the privilege.


  • Susan

    I improvise the way you do, bringing homemade granola. If by chance I land in a hotel without minibar or ice machine (like last week) I might venture out for breakfast, but there’s nothing like those quiet moments in the morning with comfort food that I know will fuel my morning.

  • carolina (vienna, austria)

    I am sure you would love travelling through brazil then. even the most simple hostel serves lots of fresh fruit and all sort of cake, bread, homemade corn or maniok treats, cheese, ham, egg etc. boa viagem!

  • I completely feel your pain. I take breakfast *very* seriously, and I am consistently disappointed by hotel breakfasts and their exorbitant prices. That said, when I was recently in Asia, breakfast was included in all the hotel fares and the breakfasts offered some tasty options: fresh plain yogurt, granola, breads, porridge, fruit, etc, on top of some Asian dishes. But when that is not the case, I usually pick up food at a local shop and stash it in my mini fridge. For me, skipping breakfast is *not* an option, so I do what I can!

  • Matt

    I firmly believe breakfast is the most personal of meals. Unless you are prepared to be flexible, breakfast elsewhere other than in your own home is likely to be a challenge; and who is really flexible when they first get up? Myself, I have no problem eating unusual food for lunch or dinner, but when it comes to breakfast, I long to be coddled not challenged.

  • Jonathan C

    I completely agree on the poor state of hotel breakfasts. Moreover, in addition to the poor quality and high prices, I find I don’t feel well after eating a typical hotel breakfast (too rich, too much processed food, etc). When we travel, my wife and I try to find a grocery store, but failing that, even drugstores in Canada and the US will have some food items (cereal, milk, raisins or other dried fruit). Organic peanut butter is one item we try to pack with us to supplement whatever else we can find. I find that I feel so much better by avoiding the breakfast buffet. If I have to eat at the hotel, I try to find the plain oatmeal and order a bowl of fruit. Although the pricing for those items is outrageous, at least I feel reasonably healthy (other than the sharp pain in my wallet). Interestingly, it seems that the problem may be primarily an issue in the “western” world. I recently came back from a trip to Oman where the hotel breakfast buffet (included with my stay) featured absolutely delicious vegetarian Indian food in addition to the eggs, sausage, etc. (Oman has a very large Indian ex-pat population). Similarly, in Vietnam, I enjoyed delicious pho at a couple of different hotels (in Vietnam, pho is viewed as a breakfast food).

  • Sarah

    I always get really excited about hotel breakfasts, thinking “ok, this is your chance for a good, fatty breakfast” as a change from my normal fruit and oatmeal. But it’s always disappointing – the eggs are rubbery, the bacon like plastic, the pancakes too sweet – and I end up wishing I’d stuck with my oatmeal.

  • Dean

    In the US, hotel breakfasts are painfully overpriced, and even in the best places are often of mediocre quality. As someone who travels frequently but rarely has time to luxuriate in my robe and slippers in the morning, my solution is to find a good cheap breakfast place near the hotel. In major cities like NY, Chicago, or SF, there is always a good Mom and Pop diner close at hand. In the worst instances I’ll grab coffee and a bagel or pastry from a street vendor (in NYC the food from the carts is actually pretty good). Also in NYC, the coffee from the carts is just fine and spares me the tedium of Starbucks.

  • Sunski

    Zone bars and tea bags.

  • I buy yogurt too. Also,I usually buy some oats that can be microwaved in the room and a box of healthy cereal like Kashi. I keep a few bananas, some dried fruit and nuts on hand too. You can make a filling, high fiber breakfast with these few ingredients; I know cause I do it all the time. Thanks for a great topic, Clotilde!

  • I always pack breakfast food whenever I travel, both for price and taste reasons. It all goes back to the overpriced soggy spaghetti I had several years ago delivered to my room compliments of the hotel restaurant…(This is what I spent ___ on?!?! I could have bought postcards and eaten them for that price! And probably would have tasted better)

    Protein bars are definitely a staple, along with nuts. Also, individual cartons of soy milk and powdered breakfast shakes do well too.

    Or, if I can get away with it, sleep in late and when I wake up it will be time for lunch somewhere in the town!

  • Rachel

    My strategy is generally not to eat hotel breakfasts at all (unless they’re included), but to find a decent cafe or bakery near the hotel instead. (I’m also a big advocate of keeping a stash of fruit.) That said, I have had a few truly memorable breakfasts in my travels (if you ever have occasion to visit Edinburgh, stay at the Walton Hotel – the breakfast there is so good that my mother and I stayed there twice solely based on that!) but ‘a few’ is definitely the key phrase.

    May your book tour be as devoid of depressing hotel breakfasts as is humanly possible!

  • Melanie

    The only good hotel breakfasts I have had were at the two 4* hotels my husband & I stayed in on our honeymoon in Italy – both had good coffee (as if you’d expect anything else in Italy), masses of fresh fruit, and good selections of yoghurt, cereal, baked goods (both breads & pastries) and juices. Even the 3* we spent a night in mid-trip had a good spread of fresh, tasty goodies. (And, in all cases, breakfast was included in the price of the room)

    On our last trip to Paris, however, we just headed out to the nearest bakery or market each morning – we didn’t even try the hotel breakfast (but then we were staying halfway between Poilane & the Boulevard Raspail Farmers’ Market!)


    PS: VERY excited as I had an email at the weekend to say that my copy of “Edible Adventures…” has been dispatched!

  • I try to do the same, especially since I usually have my young children with me. They wake up starved and it helps to have a little something available as soon as they wake. My only advice is to avoid the glasses provided by the hotel. There was an expose recently in the US which showed that hotel staff used cleaning fluids like windex to clean those glasses. Or, worse, they didn’t clean them at all – just swirled a little tap water in them. For my future hotel stays, I’ll be bringing my own little dining set.
    Take care,

  • Michelle

    Like many others I travel for work once a month. I usually carry granola bars, fruit and nut mixtures (Marks & Spencer in the UK/Ireland does a fantastic almond and yogurt covered cranberry mix). Dried fruit – particularly apricots are a morning fav on the drive in. Even though I travel on an expense account, I cannot face paying €20 for mildly warm breakfast.

    For late night snacks in the hotel I usually carry dark chocolate covered ice cakes and gummies and buy sparkling water from a nearby shop.

    Coffee is essential in the morning – but can usually be found once we reach the office.

  • Deleilan

    Ooooh Clotilde, I’ll be having dreams about that picture, it looks absolutely mouth-watering!

  • kristen

    a recent solution I developed with more frequent traveling:

    instant oatmeal with dried wild blueberries, and almonds and good chocolate on the side – totally portable and unspoilable!

    I take a swiss army knife, spoon, and small electric kettle along as well – you never know what you might find in the local markets you’d want to try!

  • When I’m absolutely stuck with no provisions of my own in a hotel that claims to have a “continental” breakfast, here’s what I do.

    Take one of their ever present red delicious apples, which are eerily red and far from delicious, and one packet of plain instant oatmeal. Plain here refers to not being loaded with so much sugar that it will involuntarily remove your wisdom teeth for you. Add hot water to the oatmeal, and stir in crude slices of apple that you cut with one of those pathetic plastic knives.

    While you can pretty much bet that you’re getting your daily dose of herbicides, fungicides, and food grade petroleum, at least you’re not adding any junk of your own. It’s not a crepe, but it beats the shrink wrapped bagels.


  • Well, I have been to South Tyrol (Italy) in a lovely hotel and I had a great breakfast with yogurt, cereals, fresh fruits and so on – I LOVE IT!!! For me breakfast is the most important meal! That means: bad breakfast – bad day… ;-)


  • Mrs Redboots

    The worst was a hotel chain that provided _instant_ coffee for breakfast. We’ll not be staying there again!

    I actually rather like hotel breakfasts, because they provide things I don’t normally have at home! I don’t like cereal, but do enjoy having ham and cheese, and perhaps an egg, and some fruit – and the most recent hotel we stayed in provided cucumber and tomato and so on, too. And gorgeous rolls!

  • rainey

    In the US and Canada Fairmont Hotels have excellent breakfasts. …but they’re probably pricey for the simple fare you prefer. Still, you might be tempted by their excellent eggs some morning. You could even throw a trench coat over the jammies and take them back up to your room.

    But I absolutely agree that most hotel brekkies are sad. And those places that advertise free breakfasts must never have had real food in the morning or they’d never have the nerve to call the pitiful things they put out breakfast.

    I like your ingenuity and think that’s the way to go. …if you don’t happen to have a fridge with leftover Indian. ;>

  • Harry

    I find coffee is not strong enough in my travels, so I bring a heating coil, of various currents, depending on the country, and a hiking unbreakable plastic french press obtainable in a sporting goods store, and of course my blend of coffee. My wife uses cream so the mini bar is a good place to keep it cool.

  • Perfect picture! Mhmmm

  • Hmm … I’ve had my fair share of bad hotel breakfast’s — generally they go by the name “Continental breakfast.” I don’t know what view of the continent the person had who made that name up. Anyway, in Sweden a hotel breakfast is usually pretty good — if you like cheeses, ham, eggs, whole grain breads, yogurt, muesli etc for breakfast. The standard Swedish breakfast is often a open faced sandwich (the bread loaded with grains with a slice of cheese or ham on top and, perhaps, a tomato slice.

  • I prefer to get out of the hotel altogether and explore what breakfast eats the city I’m in has to offer. Especially in America, breakfast seems to be one meal where there is almost always still a distinct regional flavor, be it biscuits and gravy in Georgia, Beignets and chicory coffee in New Orleans, or bagels with lox in New York. And after all I never would have tried Jianbing Guozhi (chinese filled crepes) If I hadn’t been searching for a better breakfast than the horrible one my hotel offered when I was staying in Shanghai, and that would definitely have been a shame.

  • This is brilliant! Usually I just try the grin and starve method, hoping for a fantastic lunch.

  • i knew when i saw the image of the muesli that it had to be an australian breakfast! it looks delicious, i shall have to try out this muesli once my granola runs out.

  • I agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I love pankakes and sweet things for breakfast, needless to say I don’t eat them often.
    When on a trip I usually do complementary breakfast, cereal, a fruit and coffe. If that is not available I also go to the local supermarket, buy some bread, apples, etc.
    And if that doesn’t work a Denny’s or Denny’s look alike (they have one in every crouty) and have a bagel and coffe.

    Sometimes though, just sometimes I have chocolate chip panckakes, with artichoke ommeletes and blueberry muffins…!!

  • Carine

    I like the same cookies :) Try also the ones with apples and hazelnuts

  • Regarding my experience with staying in hotels the last years, this discussion is funny. I am regularly staying in the most various (cheap) hotels and ‘pensions’ in Germany, as I have to travel for work (which mean they pay, and I just get what I get).
    I work at highschools and it’s hard work, in small towns, which altogether means that there is no time to eat, no, or bad, food provided for us at schools, and hard to find a decent dinner. Therefore, the hotel breakfast is often what keeps me and my co-workers ‘alive’, as we now know the deal and prepare bread rolls from breakfast to not starve during the day…Because of this work, I even had to switch from veganism back to vegetarianism because it is impossible to stay not hungry on bread with marmelade and fries for 3 days….I now cherish the boiled egg and sweaty cheese, knowing that these are valuable proteins which will keep the hunger away a bit longer than plant proteins can.
    The only, only thing which I really do miss and is hard to bring along is a GOOD cup of coffee…Not the watery stuff hotels always serve. Try to find a good espresso in rural East-Germany…
    So of course, I could rant about the bad quality -as my work always pays, I have no idea about prices for breakfasts- and cheer about the rare good breakfasts that I came across. I will stay humble though, happy with whatever edible and half-nutritious I can put in my mouth, and know I will appreciate being back in the plentiful Berlin so much more…
    (For anyone interested in the food served on German schools, check my blog!)

  • msue

    You hit the nail on the head about hotel breakfasts! Our survival techniques:

    1) Pack granola and fruit to get us through the flight (and admittedly, the odd cookie or two!).

    2) Upon arrival, look for a place to buy yogurt and additional fruit.

    3) Take a selection of our favorite teas with us, since most hotels offer crummy teas in the room, and we nearly always want herbal tea in the evenings as we wind down.

    And Kelsi is quite correct about the cleanliness of the cups & glasses provided by hotels. The ick factor is pretty high once you see how the staff ‘cleans’ them. I once did a little smudge test at an upscale hotel – the smudge lasted through an week long visit. Ick. Wash all cups & glasses before use or pack your own!

    Enjoy your trip! I only wish I could visit one of the cities while you were there. The book tour will be fantastic, and the lucky folks that get to attend one of the signings are in for a treat.

  • Joi

    Vanilla yogurt, fresh fruit (peaches, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries…) with Grape Nuts sprinkled on top starts my day right. With coffee, of course. Lots and lots of coffee.

  • marie

    ooh i love those biscuits too!
    avec un bon chocolate chaud :)

  • Margaret

    I hear your pain, but as a visitor I must admit my love of breakfast in our room in Paris. Rolling over in the morning and calling the desk and ordering up juice and cafe au lait for me and a full PD for my husband is one of life’s most pleasant luxuries. Altogether this menu costs us 17€, highway robbery, but worth every penny. We often “suitcase” in yogurt or cheese or unusual pastries we have come across the day before, and stash them outside our window during the night. Breakfast away from home can at least provide time for stretching, leaning back, enjoying a readable newspaper and organizing one’s day. For us, one of the most sublime parts of travel.

  • Lisa

    I also do yogurt and granola, and I’m glad to hear others do this too – last time my fellow travelers laughed at me for preparing my own breakfast, although I can’t believe they were happy with a Starbucks muffin.

    When there’s no refrigerator, I buy individual cartons of soy milk. Not as tasty when warm, but it’s better than the alternative.

  • janice

    Please tell me about the wonderful breakfast you have posted over this entry….

    Oh my – how absolutely scrumptious looking !!!

  • I never ever eat hotel breakfasts. I always shower, dress and go out to the nearest cafe which I find by a Google search before I go or a wander around the area after I arrive. I’m one of those people that can’t bear to be in their hotel room in a foreign city. I like to be out exploring every moment I can. Congrats on the new book Clotilde and have fun on the tour.

  • I too prefer to gather my own ingredients and eat in my room, particularly if it is going to be a long stay.

    You might want to consider packing a plastic cup / small bowl of your own however. I recently saw a news clip video on how the glasses provided in hotel rooms are rarely ever properly washed – backed up by hidden camera footage. This was in a high-end hotel chain as well. Scary stuff.

  • Depending on whether I’m driving or flying… if driving, I go to Trader Joe and buy individual fage yogurts to last the entire trip, plus trail mix or granola and fruit (apples or something similar). I find that the yogurt keeps just fine without refrigeration (I used to make my own by putting it on the windowsill to “cook”) unless it’s very hot. I mix the trail mix into the yogurt and maybe eat some of the fruit, too. Then I go out and get a coffee. If I’m in NYC, I sometimes go to a Korean Market and get some grapefruit slices, strawberries and some hard boiled eggs to eat in my room. Once in a while I treat myself to a bagel or (my favorite) a bialy.

    If I’m flying, I go to the nearest Trader Joe, WholeFoods or other natural foods grocery as soon as I can, and get the above!

    Unless I’m in Paris, then I go to a bakery! :)

    Like you, I need my own space in the AM, to sort out my day! (BTW, I’m the person who gave you granola + chocolate when you were in Cambridge at your booksigning @ Chez Henri last year! Has it really been almost a year!? ) Have a great trip! Wish I could make it to one of your signings! But instead I am going to TJ for the above for a biz trip to NY a few days after you are there. :(
    Can’t wait to read your book… it’s sitting here waiting!

  • Clotilde, I love how you captured the idea of captivating breakfast intimacy!

  • Melanie

    Woohoo! I got the new book this morning, and it’s fab! I’m just disappointed that I won’t get to use it soon enough…

    On an aside, I gave a friend the C&Z cookbook for her birthday recently, and last weekend she made us the chocolate & raspberry cake from it (though as rasps are absolutely not in seaon here at the moment she used frozen blackberries & blackcurrants instead)- speaking as a person who isn’t that into chocolate cake, it was absolutely divine and up there with the best desserts I’ve ever eaten.


  • BC

    Breakfast is so important and so poorly done in most places. It is overpriced… unless you eat like a lumberjack. But who can function with the weight of an anchor sitting at your middle?

    My children and I drove across Canada (four times) and we camped the entire distance. There were no fridges or stoves. Although I love – just love – cooking, I couldn’t face making breakfast then driving 800 km.

    I packed nuts, fresh fruit, and dried fruit. We purchased fresh milk, bagels, and coffee everyday. We never ate in restaurants but we shopped for fresh food at the markets.

    The coffee… well that was something else.

  • I rate a hotel restaurant (or any restaurant for that matter) how they make the scrambled eggs. And out of very sad and painful experience I have to say I finally found one restaurant that actually serves scrambled eggs the way ‘nature’ had intended it. No water floating around the plate, no raw egg whites and believe it or not…they really use REAL eggs (too many times have I been served egg substitutes…yuk)..if you are ever in Cork, Ireland go to Liberty in Washington Street…just bring your own granola as they are failing a bit in this department.

  • Taina

    Awesome job on the Today Show this morning, Clotilde! And what a nice diversion for me to see your segment while puffing away on the elliptical trainer in the gym…I looked around for someone I knew so I could say “I met her in Paris!!!” but alas, no one.
    Hope you get lots of book sales as a result of your appearance.

  • chris

    I can say that I’m a big fan of the bring your own fruit hoard as well. I love a good apple. The best I ever had was when visiting Europe this summer in Switzerland was freshly made muesli with fresh golden raisins, apples, and bananas cut up in it. Mmmmm…..

  • Sirena

    You were so adorable on the today show this morning, Clotilde! I’m looking forward to picking up a copy of your book. The tarts looked simple, delicious, and you made the recipe so accessible to people. they’ve got to have you on more often! (of course, if you’re available :-)

  • I can’t remember the last time I settled for a hotel breakfast. I usually use that as my opportunity to find a local cafe where I sip on a latte and eat a small dish. I use this as my time to leisurely plan my day and love it!

  • M.

    The best solution to the coffee problem that I have found is the Aeropress from Aerobie ($25 at Amazon), and worth every penny.

    It works like a large syringe, forcing pressurized water through coffee grounds. The result is a concentrate that can be diluted or iced. It’s similar to espresso, and it’s of coffeehouse quality. Of course, this means you have to bring your own beans and grinder (if you’re really fanatical) or grounds. I like Intelligentisa Coffee’s Zirikana from Rwanda.

  • Marlene

    A foldable bowl (i.e. Orikaso)doesn’t weigh more than a piece of paper and is veeeery practial. Cups and plates are also available.

  • I definitively love the German breakfast which is more like a brunch!

  • Sharon

    Most memorable breakfast I had was when staying at the Hotel with a Casino in Perth Australia.

    Every morning I started the day with a big bowl of fresh Strawberries and cream and a hot chocolate. Served by a lovely young man in a silver service.

    I now live in Perth and think of this fondly whenever I drive past.

  • alissa

    Working as a front of the house manager at a hotel restaurant that served breakfast 7 days a week for a number of years i hopefully suprised and pleased people with the selection I had.

    I had a resonable a la carte price for every item and then a “full buffet” price for the people who liked to PILE IT ON! I had lots of sliced fresh fruit, individual yogurts and museli/granola packets. Whole fruit. fresh juice/ bottled waters/ mineral waters etc available along with the typical american fair. It was a good buffet and it was only 10 dollars american for a go at it. It was better than a crusty old danish from the back of a sysco food service truck that you normally get.

    when traveling i make Granola bars loaded with nuts, wheat germ, dried fruit and a drizzle of chocolate for me and my companions. Buy fruit and Yogurt when i arrive and sometimes a bit of cheese and bread. (mmm gjetost!)
    Traveling with a male friend who is ALWAYS hungry you learn to have those granola bars in a baggie individually wrapped in parchment and little chocolates or crackers to satiate his need for food. Also a pint sized bottle of water is a good idea when treking around the city you’re in.

  • CeliacChick

    Basically, you described the plight of traveling gluten-free!! That is how I eat most of the time while traveling- in my room.

  • Francesca

    You can’t beat a Full English breakfast made for you by someone else! A good hotel brekkie is bliss. Yes they can be pricey, but I get my money’s worth. I get Room Service wherever possible, so I don’t have to get dressed, and pack all the cold stuff in my suitcase for later. Just mueseli and fruit is too virtuous for holidays, and you deserve a treat if you’re working away from home.

    Francesca from Manchester, England.

  • When we were travelling in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan last year, we were lucky to stay at two hotels that had really good (but odd) breakfasts, lots of fruit, yogurt and veggies… plus even a stir fried beef dish that was actually good… just too heavy for my breakfast (but my husband loved it) plus all sorts of salami and meats that the kids adored!

    I just wish the coffee had been better.

  • I do the same thing with yogurt, fruit and granola. I can’t stand those buffets with some sad cake and strange flavorless croissants.

    We did experience the meat and cheese breakfast in Prague, but it was free and delivered to our apartment, so I was okay with it. It also came with these wonderful little wafers.

  • Michel-Antoine

    You know, I can eat hotel breakfast, I’m not too picky… and some times, a bagel with butter with a couple slices of bacon is not to bad… But the best is at Bed and Beakfast! They know how to make you the best breakfast and put you in the right bed! Once, I has a fresh, just fresh fruit, fruit salad as a first course – pear, apple, pineapple, banana, strawberry and blackberry – followed by a warm croissant served with maple butter and finally the choice between a fresh herb souflé or waffles with berries and clear maple sirup! Ok, I have to say, this was in New-Brunswick (Canada) but the price for the night was pretty much lower that any chain hotel.

    But I have to say also, conducting business at breakfast is quite good too. In the summer time, the best light is in the morning – before it gets too warm – so you can put light bright chothes and have a couple bites of fresh fruits and some real good bread and cheese a around a mimosa. And yes, alcohol is just as acpetable at breakfast than beir at lunch and wine at dinner…

  • Michel-Antoine

    But what I forgot to say is…

    One thing I can’t stand when I travel is my end of the night fun…

    I don’t drink mini bar boose, I don’t agree with that! It is so, way to expensive for crap! I wan my good wine or my good “beu” (some will understand) and I want it the right way: no in a 1/4 inch thick glass. I can go buy a good bottle at the store – which I do when I can – but I can’t get a good bottle if the store is closed. So I pack some cookies one of my good friend make with me; just in case a night like that happens! You know, these “poisonus” cookies are also greaf if you are to spend 8 hours in a van with co-workers you don’t talk to! And for the other nights, I carry around an open bottle: I put the cork back on – completely.

  • I had some wonderful breakfasts in B&Bs around Scotland. Huge slabs of home made brown soda bread and smoked salmon; locally cured bacon and fresh free range eggs cooked to order; excellent porridge… Notable for being the exception to the rule, of course.

    I pretty much always buy some fruit, and usually avoid breakfasts unless it’s part of a package or paid by others. When I was last in America, I had two weeks of one hotel’s breakfast buffets, which was quite a trial. But eventually I figured out that corn muffins were not as sugar laden as the rest; and that nobody except me was eating the plain oatmeal packets. They all seemed to be eating the cake and donuts. For breakfast. And, oh my god, the horror that is American bacon. (Take streaky part of the rasher only, no eye, marinade in alarming amounts of RED nitrates to preserve. Or possibly it’s even reconstructed meat with dyed red and white stripes. It was so eerily even.)

  • Well said. I think the best hotel breakfast I ever had was actually in Paris. Granted, it cost a lot to my student budget eyes, but it had food that was both good and good for you. Hooray.

    Thanks for sharing your tricks!

  • I recently stayed in a hotel in Liverpool, UK. I completely forgot to take anything with me and I faced the same problem. The fruit was the only remotely edible offering, but I had to be selective because most of it was tinned. I was starving and feeling a little worse for wear and so I ad to make the best of it by just eating watermelon. Why? WHY?! It’s just not acceptable!

  • mp

    rent or borrow a flat, make my own coffee and ah, the eggs in Italy, the bread in France, save some euros and relax. of course, this only works on vacation… for work, I choose a small hotel w/coffee in lobby, and bring back eggs or bagel from a nearby diner or cafe (admittedly only works in bigger cities). oh, and if all else fails, turn to the homemade trail mix in my suitcase …

  • Liz

    if i take the opportunity to order room service, oftentimes i will have two poached eggs and a small green salad with some balsamic vinegar. however, i am about the embark upon a week long stay in a very small and red-neck kind of town (i actually love the town), and I am going to bring some b’fast favorites with me to avoid their free breakfast buffet, which is truly unhealthy.

  • My reccomendation would be to stay in a small intimate B&B and be looked after by the owners. Not all B&B’s have wholesome breakfasts, but your chances are much greater for getting something more memorable, nutritious and delicious in a small inn that cater to their guests.
    Check http://www.TripAdvisor.com and other type travel forums for places where you are traveling for reviews and recommendations.

  • eatwell124

    I agree but not all breakfast buffets are unappealing, the breakfast buffet at the Wynn is like the breakfast buffet to end all breakfast buffets, you can’t believe how good the tiny waffles are and they’re in the warming pan, it’s good they’re so tiny so you can eat one and not feel guilty

  • Simple Simon

    I dislike any type of cereal and/or yogurt and refuse to eat either unless I really really have to.

    In general you are correct hotel breakfast are not that interesting, however I have some had some wonderful breakfast. For instance in a very memorable one was in Sau Paulo a full Japanese breakfast at the Nikki Hotel. Also fresh fruit plate in hotels in Rio and Bogata, numerous hotels in Italy where the fresh cheese and ham selections were excellent.

    Generally, I prefer to find breakfast outside the hotels. On a recent trip to San Diego, discovered a place near by that served Cali/Mexican breakfast that was excellent. In fact when on vacation I make it a point to research breakfast joints prior to my trip.

  • This past weekend I went on a trip and stayed at a hotel with a complimentary breakfast. I know I can’t expect much from complimentary but I have to say the healthy options were definitely limited.

  • christeen

    il parait que je suis du pain grillé. :(

    I agree, a good breakfast is so important. My favorite is just two pieces of toast, one egg, and some really good homemade jam or local raw honey. I eat the egg with the first piece of toast, and then I eat the second piece with jam or honey. I really liked the Parisian continental breakfast the hotels all seem to serve: a simple petit pain with butter and preserves with delicious coffee. American hotels are not very good at the breakfast thing.

  • blanchois

    Best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had: Cab-Inn in Copenhagen, included in the price of the room. They serve several kinds of breads and rolls (including whole grain and seedy types), ham, salami, fresh fruit, muesli, two kinds of whole cheeses that you slice yourself, plain and flavored yogurt, juice, butter, jam, cold cereals, milk, tea and coffee. All in a communal dining area where you can sit in a group or by yourself with a book. I love it. American hotel breakfasts pale in comparison.

  • I always go for a run really early (around 6am) and then suss out the best local eatery. Hotel breakfasts are unbearable, unless of course you are staying 5 star and get it delivered to your room! … Oh, and someone else is paying ;)

  • kim

    I never take hotel breakfast when staying in France, I love the bakeries too much and want to take every opportunity to try them out.

    Best hotel breakfast I had was in a 4* hotel in Barcelona, where the breakfast was included in the room fee (usually out of my budget but luckily this was on a business trip and the company was paying the bills). They had a great selection of fresh sliced fruits, which were restocked several times during the morning. I don’t have (or make) the time to enjoy fruit at breakfast, and living on your own, when do you have the opportunity to enjoy just 2 slices of watermelon and a slice of canteloupe? Also memorable was their cake counter, with various wedges of rich moist cake. Man, I hope I get to do that same business trip this year.

    And I’ve sometimes been lucky in the smaller family run B&B’s, where they served a selection of home-made marmelades and confiture, or asked you how you’d like your farm-fresh eggs.

  • I agree, finding good coffee is much easier than getting a good breakfast. I am happy with a piece of fruit and a (preferably whole bran) muffin or bagel. I like to nibble in my room and watch the morning news.

  • Laura

    I also have problems with hotel breakfasts, but don’t care for sweet things in the morning, so the yogurt, granola, fruit thing doesn’t cut it for me. I’d rather eat lunch/dinner food for breakfast. I’ve had nice breakfasts at Asian-style hotels. Sometimes they have miso soup or rice dishes. Sometimes I’ll bring home leftover dinner from the night before, put it in the fridge and have it for breakfast. Believe it or not, I like Korean BBQ for breakfast and when I stay in NYC I stay near Koreatown where there are tons of those restaurants open 24 hours a day. Next time I might even stay at the Hotel Stanford (in the heart of Koreatown) since there’s one right on site.

  • dan

    i travel quite a lot for work, so hotel breakfasts are an unfortunate mainstay. i generally prefer what passes for a “continental” breakfast — the best (free) ones tend to be in hotels with executive lounges, but the included ones in the hampton/holiday inn express/fairfield sorts of hotels can be OK.

    i generally try to piece things together from as many simple ingredients as possible, while avoiding overly prepared foods. so a typical breakfast will be yogurt, fairly plain cereal, fresh fruit, and toast. toast can be a lifesaver — pretty much any bread can be edible when toasted and smeared with a bit of peanut butter.

  • Lisa K

    I think that the best hotel breakfasts are found in Israel, where the assortment of fresh vegetables and cheeses is unmatched anywhere in the world.

    I had fabulous congee for breakfast at the Meridien Montparnasse in Paris, of all places. Which leads me to suspect that hotel breakfasts in Asia are probably great, although I haven’t traveled there.

  • I wish I had read this entry for inspiration before I made the mistake of ordering a room service breakfast last week. Truly UGH.

    I shall be better prepared on my next trip!! Thank you!

  • My breakfast at home is cereal (Nature’s Path Heritage O’s), nuts (usually walnuts), fruit (berries mostly), and yogurt (Nancy’s lowfat plain). It is rare that I can replicate this at a hotel and I am not organized enough to procure the ingredients in the surrounding area.

  • This is my favorite weekday, in a hurry breakfast. I have never thought to make it while traveling, what a wonderful idea!

  • js

    yogurt and dark bread, yes! i also bring crackers, whole wheat (like Ak-Mak) and my own green tea bags to use either with the hotel coffee-maker (a little rinsing to make sure it’s not too coffee-y) or at the breakfast itself.

    i love america, but it’s all the more fun to have hotel breakfasts in turkey or greece or somewhere with hunks of fresh cheese, bread, halva, and real fresh fruit!

  • I was recently ridiculed by friends for the great lengths I went to for a decent breakfast – the one meal you want as a constant when traveling.

    I was traveling for 3.5 weeks earlier this year and made sure I had a travel kettle – essential for the morning tea, evening herbal tea, instant oats and gourmet instant noodle soups. We always try to have some apples and bananas with us too.

    In the US, we were subjected to the nasty “make your own waffles” with the synthetic smell and HFCS maple syrup. Hideous!

  • sheena

    Breakfast is essential and can be a very personal and cosy meal.The most personalised i feel,as it can be ethnic or very regular “breakfasty only” affair.
    Ryvita crackers topped thickly with a 3:1 ratio of blackberry/black cherry preserve and danish feta ,eaten along sips of earl grey tea is delicious and very packagable ,so makes a nice travel breakfast.ripe melons eaten alone ,sweet mangoes paired with creamy yogurt are easy and delicious too.
    if i am in a great rush then a chocolate banana shake heavily flavoured with cinnamon and real vanilla fills me with a burst of energy.I also love a lightly cooked egg with whole grain toast!
    a breakfast of my choice does make set the mood for the day.also i simply adore intense cold coffee in a tall cold glass.

  • You’re so right, but I’d have to agree it must be a phenomenon generated by tourist demand and/or expectations and the practices of western hotels in general.

    A previous commenters Vietnamese Pho sounds wonderful, although in Hong Kong and in Thailand I stayed in hotels whose Asian chefs tried so hard to imitate the western breakfast buffet with disastrous results, but the fruit was amazing.

    Have you ever breakfasted on the streets in Turkey? They do a delicious spread; plain yoghurt, honey, watermelon slices, olives, perhaps some ham, local cheese and unsalted butter on wonderful fresh warm rolls or sourdough toast. It even looks good, they serve it in long segmented dishes made specially for the purpose.

    I also loved the heuvos rancheros I enjoyed on my honeymoon in Playa Del Carmen – we didn’t go to the hotel breakfast buffet even once, preferring to find somewhere new every day.

  • Isabelle

    Since I became an adult and could choose my morning food, I have N E V E R had breakfast in a hotel wherever on Earth anylonger with THE exception of Hotel Terminus in Sierre, Switzerland.

    We had such a delightful, extraordinary, lovely, delicious, wonderful dinner at Denis de Courten’s restaurant the night before that for once I broke the rule and decided to try my luck whith his breakfast (I was prepared to face the usual disappointment).

    The breakfast is included in the price of the room and it is served in the breakfast room which is near the lounge. What a delightful surprise: it was NOT a buffet !! Breakfast is actually SERVED at your table (lovely white linen tablecloth and fresh flowers on the table). It is composed of one delicious homemade croissant, one homemade roll and bread per person, one glass of freshly pressed orange juice, a few slices of local small producers’ delicatessen (ham, sausage, dry meat) mountain pasture butter and homemade jams !!! There was also one superb homemade plain yoghurt with an apricot coulis.

    Memories of this wonderful breakfast still bring water to my mouth. This exception to the rule has been such a stunning surprise that I keep fresher memories of the breakfast than of the dinner, mind you !!!

    Ready to start a “B H B guide” ?

  • Andrew

    In France, I find that it is impossible to resist the temptation of a croissant warm from the oven for breakfast.

    If it is possible to find a bakery that sells good Croissants, Pain au Chocolat or Pain au Chocolat aux Amandes, then it is worth venturing out for. A good croissant to go with my coffee is worth my, not inconsiderable, weight in gold.

    If I can find a café that can offer me the croissant and a good French coffee (not French roast, which I have never found in France, French) while I watch the world go by, this is better.

    In the rest of the world, I have a healthy, breakfast in my room, planning is, as you say, required, if only so I can get a drinkable cup of tea. In France (and in Montreal) I venture out; the lure of the boulangerie is too strong to resist.

  • Jen

    For good coffee on the road, I pack my own grounds and a French Press travel mug (available from Starbucks, though I think they’re made by Bodem).
    Then all I need is hot water, which is fairly easy to come by.


  • True, hotel breakfasts can be dire, but some French ones are quite good… At Georges Blanc’s hotel, at Le Jardin des Sens in Montpellier. Of course they’re fancy places. In more modest hotels they are much less interesting, to the point of being offending sometimes (think of mini-Président butter packs, capsules of clear jam, and stiff croissants, with the yucky coffee and dishwater tea adding insult to injury). Outside of France the hotel breakfast can be interesting. Catalunya: pan tomacat, lots of fruit, local cured meats; Greece: I’ve had wonderful breakfasts in small island hotels, for instance in Leros: fresh myzithra cheese, kefalotyri cheese, freshly squeezed orange juice from the orange grove nearby, honey, thick yogurt, diced melon and peach, home-made jams, and peach pastaflora which is like a very light and crumbly linzertorte. Breakfast in many Asian hotels are great too (when the chef does not try to imitate western breakfasts, as described above): jook or rice soup, dim sum, and fruit, fruit, fruit. The Singaporean breakfast being the coronation of them all. Traditional Japanese breakfast is a costly and complicated thing but you should have tried that once in your life, even in a hotel, to get you rid forever of the misconception that the Japanese eat frugally. And so on. The more I think of it, the more great food memories I recall in the category of hotel breakfasts… Notwithstanding the blatant truth in your assertion that they are often depressing.

  • ebra

    My best hotel breakfasts were in Japanese Ryokan, but it’s not breakfast as we know it ;-)
    The worst was when we were in a NY hotel waiting for a visa and I had a bad cold. I ordered oatmeal from room service (I was desperate). Cold, congealed and over ten dollars! Yikes.
    I carry dried fruit and nuts, and the odd healthyish snack bars wherever I can get away with it, and stock up on fresh stuff when I can.

  • Rob

    Wow, I think the response bears out your what you say about our being so vulnerable at the early meal — conversation over breakfast clearly touches people’s hearts!

    My own strategy on short (non-flying) trips is to bring along my trusty programmable rice/porridge cooker and a cup of steelcut oats, a wee bit of maple syrup, a small amount of just-ground coffee (4oz infant feeding bottles are perfect for transport of both the coffee and syrup!), and a coffee filter. Sometimes I’ll also bring a small cooler with some fresh or frozen berries, some walnuts or pecans, and a small bit of sharp cheddar — all for the porridge.
    At bedtime I set the porridge to be ready when I awake and if the room has a coffee maker, I’ll toss those horrid stale pods and use my supplies to make my own.

  • Love your piece on breakfast out. Good hotel breakfasts you remember for a lifetime and I have experienced a few very memorable ones, including in France. I first learned about Muesli at a hotel in San Antonio.

  • Kim

    I also do not care for hotel breakfasts (although the best oatmeal I’ve ever had came from the W Hotel in Seattle) and sometimes do the same as you do.

    But, because I have reactive hypoglycemia, I try to avoid too much sugar at breakfast. So, I normally save fruit (which I love) and other simple carbs for part of a bigger meal.

    I used to travel a LOT on business and my normal breakfast was leftovers from dinner. I normally ate all of my meals alone and just ordered extra for breakfast the next day. I tried to stay in hotels with a mini fridge and microwave, but also used ice buckets or zip-locks with a small collapsible cooler.

    I have had many wonderful breakfasts that way, with minimal trouble and while still in my robe. I have had everything from Vietnamese salad rolls to Thai Salad to a wonderful pear and smoked mushroom pizza from my beloved Cafe Flora (also in Seattle).

    I do for sure though avoid any unsealed cups or glasses and the coffee maker in hotel rooms. I am not a coffee drinker, but won’t even use them to heat water (although I did use one in San Francisco to steam a blouse). I just pack a few lightweight disposable plastic cups.

  • sue

    Thank you for the very interesting post! Could you tell me where I can find Gerble products in the US? (I live in Chicago)

  • Sue – I really couldn’t say. Perhaps you can get in touch with the company directly? I see they have an email address at the bottom of this page on their site.

  • Svetlana

    Well, as for me I´m quit often on business trips and I always pack some apples, nuts and cookies. The nuts are not only good for breakfast but also a great snack during the day! I also take some organic tea with me because the real problem at hotel breakfast for me is the lack of good tea!

  • As plenty of these comments agree, it can be so much worse when you’ve got a dietary restriction. I’m lactose intolerant (worse case you’ve probably ever heard of!).

    I wrote a similar article on packing your own airline food some time ago – please check it out and let me know what you think! My ideas aren’t terribly creative, but I’m open to suggestions!


  • I did this just last week. I was in NYC and bought coffee and oatmeal at Starbucks and Fage yogurt and a fresh fruit salad from the corner market next to my hotel. I like to get up early and walk in the morning, so taking a small bag of provisions back to my room in the morning works well for me.

  • Stephanie Doublait

    In France it is so easy to just wander to the closest cafe or boulangerie for a coffee and croissant! Of course while traveling we are always on the lookout for fresh fruit!! I always pack dried fruit or compotes for the kids.

    • True! But I don’t love venturing out on an empty stomach, so having something in the room with me makes my day start on a nicer note.

  • Lesley

    As long as the coffee’s decent I’m happy. Calories can wait until lunch.

    • Ha ha! I think that’s a very personal thing. I find I really need to eat something within an hour of waking up.

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