Dining

In Defense of the Hotel Breakfast

The best part of waking up is actually right downstairs
Why Hotel Breakfasts Are the Best
Photo: Madelaine Sheesley / Getty

Welcome to Sounding Off, where writers have the chance to express their, ahem, unique thoughts on the food & drink world. These opinions belong to the writer, not Tasting Table.

I’ve always been a committed traveler; I rang in 2016 in Tokyo and bid the year adieu in Ho Chi Minh City. And for all the obsessive points transferring and airport research, for all the emailing of concierges and booking of tour guides, for all the Carrie Mathison-level charts and maps, I have not a single local breakfast recommendation to give. Not one. That's because there’s no better place to eat breakfast than your hotel.   

It’s at breakfast that a hotel—be it a glamorous five-star spot in Bangkok, an old-school joint in a tiny alley in Avignon, or a trendy design stunner in Copenhagen—sets the tone for your stay. Those multicolored rows of hand-squeezed tropical juices, overflowing baskets of just-baked croissants and colossal platters of smoked fish are more than food: They’re an expression of hospitality, a laying bare of generosity.

 

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I owe my fondness for hotel breakfasts to my parents, who impressed early on the wonder of the continental buffet. To this day, when they visit New York City, they begin every morning the exact same way: by grazing through the decorous spread of pastries, cereals and fruit at the Hotel Elysée. Outside, another frenzied day unfolds at 54th and Madison; inside, it’s quiet and tranquil as happy, upbeat guests slather cream cheese on bagels, settle into a preternaturally large Manhattan living room and dream big dreams about the day ahead. 

 

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Naysayers will argue that eating breakfast—or anything, really—at a hotel is a missed opportunity. You have only so many meals during vacation; you should spend them out there in the wild, visiting the cute cafés you've dutifully researched in advance and Instagramming another country's version of avocado toast.

I'm here to tell you: Don’t.

Traveling, even for those of us who love it, presents an endless matrix of decisions. Once you've decided to go to Kyoto, you will need to figure out which of the city’s 1,600 temples to visit; then, you’ll need to decide how to physically get to them. Once you've decided to wait in line for egg custard pastries at Pastéis de Belém in Lisbon, you will need to decide whether it's worth your while to go back the next day and wait in line all over again (pro tip: Yes, it is). Surrendering to the hotel breakfast isn’t lazy; it’s one less decision to make.

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Hotel breakfasts also make for pleasant, agreeable mornings. Instead of starting out the day on a street corner in an unfamiliar city, squinting at Google Maps and squabbling about who has the better sense of direction, my husband and I bask in the smooth, stress-free journey from table to omelet station and back. Together, we leisurely read the International New York Times (in print!) and collaboratively devise an itinerary for the day. 

 

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Above all, though, hotel breakfasts grant you permission to pull a George Costanza and do the opposite of everything you normally do. In real life, breakfast means swallowing down things with almond milk at Pret a Manger. At Mia Nha Trang, a spectacular resort perched on a cliff in Nha Trang, breakfast means slurping down the pulp and seeds of a halved passion fruit while gazing out over the South China Sea. Over at the Mandarin Oriental Tokyo, breakfast means feasting on gorgeous red-yolked eggs—laid from meticulously fed chickens—while soaking in skyline views from the 38th floor. Meanwhile, at Peacock Pavilions, a boutique hotel in an olive grove outside Marrakech, breakfast means using multicolored Moroccan teaspoons to scoop fresh seasonal jams onto heaps of breads and yogurt.

 

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My point is, in real life, the burden is on you to feed yourself in the morning. In vacation life, the burden is on you to simply press the elevator button, which will transport you, as if by magic, to your breakfast, which someone else has orchestrated on your behalf.

 

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So next time you’re attempting to pull together a game plan for vacation breakfast, consider staying put with your fellow hotel patrons: a million tiny souls from all corners of the globe, converging just long enough to eat from the same chafing dish.

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