Liberty, justice and free hotel breakfast for all
Liberty, justice and free hotel breakfast for all
30 AUGUST 2018 7:00 AM

It’s time to rethink paid breakfast at some hotel chains.

Earlier this summer, I stayed in a Courtyard by Marriott for the first time since, I hate to admit it, probably the late 1980s.

I know, that’s crazy, right? Mind you, my first experience with Courtyard lo these many moons ago was on a family vacation, and I remember being enamored by the boiling-water tap they originally had in the rooms. At the time, that was a big draw for busy businesspeople on the go, who could brew up their Folgers Crystals (hey, it was the ’80s) from the comfort of their guestroom without waiting for a slow coffee machine. This was all pre-Keurig and even probably pre-Starbucks, and not at all safe in the least bit.

I remember thinking how cool it would be to be a businesswoman, traveling around and staying in hotels, brewin’ up that instant coffee in my room, then hitting important meetings in my shoulder-pad business suit.

Look at me now, world. Look at me now.

But back to that Courtyard I stayed in earlier this summer. It was gorgeous and comfortable and had all the touches anyone could want. Then I went down to breakfast and remembered, oh yeah, breakfast isn’t free at Courtyard. Or at Hilton Garden Inn. Or at a bunch of those other upscale brands and some midscales, like Holiday Inn.

I will admit it annoyed me to pay for that breakfast and that coffee, which wasn’t all that different from the free breakfast up the street at any number of other hotel chains.

Mind you, this gap between paid breakfast and free breakfast has always existed in the hotel universe, and it always will.

But I sense an evolution on the horizon, and brands in the middle—the Holiday Inns, the Courtyards, the Hilton Garden Inns—may be the ones that need to rethink paid breakfast.

I think it all comes down to guest perception. Guests know that Ritz-Carlton or Omni, for example, are not going to have a free breakfast. And guests know that Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn will. But what about those brands in the middle, those midscale and upscale brands that still charge for breakfast, yet don’t necessarily carry that weight, that gravitas, of being a hotel that can charge for breakfast?

It’s nebulous, isn’t it? And I’m sure it’s not something brands like to think about.

The evolution already is beginning. Some of these paid-breakfast brands do offer free breakfast to certain loyalty program tiers. That move is a bit of a slippery slope, reminiscent of Wi-Fi, which as we all know is getting faster, better and more free everywhere we go. But I feel like it’s an inevitable step in the Free Breakfast For All (At Least In Midscale and Upscale Brands) movement.

These somewhat-in-the-middle brands face a lot of pressure from below these days, as hotel brand news is dominated by new kids on the block like Tru and Avid, which emphasize the great-value-great-experience mindset, and which all have free breakfast. Then there’s pressure from above, with cool boutiques and experience-driven higher-end brands offering unique, local coffee and breakfast experiences that guests are more than willing to pay for.

The brands in the middle are going to need to rethink their breakfast strategies to stay competitive, and my instincts tell me that within five years, breakfast will be free at some if not all of them.

Many of these somewhat-in-the-middle brands are seeing great success in revitalized cocktail and happy hour programming, and with grab-and-go concepts, and that’s fantastic. Again, it’s guest perception. People know that a martini costs money, and they know that a prepackaged gourmet sandwich from a grab-and-go costs money. But powdered scrambled eggs in a warming dish? Those should be free. That’s just how it is.

Want to talk breakfast, free or paid? Comment below, email me at or find me on Twitter @HNN_Steph.

Also, don’t forget that our campaign to gather your best practices for all sorts of tasks in the hotel world is still open. We’re going to publish these in a special report this fall, and the process of submitting a best practice is super easy. Check it out and tell us your tip!

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1 Comment

  • Timothy Moore August 30, 2018 3:24 PM Reply

    If anything hotels are offering too much for breakfast. Our locations offer everything from two hot items, bacon, waffles, bagels, fruits, yogurts, etc. There is significant cost creep here. The hotel industry must start outdoing one another on this. Before, a free breakfast was coffee and a donut, now thats evolved. A hotel's job is to provide a clean room with great customer service, we are not IHOP or Denny's.

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