No one knows how the pandemic will play out in the hotel industry, and I don’t want to add to the predictions that will certainly be wrong. One thing I do expect is the end of hot breakfast items at select- and limited-service hotels.
Times change and things we used to enjoy fade into the past. The experience of a hotel stay has changed over the years in many ways, for better and not so much. With concerns about protecting the health of guests as well as the financial health of hotel owners now top of mind, it is clear that the recently ubiquitous hot breakfast at select- and limit-service hotels is on the way out.
Like HotelNewsNow.com’s Editorial Director Stephanie Ricca, I will miss hotel pens (She wrote about that here.). I might have to start buying pens, God forbid.
I also will miss hot breakfast items at midscale hotels. I won’t miss what has passed for eggs or breakfast meats in recent years, but I’m talking about the days when you could actually get a decent, protein-rich breakfast at a select- or limited-service hotel.
It was only a few years ago that these high-quality offerings were common. But in an effort to preserve margins following the Great Financial Crisis and to offset rising labor costs as unemployment plunged (until recently), many hotels lowered the quality of hot breakfast items. Even before the pandemic, I missed eggs that tasted like eggs and sausages that tasted like sausages, but any hope of them returning is fading fast.
So why are “free” hot breakfasts likely to go the way of the buggy whip, the dial phone or the hotel room pen? The simple answer is that “amenity creep” has led to hot breakfast becoming a costly and labor-intensive service for smaller hotels that have struggled in recent years to grow average daily rate. Breakfast costs per occupied room (CPOR), including labor, for lower-ADR brands are already fairly high.
COVID-19 created an immediate need to end the impossible-to-social-distance buffet line, but even as the pandemic wanes, operators will likely fight brands’ urge to return historic amenities, particularly breakfast. Customer expectations will likely mellow a bit due to the health concerns inherent in the buffet setup.
Industry insiders are already talking about this; Richard Warnick wrote about this likely trend in his recent column. He said, “If the ‘free’ breakfast is no longer really free, I surmise that most travelers will opt out of the barely edible offerings at their limited-service hotel and instead pay $7 for a half-decent breakfast at Denny’s or IHOP. We will soon find out if I’m right.” He then followed that with a hilarious line, so please read his column.
Brands are likely to listen to their owners on this one, though the brands are sure to suggest some alternatives, particularly for higher-end select-service brands. We could see more upscale and upper-midscale brands go to the Hilton Garden Inn or Courtyard pay-for breakfast model with some elite loyalty members getting a voucher. Lower-end brand companies are likely to eventually catch on to the advantages of a lower-cost new construction prototype without a big breakfast room, even as some mandate grab-and-go options. Some owners may shrink their breakfast rooms to add one or more additional rooms while maintaining a small kitchen, thus creating revenue-generating space from non-revenue producing space. The brand companies should compete with each other over who can produce the highest return on investment for their owners, not over who can provide the most elaborate but still low-quality breakfast, particularly one that guests don’t value.
There could be push-back from corporate relationships, particularly for contract business. Many airline crews and other larger contract customers demand hot breakfast or specific items. For those lower contract rates, the cost per occupied room is a much bigger percentage of the rate. That leads me to believe that owners will look for a less expensive way to keep that business, and the corporate customers will look for other breakfast alternatives.
And sure, families, social groups, sports teams and school groups will complain about not having the cheap chow-down options (which really drive costs high). Some of those customers take more than they actually eat. GMs will be relieved to no longer see the ubiquitous white polystyrene plate piled high with bacon sitting in rooms after check-out.
I won’t miss the “barely edible” eggs, sausage and bacon, but I will miss the days when the eggs tasted like eggs. And I will miss seeing Texas-shaped waffles. If you have never seen those, they were not uncommon at certain brands in Texas (or apparently in Kansas!).
But that is what I expect. No more eggs, no more bacon or sausage. No more waffles shaped like Texas.
David Loeb is founder of Dirigo Consulting LLC and a member of the board of directors of CorePoint Lodging Inc. Contact him at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact an editor with any questions or concerns.