The impact of COVID-19 on the local and global hospitality industry has been undeniable. According to the Ottawa-based Hotel Association of Canada (HAC), not only have thousands of jobs been lost, but small hotels in particular have found themselves in dire straits. Yet, for those consumers who still frequent hotels under pandemic conditions, operators are struggling to replace a mainstay of the midscale property — the breakfast buffet.

Brian Leon, president of Choice Hotels Canada, says there has been a huge impact on its complimentary breakfast offerings. “Balancing breakfast expectations of the midscale consumer with safety can really be a challenge,” he says. “Consumers have come to expect the plentiful buffet with options they can peruse and pick from. But, current safety measures need to take priority — though this can have a negative impact on the guest experience.”

While Leon notes there really is no comparable replacement to the breakfast buffet, he says ‘grab-and-go’ options given out by front-desk staff have become the alternative. These options include beverages, fruit, a bakery item (such as a croissant or muffin) and a hot item — such as a breakfast burrito or breakfast sandwich. While the choice for consumers is still there, Leon says overall demand for grab-and-go remains relatively low.

The other ubiquitous complimentary offering — coffee — still remains available with the breakfast options, though Choice Hotels has had to suspend the 24-hour coffee in the lobby. “This was simply to reduce the lobby touch point,” says Leon. “And, running a clean hotel is all about being extremely vigilant about what those touch points are.”

“As business eventually picks up post-COVID-19, we do see the breakfast room returning, likely around 2022,” says Leon. “Generally, customers understand what is at stake — their own health and wellness.”

Jessica Twine, co-ordinator of Corporate Communications for IHG Resorts and Hotels, says meeting guest expectations has been difficult. “We know how important it is to get breakfast right for guests. But, at the same time, it’s our responsibility to follow the various COVID-19 restrictions — which have a huge impact on our breakfast buffets,” says Twine. “But, despite the challenges, we’re working closely with owners to offer a number of safe, cost-effective and high-quality guest options as an alternative.”
Twine says Holiday Inn and extended-stay limited-service brands offer three possible solutions to the removal of their breakfast buffets. The first is a grab-and-go continental breakfast that owners can choose from. “This might include a baked food, fruit, yogurt and beverage, plus an additional item that can be changed depending on what individual owners prefer and on what the occupancy levels are at any one particular time,” explains Twine. “The second option is a grab-and-go range of hot sandwiches alongside a selection of continental items and the third option is a hot breakfast served by a host.”

In contrast, the full-service IHG brands provide a wider range of choice. Twine says working with owners helps to customize these options to meet customer needs. “There will be an expanded range of table service breakfast choices,” says Twine. “However, these enhanced options vary depending on brand and market. Some offer a ‘breakfast-in-bed’ option or ‘chef’s table in your room’ as a more upscale option.

Both Leon and Twine attest to guests’ appreciation of operators’ adherence to safety procedures and the feedback has been positive. Choice has implemented a “Commitment-to-Clean” program where each property has a captain, a staff member who has engaged in additional training and is taking the lead on bringing elements of the program to life at the hotel level.

“The captains also are part of administering a clean and safe breakfast experience,” says Leon. Analyzing touchpoints and ensuring a safe grab-and-go program are crucial to maintaining guests’ customer loyalty. “Overall, our hotels have been coping well and our guest- satisfaction scores are actually growing.” In part, this can be attributed to guests viewing the frequency of cleaning in public areas such as the lobby and around the front desk.

When buffets do return however — likely within the next two years — Leon says they won’t necessarily return to ‘normal’. “From this point on, there will always be that drive to reduce touchpoints, for example, there may be pre-portioned options to reduce the use of items such as spoons, tongs and ladles,” says Leon. “I can also see menus being adjusted to feature more grab-and-go items that reduce congestion at the buffet, as well as the implementation of sustainable, single-use items to reduce the repeated use of silverware and china.”

He also notes that the buffet set-up might be designed differently too — with a side section with take-out containers for consumers who wish to easily transport food to consume in their rooms or even to take with them when they check out. “While reducing our touchpoints might be essential today — many of these practices will carried into the future,” says Leon.

“But, the breakfast buffet is definitely set to return — we just don’t know when exactly.”
Written Jenny Febbraro


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.