The long-awaited breakfast buffet has returned with its resurgence of delectable fare, and the Canadian hotel industry is once again creating breakfast-buffet norms, albeit with several new COVID-19-related adaptations. New protocols are being developed with cost efficiency in mind, as well as solutions for safe serving and hygiene. All of these changes come as the industry looks to rebound from a steep decline in occupancies and revenues.
Measuring Guest Satisfaction
Almost 30 years after the breakfast-buffet trend first captured guests’ gastronomical palettes, hoteliers have been considering more creative options to serve their guests without compromising quality, taste and value. How does one maintain an elegant buffet-style breakfast that would allow guests to choose what they want and save time and still be a significant revenue generator for the property?
“We have a space for chefs to help serve the guests and to ensure the covers and spoons are constantly maintained, clean, or frequently changed,” says Jacky Bruchez, director of Food and Beverage at Le Germain Hotel Montreal. “We’re working hard to replenish and keep the number of food choices fresh and attractive, so even the last guest will feel the same satisfaction of choice and in getting their money’s worth as the first guest who arrived.”
“We looked for opportunities to create new signature dining experiences that inspire guests and deliver those memorable moments expected by a Fairmont experience,” says Atticus Garant, executive chef at the Fairmont Banff Springs in Alberta. “Buffets were re-introduced last year into respective dining venues at the resort. Guests have certainly re-embraced the concept. While respecting all health guidelines, we launched the 360-degree Dining Dome private experience, where guests can enjoy sunrise breakfasts and brunches, paired with an incredible 360-degree view of our Castle in the Rockies and the UNESCO World Heritage Site surroundings.”
Live stations, frequently changing utensils and food-display arrangements aid in the “eyes of people wanting value for money,” says Nicolas Messian, regional director and general manager of the Algonquin Resort St. Andrews by-the-Sea, Autograph Collection in New Brunswick. “You need to have a decent group of choices, which is seen as a value in the eyes of the guest. They have the opportunity to try different things. There’s more variety, which is very appealing.”
All three hotels have the commonality of re-imagined spacing in their buffet designs, while adhering to strict health measures. They have reduced bottle-necking while maintaining a visually enticing array of food displays that not only whet guests’ appetites but keeps them wanting to return for more.
Sustaining Operations and Profit Margins
It’s no surprise that recent labour shortages and rising food costs have caused hotels and restaurants to re-conceptualize how they can operate better to meet the needs of their guests and employees while strengthening their profit margins.
One way Le Germain Hotel Montreal has dealt with these new challenges was to delay putting specific food offerings in the buffet. “We’re just postponing some of the offers we’re planning to do [at a later date],” says Bruchez. “It’s what we have to do at this point. We’re not hiring as quickly as we wish, but we still see most of our employees staying with us.”
“Another challenge is that everything is much more expensive. The prices change daily for each item,” Bruchez continues. “For example, today, dairy prices have increased by 15 per cent, making it more complicated for your food offerings. So, you must be very strategic in your offerings while striving to meet guests’ expectations.”
Additionally, chef Garant confirmed that “labour shortages and supply-chain issues were a key consideration industry wide. We’ve had a year to explore opportunities, and our teams have skillfully made operational adjustments to ensure continued delivery of high quality and service.”
Enhancing the Breakfast Experience
As the new breakfast buffet norm continues to unfold, hoteliers are looking for innovative ways to enhance their guests’ breakfast experience while considering the significance of efficient and cost-effective offerings.
“We are looking into ways to have more automation,” says Bruchez. “For example, in our beverage offerings, we’re looking at ways to add sensors that will enable them to be touchless and automatic. Guests will just need to put their glass in front of the dispenser, and their drink will be poured automatically.”
Bruchez is also entertaining the idea of keeping the main course as a plated dish while appetizers and desserts remain buffet-style in order to help combat food waste. “You can find the best of both worlds dining this way, with the option of trying new dishes simultaneously while waiting for your main meal to arrive,” he says.
Messian believes providing guests with individually portioned offerings is the way to reduce food waste. “They can try different things on a smaller portion with more variety,” he says.
As hotels still look to rebound from the pandemic, an apparent optimism resides. Breakfast buffets are here to stay.
Chef Garant agrees. “We are more conscious of how we serve food, considering not just guest health but also food waste. Ensuring food is abundant yet presented in smaller vessels to minimize waste has been a crucial way to reduce our footprint in this area. Buffets are here to stay, but the way we deliver them is continuously evolving.”
BY SUZANNE CHIN-LOY