Writer Robert A. Heinlein once famously wrote, “One should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast.” A hotel breakfast,especially one included with the price of the room, used to mean a buffet-style smorgasbord of stale offerings — rubbery scrambled eggs, burnt toast and undercooked bacon free-floating in a shallow pool of grease. Today, the industry’s biggest players are reinventing the most important meal of theday, and they’re paying special attention to those menu items customers request most often — the healthy ones.

Rob Hood, corporate food and beverage manager at the Montreal-based Atlific Hotels, played a key role in reimagining the Courtyard by Marriott’s new breakfast program. Its shift from a standard buffet two years ago to a ‘Fast & Fresh’ quick-service concept allows customers to make the choice of whether to have a sit-down dining experience or a ‘grab-and-go’ meal. “It’s important to accommodate these business travellers,” explains Hood. “The quick- service option is a familiar one, and they like the option of being able to grab a sandwich and head off to a meeting.”

Served within a multi-purpose lounge, Hood notes that many business travellers convene and hold meetings while dining. At night, the space becomes an evening lounge with a quick-service dinner menu, allowing for a similar flexibility and the possibility of late-night meetings.

What’s new to the Courtyard concept is its emphasis on health. The menu gives customers a choice of anything from classic oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts ($3.85) to a variety of breakfast sandwiches, including the Sunrise Starter ($6.25), the Breakfast BLT ($6.25) or the Southwest Breakfast Flatbread, with eggs, cheese, salsa, chilies and scallions ($6.25). “But you can also go with an egg white and spinach sandwich,” says Hood. “We know how difficult it can be to eat healthy while on a business trip, so that’s why it’s so important to deliver these healthy options.” Round out the breakfast offering with a sip of familiar Starbucks specialty coffee (available at every Courtyard-branded Marriott) or go the healthy route with a strawberry-banana smoothie ($2 to $5, depending on size; prices vary by location) — and get energized to begin the bustle of another day.

Leisure travellers also enjoy the grab-and-go option. At the Wickaninnish Inn in Tofino, B.C., for example, managing director Charles McDiarmid says that more than 90 per cent of his guests are on vacation, yet they still venture to the beach-side Driftwood Café for the special Beach Walk Menu. Customers can choose from a variety of healthful sweet and savoury dishes — from specialty granola with toasted oats, toasted nuts or dried fruits ($10) to a bagel with wild smoked salmon with cream cheese, an omelette and fine herbs ($17) — and eat it while walking along the gorgeous expanse of Chesterman Beach. Seafood is sourced locally as the resort sits alongside the ocean; all bread is also baked in the kitchen with organic, whole-grain ingredients. During the fall, chefs also cook with local
mushrooms, often foraged by the guests themselves.

Alternatively, guests can choose a more formal dining experience at the property’s Pointe restaurant. Here, breakfast approaches spiritual nirvana — French toast ($18) rises to new heights with house-made chestnut brioche, roasted squash and apple topping with a drizzle of mulled wine syrup ($18). “It all depends on what the guest is looking for,” explains McDiarmid. “The Driftwood Café is family friendly, so kids can run around, and there’s no tip-toeing as there might be in a high-end restaurant environment.” On blustery days, customers can cosy up to the café’s large fireplace and snag a front-row seat watching the winter storm.

Other hotels, such as the eco-friendly Element brand, de-emphasize the indulgence factor. Element was designed with a health focus — from its sustainable cleaning program and 24-hour fitness centre to its Rise breakfast bar. John Caneco, GM of Element Vaughan Southwest, the first of its kind in Canada, explains, “We’re catering to that demographic of people who care about their health. So, we really try to reduce the number of carbs, for example.” Breakfast egg sandwiches are offered in wraps (rather than bread-based alternatives); one of its most popular options is the gluten-free bread. Fresh fruit bowls and low-fat Greek yogurts are served in reusable, recyclable containers — or on china.

Served in the lobby, and included in the room cost, breakfast has become a cinch. Customers simply grab what they’d like. They can choose to sit down and eat or simply take what they need and move forward with their day. Since opening six months ago, Element has attracted its share of loyal customers, and is poised to open two more units in Canada next year, including units in Vancouver and Calgary. “We’re geared towards people who are on the road a lot, but who don’t want to compromise their health because of it. Breakfast is key to maintaining that healthy lifestyle,” says Caneco.

Similarly, the Aloft Montreal Airport Hotel, which opened in 2008, is yet another property that has a dual-function lobby, lounge and breakfast area. With more than 60 properties internationally, its breakfast program, labelled ‘Re:Fuel,’ has generated positive feedback through word of mouth. The menu features a kiosk-style food counter with grab-and-go options such as breakfast sandwiches ($4), freshly baked croissants ($3) and several types of yogurt. The à la carte option is perfect for guests in a hurry who need to run and catch the airport shuttle just outside the hotel doors. “It really depends on how much time each customer has,” says Linda Taub, GM. “Our Re: Fuel counter caters to your needs — whether it’s a simple cappuccino or bacon and eggs. Our breakfast is really about customization as much as it is about convenience.” For those who’d like to sit and dine, there are a variety of choices. “We have a really fun ‘bundled’ breakfast experience,” says Taub. “Customers line up as they would at a buffet and build their own breakfast sandwiches, which is kind of neat. It’s something that no other hotel offers.” The $10 fee includes a sandwich base (English muffin, croissant, bagel or sliced bread) and protein (such as eggs or sausage). That rounds out a customized breakfast that includes tea, coffee, yogurt, cheese, fresh fruit, muffins and croissants. Guests can then take their breakfast creations to eat in the ‘Re:Mix’ lobby area for their business meeting.

Of course, not everyone loved the grab-and-go concept at first. “At our Ottawa location, we found the older clientele was sometimes disappointed with the disappearance of the traditional buffet,” says Hood, of the Courtyard by Marriott. “But even they like the convenience of something fast when they are in a hurry.” The critical difference now is that guests can determine how long they want to spend on breakfast, and where they want to eat it. That’s a good thing.


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