Assortment of breakfast buffet items on table

By Roseline Victoria Vijayakumar

The breakfast buffet, beloved by frequent leisure and business travellers alike, has undergone a massive transformation in the post-pandemic era. Though behaviours seem to be snapping back to the new normal, many safety measures are still in place as guests seek to enjoy a diverse selection of breakfast offerings while remaining shielded from potential health risks.

“The majority of hotel segments that previously featured breakfast buffets have re-instated them, albeit with some modifications,” says Steven Gilbert, director of Procurement at Choice Hotels Canada. “While these offerings may not fully resemble their pre-COVID state, guests have become accustomed to this amenity and continue to expect it as part of their hotel experience.”

Causes for Concern

Health-and-safety measures remain a source of concern for hoteliers. Stringent sanitation protocols and crowd-control measures have been implemented to ensure guest safety, and re-configured buffet layouts and touchless dispensers aim to provide a safe dining experience. Hotels have found numerous workarounds to maintain a balance between guest satisfaction and health concerns.

“Streamlining the buffet offering, such as reducing the number of hot meat and egg offerings, was beneficial as it reduced the required labour while still meeting the guest’s expectations,” says Gilbert. “Streamlining the breakfast offering made it easier for hotels to manage food waste and reduce equipment costs.”

Labour challenges remain paramount, requiring strategic planning and training programs.” Amy Hulbert, vice-president, Boutique and Upscale Brands, BWH Hotel Group says, “Labour is another challenge for hoteliers. As turnover continues to be a source of concern across the industry, finding the right solutions from an offerings standpoint can alleviate some of the labour issues.”

Additionally, supply-chain issues and disruptions in sourcing and maintaining quality ingredients have forced hotels to re-evaluate their procurement strategies to ensure a steady supply of resources. Notably, many hoteliers have turned to local suppliers for procurement of resources.

Segmentation Approach

Complimentary breakfast buffets have become an enticing factor for increasing guest reservations. Midscale and luxury hotels have been strategically balancing safety and affordability to ensure a safe yet attractive breakfast experience for guests. 

“You eat with your eyes,” says Hulbert. “Our offerings have always been something guests look forward to in their stay, but in addition to seeking out additional food offerings for our buffets, we’re also focused on the display of these items so that they’re appealing to guests. We’ve identified a package that allows hotels some flexibility in how things are displayed, while keeping aesthetics, ease of use and sanitation all in mind. We’re also encouraging [locally sourced] items on our buffets.”

For the extended-stay segment, Sonesta Hotels has brought back improved buffets post-COVID. During the pandemic, Sonesta ES Suites experimented with grab-and-go breakfast, however, guests said that they missed the morning hot-buffet offerings. 

“We therefore put together a creative breakfast offering that moves away from the traditional scrambled eggs and bacon and provides more versatility to our guests through customizable, healthy fresh toppings on all our breakfast stations,” says Brittany Hattingh, director of Brand Programming, Sonesta Hotels. “In the full-service segments, we’ve brought back buffets and have incorporated more lifestyle cuisine into the menu planning to cater to the more health-cautious traveller.”

Building up Breakfast

The present buffet landscape is a smooth blend of tradition and adaptation. Hotels have embraced new trends in menu offerings and presentation styles to cater to evolving guest expectations. Noteworthy concepts include thematic breakfast events and interactive culinary experiences that elevate guest satisfaction. Creativity in menu planning has become the key to driving guest engagement, and inventive breakfast options have become a standout clause for hotels aiming to raise the bar.

“[Our supply team has] set our breakfast offerings apart from the competition and they’ve been focused on food and display options for our hoteliers,” says Hulbert. “Guests are looking for healthier options, as well as gluten- and dairy-free items, which we’re working into our offerings.”

Similarly, Hattingh adds, “Before, guests had to ask for a vegetarian or vegan meal as a special request, but now we include vegan and gluten-free options built into the menu as part of the standard offerings.”

Age of Advancement

Sanitation stations and modern equipment are crucial for maintaining a safe buffet environment. The advancement of technology in hotels has played a significant role in minimizing physical contact. Digital menu displays and ordering systems have helped the cause, allowing guests to make selections with minimal physical interaction.

Sonesta has introduced the Sonesta ES Suites Breakfast program and a new-to-market automated yogourt dispenser as part of its Sonesta Essential Breakfast. “We’re enhancing presentations and incorporating new technology such as an on-demand, self-service pancake machine,” says Hattingh. “Our breakfast program at Sonesta Essential incorporates a self-service coffee machine with options so guests can have their coffee customized to their tastes.”

Hattingh continues, “Buffet technology continues to improve, which allows for a better guest experience and more flexibility to be creative with our presentations and setups. We’re currently experimenting with re-chargeable, cordless induction units which will remove the need to be close to a power outlet or hide cords from guest view. This could be a game changer for hot food to be presented anywhere, especially for unique outdoor locations. Also, using vessels such as disposable bamboo items can be an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic.”

Gilbert adds, “To facilitate modern breakfast service, essential equipment includes temperature-controlled units to maintain the ideal temperature for hot and cold items without posing a risk of guest burns. It’s advisable to have beverage dispensers for both hot and cold drinks such as coffee, tea, juices and milk. The use of automated equipment and dispensers is encouraged to reduce contact points. Additionally, maintaining organized plate, bowl and utensil stations is essential to present a clean and well-structured buffet setup.”

“In addition to traditional convection ovens and cooktops, we’re testing some amazing commercial convection ovens that are truly a one-stop-shop for preparation of breakfast items, as well as dinner and lunch options,” says Hulbert.

As hotels navigate the complexities of ensuring safety without compromising the essence of the buffet experience, adaptability and innovation will be key to sustained success.  


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