You know the drill when you travel with kids and it’s time for breakfast. You head down to the one restaurant that’s open in the hotel, sit down, and then a waiter recites that the serve-yourself buffet is $19 per person, and the continental breakfast—a smaller option usually with cereal, toast, bagels, and fruit—runs $12. Oh, and if you care to order à la carte there’s a separate menu. Your husband glares at you, while the kids declare they’re starving and really want the stack of pancakes with sausage for $13.95. You order one kid the stack, one selects Fruit Loops, and the third child convinces you that he should have the breakfast buffet because it’s all-you-can-eat and he’s a growing teenager. All I crave is a bowl of oatmeal and a half-dozen cups of coffee. In the end, you begrudgingly pay the $80 bill as you glance at the leftover pancakes, feeling unsatisfied and overcharged for the ho-hum sustenance.
I’m not a breakfast Scrooge. One of my favorite morning meals of all time was at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon bistro in the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas. Sitting on the restaurant’s tranquil outdoor terrace with a gurgling fountain, my sister and I enjoyed brioche French toast with custard and silky apples, puffy beignets, homemade granola, and cinnamon oatmeal with berries, all for about half of my mediocre hotel breakfast with the kids. This is exactly how breakfast when traveling should be experienced. The entire affair should be a time to ease into the day, to linger over comforting food, conversation, and the morning newspaper.
Breakfast is a great affordable way for travelers to experience a luxury hotel in a location you’re already visiting. For example, having brunch in the elegant Palm Court of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, with classical music wafting in the background and stylish hotel guests to gawk at, is worth every penny of the $22 binge for made-to-order eggs. Plus, how many places do you get to eat where former patrons have included writer F. Scott Fitzgerald? Another place I’d fork out extra dough for a fruit smoothie and muffin is the outdoor poolside Cabana restaurant at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. In Nantucket, you’re missing out on one of the best vistas if you don’t have brunch (the lobster omelet is sinful) at the White Elephant hotel overlooking the boat-filled harbor. All of these hotels have a hefty guest room rate, but splurging on breakfast or brunch—usually much less expensive than dinner on their property—can offer a perfect slice of the location.
So, back to my rant. Dear hotel X, please take a close look at your breakfast offerings and rethink the prices for cereal and toast. I’d likely spend more money in your restaurants, if I didn’t feel that I was being overcharged for bagels. Little kids can’t physically eat much more than a miniature box of cereal that, by the way, comes in quantities of 30 boxes for $10 at Costco. It’s time to think outside the cereal box. Shout out to the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Resort, where during our family’s breakfast one morning, our friendly waiter noted that kids pay the amount that is the number of their age for the hotel’s buffet. That ended up being ($6, $9, and $13) and I was happy to shell out the money. Kudos for their creative thinking and making parents feel a little better about the breakfast drill.
How do you feel about hotel breakfast prices? Leave your rant or rave in the comments section below.
Susan O’Keefe is an associate editor for National Geographic Traveler magazine.