A *very* continental breakfast…

Yesterday I asked you guys what constitutes a continental breakfast in the US. The answers were across the board, though I figured I’d provide a bit of background as to why I asked.

A couple of nights ago I stayed at Le Meridien San Francisco which was booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts. One of the benefits is a complimentary continental breakfast for up to two in-room guests. When I stayed at the US Grant about a year ago on a Fine Hotels & Resorts rate, for example, it included a $55 breakfast credit, which seems reasonable for a continental breakfast for two. And I’ve actually found that most hotels that participate in Fine Hotels & Resorts offer you a lot more than the minimum when it comes to breakfast.

Anyway, technically a continental breakfast is just juice, coffee, and toast, if we’re going by the European definition. But based on the US adaptation of it, I think a bit more is expected. I think a “reasonable” continental breakfast is what most hotels have in their club lounges in the US — maybe cereal, yogurt, fruit, pastries, or at least a couple of the above.

I went to the fairly nice white-tablecloth restaurant at Le Meridien San Francisco, Park Grill. I was a bit surprised, however, when I presented my voucher and was asked whether I wanted my two slices of toast to be white or wheat. As it turns out, their definition of a continental breakfast is very much in line with the European definition — a glass of orange juice, coffee, and two pieces of toast OR a croissant.

Sensing my surprise, the waiter was kind enough to bring out both the two pieces of toast (sliced in half) and a croissant.

Had I know that this is what they consider to be a continental breakfast, I would have just gone to Starbucks. I felt like a total tool sitting down at a fancy(ish) restaurant to eat a bread basket (that might be because of the situation, or maybe just because I’m a tool… the verdict is still out).

Other than that I had a great stay, and even got a suite upgrade without asking — which, at Starwood, is a rarity in my experience. But be warned, not all continental breakfasts are created equal.

Filed Under: Hotels
  1. Wow! Not even an apple or banana to go along with the toast? That’s got to be the worst continental breakfast I’ve ever seen.

  2. Coffee, juice, a croissant (or bread) and jam & butter are exactly what I’d expect from a continental breakfast.

  3. I think it’s worth giving Amex a call so that they can warn people. It follows the letter of the agreement with FH&R, but not the spirit.

  4. The other shoe drops! Le Meridien is a French chain and very (VERY) proud of its European heritage, so I’m not surprised that they followed the definition to the letter! šŸ™‚

  5. In France and Italy a continental breakfast may just be a croissant or pastry and juice or toast. But in Switzerland, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden the continental breakfast has always included meats and cheeses, and generally soft-boiled eggs, fruit and yogurt.

    You got a pathetic continental breakfast and I hope you write to Fine Hotel & Resorts as anyone who booked through them will be very disappointed.

    Maybe this is Le Meredian’s way of proving their French heritage šŸ˜‰

  6. @ LarryInNYC — I’m curious, have you seen any other hotel in the US serve that skimpy of a continental breakfast?

    @ A. S. — Hah! Le Meridien is as French as Papa John’s is Italian.

  7. If you went for a continental breakfast in the UK you would get breads, pastries, cereals, fruit, etc – just not a hot cooked course.

  8. @Lucky: I don’t get the irony — what I said stands, barring whatever corporate/ownership arrangements that happen behind the scenes. Every Meridien around the world is “marketed” as a French/European establishment and strives to offer such a profile. Whether it succeeds or fails in that endeavor is another matter…

  9. That’s what I would expect as the US standard. At the Renaissance Boca Raton, where I am right now, the menu says ” Continental Breakfast $13 French Croissant, Muffin, Butter, Assorted Preserves”.

    At what US hotel does the room service menu include cold cheese or cold meat with the basic Continental Breakfast?

    I would expect something different from a Continental Buffet Breakfast, but not a Continental Breakfast.

    Why don’t you take notes from the room service menu at the next 5 US hotels you are at and let us know?

  10. That’s ridiculous! As Starwood is moving into offering plats free breakfast (heavily rumored and confirmed by some employees to be starting in March), I would be insulted if this were indeed the offering!

    @Lucky, did you say something, cause a ruckus, or escalate the matter?

  11. Hmmm…apparently, it’s different even within the same hotel chain. We stayed at Le Meridien L’Etoile in Paris and had a wonderful buffet breakfast included in our price.

  12. @ A. S. — While they may be a French company, I’ve stayed at a handful of Le Meridiens, and the experiences I’ve had have been no more French than a Hyatt, Hilton, or any other chain (and I’ve enjoyed all my stays greatly). So I guess they fail miserably, other than conveniently adopting their definition of a continental breakfast.

    @ J-dawg — I didn’t say anything since *technically* they’re within their rights. There was no point in letting it out on the waitress. I think if anything, the issue is best raised with FHR.

  13. @Lucky: Yes, but not at that level of accommodation (I don’t have much experience at that level) although sometimes it’s (lousy) danishes instead of the croissant. In general I find that the more “full service” a hotel is, the less is actually provided as part of the room rate. The fact is that “continental breakfast” isn’t a great benefit. Like a great deal of so-called “elite” benefits, I think it’s primarily designed to make you _feel_ that you’re getting something special rather than providing you with a concrete benefit.

  14. Since I don’t travel for business, the only time I care about breakfast is when I stay at a resort. At a city hotel, I’d much rather experience a “real” breakfast, if I get up early enough. Forget the lame overpriced hotel continental breakfast.

  15. Jan, when you stayed at Lā€™Etoile in Paris, was it included with the room? When I stayed there back in November, the breakfast buffet was something like $50.

  16. Not really on point, but in downtown SF, any light breakfast that is not at Blue Bottle Coffee is the wrong choice. Just sayin’.

  17. This meets the definition of continental breakfast, if a skimpy one–the bread appears to be of pretty mediocre quality.

    What gave me pause was your notion that a $55 breakfast credit is reasonable for a continental breakfast for two. $55 for two croissants, four slices of bread, 10-12 ounces of juice (probably not fresh squeezed), 1 oz butter, four mini-jars of jam, and coffee that’s been sitting in an industrial urn since 5 am. In San Francisco, the foodie/coffee-fetishist capital? Throw on your sweats and spend $5 for something that tastes good. White tablecloth and heel-clicking waiter not included.

  18. My post recent stay at a $59/night La Quinta near the Chicago suburbs, offered free continental breakfast that included all the carbs, juices, coffee, and hard broiled eggs.

  19. I am staying at the same hotel this weekend (on a $139 rate) and looked at the AMEX FHR too, but it is more than double my rate and provides very little extra (well, okay the suite…..), and besides, I will not be spending that many hours in the room. Did you find a great restaurant for lunch or dinner?

  20. @Lucky: You’re probably right that they fail miserably at fulfilling their marketing promise of being “French/European,” in their North American properties (though less so abroad, especially in Francophone countries where they’re strongest) and I also agree with you that it is rather convenient for them to suddenly become good at being European in matters that save them money. This is especially true given that other properties around them are Americanizing the Continental Breakfast and shifting the customers’ expectations.

    I do also agree with you that this is more of an FHR issue, since it’s a benefit that they tout at booking (i.e., you’re not actually at the hotel yet and able to read the menu). While I think that hotels can do whatever they want, they must disclose what the customer is paying for beforehand so that he may choose to indulge or not.

  21. Hmm.. you get better breakfasts at the worst of Days Inns. One time I came to the lobby to find a box of Dunkin Donuts and a carton of OJ placed out on the single table in the lobby by the proprietor.

  22. Sorry but that is NOT breakfast, continental or otherwise! I would SERIOUSLY complain about that, because it is just obnoxious! I take it they give their Platinums zero breakfast? lol

  23. I do not know where you got your “European definition” from, but I stayed in tons of hotels in Europe for less than $80 per night including breakfast, and a Continental breakfast always included much more than this!

  24. TAWDRY !! I book Virtuoso and FHR exclusively and this is an anomaly. I would let amex know. choice, hampton, residence inn all beats this!

  25. Wow… that’s pretty lame. When I booked the Venetian via FHR, they provided me with 8 assorted pastries and breads, 3 different kinds of jams plus butter, a large pot of coffee and 2 glasses of orange juice…enough food for 4 people. I was pleasantly surprised by the quantity.

  26. [email protected] I had a similar experience at a Hilton. At the Hilton San Diego Bayfront as a HH Gold I got a coupon for a beverage and pastry at Starbucks. Pretty lame when you’re paying a room rate of over $200 a night. Could have had a better breakfast at a $69 Hampton Inn.

  27. A continental breakfast in France would not normally include fruit juice. In humble establishments, you’d have 1/3 of a baguette and a bowl of latte, with the option of hot chocolate instead. In better establishments, the baguette would be replaced by a croissant – and perhaps a fruit juice.

    Apart from the lack of juice, I don’t really think anything more is needed, but then the bread, the croissant and the coffee will all be good, whereas here you can pretty much guarantee that they won’t be.

  28. @ D — You sure do.

    @ Susan — To clarify, that wasn’t the cost here. I was saying the US Grant gives you a $55 breakfast credit for the continental breakfast for two, which is reasonable/generous.

    @ Laura — This hotel seems to intentionally inflate the best available rate (usually more than double) so they can keep the cost of Fine Hotels & Resorts stays high. It also came with $100 food and beverage credit, though the restaurant wasn’t especially good, in my opinion. I’d go with the $139 rate, in your shoes. It wasn’t available when I booked, which is why I went with the Fine Hotels & Resorts rate.

    @ Aleks — To clarify, that wasn’t the cost here. I was saying that the US Grant gave me $55 of dining credit to use at the restaurant for my continental breakfast for two, which was more than generous.

    @ Carberrie — Correct, no breakfast for Platinums, but rather just through Fine Hotels & Resorts.

  29. @lucky, I had no idea that FHR still earns Starpoints. I stay @ Starwood hotels pretty often, some of which look like they participate in FHR. Can’t believe I’ve missed out on the FHR benefits! I’ve now got my next stay w/Starwood booked via FHR šŸ™‚

  30. @ D — Hah, you’ve been missing out. Virtuoso/FHR stays always qualify towards points/status. My stay already posted just earlier today. šŸ™‚

  31. The ambiguity in the “continental breakfast” definition is one reason I don’t pay any attention if it’s offered “free” or if it costs more than a few bucks. Usually I’d rather just go out to get something for breakfast anyway, or if i”m rushed just have a granola bar and then eat an early lunch.

  32. Ha. I stayed at a B&B once while interviewing for a job. The B&B’s version of breakfast was one croissant (one!) and a cup of coffee. I was starving throughout a long, grueling morning of interviews.

    Despite my growling stomach, I got the job. Needless to say, I’ve steered quite a few out-of-town visitors away from that B&B despite that fact that it’s the closest “nice” place to stay near my place of work.

    What a surprise: they are now closed for good. The same teeth that weren’t in a decent breakfast turned around to bite that B&B …

  33. It is embarrassing for a Le Meridien to serve this as a breakfast even if it is included in the room rate. At a hotel of that stature, it should include a wider range of items…

  34. Stay at a Holiday Inn Express and or a Fairfield Inn and you’ll enjoy toast, waffle (make your own), pastries, juice, muffin, hard boiled egg, etc.

  35. While I agree that any definition of “continental” should be a bit more broad than toast and coffee I don’t think it’s fair to confuse your breakfast here (included in your FHR rate) with what Starwood is offering as an amenity option for Platinums. That breakfast will be a bit more defined to include breads, cereals, yoghurt, coffee and juice.

  36. @ Neal — The breakfast I received was actually right off the menu. That was their offering under “continental breakfast.” Given that the restaurant didn’t have a buffet, do you really think they’ll offer more than that?

  37. This discussion reminds me of the head-shaking reaction I have when someone claims to feel like they got a real treat when receiving a bottle of water as a welcome gratuity or whatever it’s called. Good grief, get a grip.

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