The sunny side of breakfast 

Asian Hospitality
August 11, 2015

The traditional breakfast of a waffle and coffee is getting a makeover at select-service hotels.

Hotel brands are giving their breakfast offerings a healthier facelift in response to consumer demands. And although the new enhancements require some additional investment by franchisees, increased customer satisfaction and intents to return are paying dividends, say brand officials.

“Breakfast is often the final impression. It’s the thing that the guest takes with them when they leave the hotel,” Anne Smith, vice president of brand strategy for Choice Hotels International, said. “So when we think about breakfast, it’s not just about the food that’s there, but it’s about the presentation, the variety.”

Jennifer Gribble, vice president of the Americas for Holiday Inn Express, said breakfast remains one of the most important aspects of the hotel for guests.

“They want to be able to maintain the routines that they have at home and that means eating healthier options,” Gribble said. “That is the impetus for the changes in our breakfast.”

Andrew Harris, director regional services at Best Western International, said if guests like a hotel’s breakfast, they are more likely to return.

“As we see guests’ appetites evolving toward more healthy alternatives, then we need to play in that space,” Harris said. “In addition, our competitors, primarily in midscale, upper midscale, are also moving toward healthier options.”

Test marketing

After a three-month pilot of 31 different breakfast options in 2013, Holiday Inn Express now offers Chobani Greek yogurt, Quaker Oatmeal Cups, turkey sausage and whole wheat bread. Most hotels, including Holiday Inn Express, have a toppings bar with dried fruit, nuts and granola in order to sprinkle on yogurt and cereal. A toppings bar contributes to guests’ ability to customize their breakfast, said Laura Cherry, senior manager of public relations at Best Western International. Best Western has a toppings bar for steel-cut oatmeal and personal-sized yogurt.

“If you want something hot and quick and that lasts throughout the day, oatmeal would be a good choice for you,” Harris said. “Whether you choose to complement with any of those condiments is entirely up to you.”

Smith said business travelers who stay at Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites expect healthy options at breakfast. That is why in the fall, Comfort will begin offering Greek yogurt, healthy-branded cereal such as Kashi and, of course, the toppings bar for oatmeal, yogurt or a make-your-own waffle (plus a new waffle flavor: oatmeal almond).

“This adds that variety component as they’re really getting those healthy options,” Smith said.

Menu options

Most companies interviewed have requirements for their properties, such as an egg and a meat.

Courtyard by Marriott has a breakfast menu for the brand’s Bistro that it updates four times a year, adding four to five items each time, said Paul Gotzman, vice president of food and beverage sustainment at Marriott International for select-service and extended-stay hotels.

“We want to be extremely flexible and we also want to be always changing our items for our customers,” Gotzman said. “What we try to do, especially in the breakfast timeframe, is we do think a little bit more about the healthy aspect. This is really a great opportunity for us to test these items once a quarter so that we’re not stuck leaving them on the menu for the full year.”

Once a year, Courtyard takes a look at the entire menu. Sometimes, quarterly items become so popular that the company adds them to the menu full-time. In 2014, Courtyard introduced a frittata, an open-face egg white omelet with spinach, avocado, salsa and jack and cheddar cheese. The item was a top seller, becoming a permanent fixture on the menu in spring 2015, Gotzman said. As part of its healthy push, Courtyard also serves smoothies. During the summer, the hotel served a tropical green smoothie made with spinach, pineapple and coconut milk with lime.

“People are really into fitness and thinking healthy in the morning,” Gotzman said. “A smoothie is a great opportunity for a meal replacement where they can just drink a smoothie and it really gives them enough calories and fills them up enough for the whole morning timeframe.”

Courtyard also has breakfast sandwiches, Greek yogurt and oatmeal – one of its top sellers. In the summer, the hotel had a seasonal oatmeal with honey Greek yogurt and sliced strawberries. In 2010, the brand started putting calorie counts on menu boards and providing full nutritional information to any interested Bistro customer.

“We wanted to be very transparent to our guests,” Gotzman said.

Sugary treats

Companies interviewed said while healthy food was important, even the most health-conscious of guests occasionally want to indulge.

Holiday Inn Express thought it would end up removing its popular cinnamon rolls from the menu, but Gribble said its pilot in 2013 showed that guests want to have the option to treat themselves. The cinnamon rolls stayed.

At Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites, that indulgent item is fresh-cooked waffles. Before updating its breakfast, Choice spoke with franchisees and made sure owners could implement and afford the food the company wanted to add, Smith said. For example, hotels had to have sufficient refrigerator space for traditional and Greek yogurt.

Expert advice

Some of the companies interviewed seek different types of expert advice to help choose healthy menu items. At Choice’s Comfort brands, the company relies on vendors who have connections and experience in healthy food.

“We really leverage that third-party credibility when we’re making our selection,” Smith said.

Holiday Inn Express worked with SPE Certified culinary nutritional consultants to design its breakfast pilot. The consultants also did a complete nutritional analysis on the breakfast bar before the pilot.

Best Western employs several education team members who have strong food and beverage backgrounds, Harris said. The company also reads trade magazines to learn more about healthy food.

“We make sure we’re reading the labels of the things we put out there so we’re not introducing a lot of trans fat,” Harris said.

Gotzman said Courtyard works with a nutritionist to help with the nutritional analysis of food, including fat content, carbohydrates and calories.

Adding up the tab

Companies spoke about the costs and profits of their updated healthy breakfast. Gribble said Holiday Inn Express’ goal was to not exceed a 5 percent increase on breakfast. The brand succeeded; depending on the property, breakfast costs increased 2 to 5 percent.

“What we learned was guests weren’t necessarily eating more because we had additional options,” she said. “They were still collecting basically the same kind of quantity of items as they were previously, so we were able to expand it and keep within those cost objectives.”

Best Western takes a different view. “Anyone who’s playing in this space should be looking at breakfast as a competitive advantage,” Best Western’s Harris said. “They want to mirror whatever most recent trends and tastes are in breakfast food, so I don’t think that putting a number, a dollar amount, per occupied room is something that we would encourage.”

Since Courtyard began the Bistro in 2007 (which serves all three meals), the brand’s F&B profits have increased 20 percent. The Bistro also marked the introduction of Courtyard’s healthier breakfast. Courtyard was the only hotel interviewed without a free breakfast for guests.

Comfort Inn and Comfort Suites are introducing food that is in line with its overall cost plan, Smith said.

“Because we’re adding items, there’s some incremental costs, but it’s not incredibly significant,” she said. “At the end of the day, there’s a huge return on that investment in terms of the guest satisfaction and the likelihood they’ll return to the hotel.”