Put a banana in your jacket pocket because you might be hungry later. Fill up on as much food as possible, because lunch in tourist areas is expensive. Let's face it: breakfast buffets have the potential to turn people in pre-winter mode into crooks or bears. And I admit that I am guilty.
Unfortunately, hotel breakfast buffets have changed since the coronavirus turned almost every aspect of travel upside down. Most hotels that used to promise an all-you-can-eat breakfast no longer have an endless supply of pancakes. No tortilla bar. No cereal dispenser that can dispense half a dozen varieties.
Instead, most hotels that previously offered free buffet breakfasts have now moved to serving grab-and-go breakfasts as part of their offerings.Efforts to safely serve guests during the COVID-19 pandemic. Quality varies by hotel, but usually consists of a selection of granola bars, a piece of fruit, a can of yogurt, and maybe a prepackaged bagel.
Knowing this, I headed for my ownRoad Trip through the National Parks of the Southwest of the United States, I was ready to be disappointed. After all, one of the greatest joys of the road trip is the carb load on Hampton Inn waffles. But after a two-week gala through Arizona and Utah on my summer road trip, I've realized that packaged breakfasts aren't always a flop, and sometimes I prefer them to the standard breakfast buffet.
Here's a look at some new breakfast options I've found during this new COVID era journey.
Hyatt Place Salt Lake City - The all-you-can-eat breakfast (prepackaged).
In itLugar HyattSalt Lake City had a variety of packaged foods you could help yourself to, including cereal, muffins, bananas, apples, and yogurt, as well as some hot items and Hyatt classics.
A section of the breakfast counter at the Hyatt Place Salt Lake City in July 2020 (pictured above) had free bagels and cereal to go. No one seemed to care if guests chose a bagel or four (presumably one person brought breakfast for everyone else in the room).
Hyatt Place regulars may have a soft spot for zucchini spice bread; in this case it was individually wrapped in plastic film. In all honesty, it's probably better than the alternative above, where everyone was touching the same tongs or worse, ignoring the tongs entirely and dipping their dirty fingers into the bread to grab their slice.
Surprisingly, one of the breakfast items available at this hotel was a prepackaged breakfast burrito (your choice of bacon or vegetarian filling). I was particularly impressed that there was still one hot item: a pre-packaged, once-frozen breakfast burrito from Burrito Kitchens, which is otherwise $3 to $4 in grocery stores. This was the only item that had the "please take one" disclaimer.
Home2 Suites by Hilton Page Lake Powell: The Lean Breakfast in the Brown Bag
A Hilton spokesperson said hotels offering the simplified grab-and-go option would provide each registered guest with a breakfast that included bagels, cream cheese, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, juice and coffee. They added that this is "the minimum offer... Hotels that are able to return to offering more extensive offers are encouraged to do so."
Unfortunately, that was not my experience at theHome2 Suites de HiltonLake Powell side. My breakfast in August 2020 wasn't bad, but it was certainly leaner than promised.
Perhaps I'd been spoiled before by the glorious array of options I've come to expect from Hilton's Home2 Suites brand, including:
Multigrain buckwheat waffles.
Yogurt with unusual toppings like fruit, muesli and nuts.
In fact, Hilton typically markets its Home2 Suites breakfast buffet as a place where you can make over 400 breakfast combinations.
But this time, at the Home2 Suites Hilton, all I got was a prepackaged bagel, yogurt, and a bottle of water.
Still, I can't hate a complimentary to-go yogurt and muffin. I had a 2.5 hour drive to get to the Grand Canyon, where I would then hike all day. Plus, I was going to have a real hot breakfast at the legendary Jacob Lake Inn (famous for its cookies) anyway.
The yogurt was enough to get me to the inn. Later, after fighting over the Grand Canyon, I opened my snack stash to find the muffin; no cake has tasted more heavenly.
Hyatt Place Moab: A Brown Bag Breakfast and Lots of Leftovers
When visiting Arches of Moab National Park, a savvy traveler will rise early to brave the sweltering heat. You probably don't want to walk Delicate Arch in the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead, so it's best to get there early, which means you won't mess around with the waffle maker.
Woke up before sundown at Hyatt Place Moab. And here I found perhaps the most impressive brown bag breakfast of my road trip. This generous variety consisted of:
Fresh eggs, sausage and potatoes in to-go containers.
A cup of ready-to-eat oatmeal.
Milk carton (with options including nonfat and almond milk).
fruit (orange or apple).
All of these foods were ideal for grazing throughout the day - eating the eggs upon entering the park. Ditch that yogurt when you finish your first hike. Open the bun when you need to replenish your glycogen stores after reaching the Double O Arch.
With so much breakfast food at the Hyatt Place Moab, I loaded yogurt, juice, and milk into a cooler for later, arriving in time for lunch.
I appreciated that this grab-and-go breakfast gave me the freedom to hit the road as early as possible each morning and head out into the world while making sure to eat breakfast when it was convenient for me.
What does the future of hotel breakfast look like?
At Hilton hotels that often offer free breakfast, don't expect the buffet to return when planning your vacation trip.
According to a Hilton spokesperson, the company expects any breakfast changes to take effect at least by the end of the year and plans to re-evaluate resuming full food and beverage service early next year.
For full-service Hyatt hotels and restaurants that normally offer buffets, a spokesperson told us that hotels have temporarily switched to a la carte menus and made-to-order options. And at select-service hotels with breakfast buffets, the hotels have switched to individually prepackaged items (they added that the company will "update and adjust guidance as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves").
Some Hyatt locations are experimenting with other options, including enhanced room service offerings or individual buffet-style meals that are curated and provided for each dining table.
The final result
As with most pre-COVID hotel breakfast buffets, the quality of grab-and-go breakfasts can sometimes be unpredictable and vary not only by hotel brand, but even by specific locations within the same brand. .
I'll be grateful when true buffet breakfasts return, when I can order my eggs scrambled, hard-boiled, or sunny side up. I look forward to the day when I can mix four different cereals together in one bowl again, just the way I want it. And I long to avoid the difficult decision of whether to have eggs, pancakes, or French toast and choose a little of each instead.
But on the bright side, the COVID-19 compliant alternative seems fine for now. Hopefully, even when "real" breakfast returns, hotels will still offer some improved grab-and-go options. Maybe I no longer feel compelled to overeat "so I don't want to starve myself later." And I can take my piece of fruit on the go without feeling like some kind of apple-stealing Aladdin.
Photographs by Sally French.
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