The free breakfast buffet is one of the purest pleasures of the hotel experience. This is not necessarily because it is unusually good, in any common definition of the word. While there are exceptions — I have experienced exceptions! — the breakfast buffet at a mid-range hotel is almost certainly some degree of mediocre. The bagels will not be the best possible bagels; the fruit is unlikely to be the best possible fruit. The scrambled eggs have probably been slowly coagulating in a trough on the steam table for at least half an hour.
However, these are not bugs, but features. Hotel breakfast is magical not in spite of its mediocrity, but because of it. It is the glorious flavor of vacation. And here's how you can make it all even better.
1. Survey your options carefully.
There are few things worse than waking up hungry, tearing into a once-frozen bagel ("bagel"), and then realizing, three minutes later, that there was in fact a waffle iron tucked away in the corner and you just didn't see it. I have been there. Upon approach — and before you commit to anything — scout out the potential ingredients you'll be working with.
2. Take advantage of fresh options.
Obvious, but it's worth emphasizing: If there is an omelet station, seriously consider developing a craving for omelets. The clear advantage here is that your food will be fresh and customized as you see fit. And, at the risk of overpraising the humble omelet, it's a pretty good value, economically speaking. A high-protein meal will keep you fuller for longer, which means buying fewer snacks later.
3. Capitalize on regional items.
I once ate at a breakfast buffet in Northern Ireland — it was unremarkable in every way, except for the potato bread, which was transcendent. I still think about it. When the opportunity to eat area-specific cuisine presents itself, seize it because isn't travel all about new and local experiences? (Also, it is likely to be better.)
4. Consider the DIY breakfast sandwich.
Depending on the offerings, this might require some creativity, but the great thing about sandwiches is their near-infinite flexibility. Do you have access to eggs of some sort? Sausage? Perhaps there is cheese, or hot sauce.
Alternatively, how do you feel about a single-serving packet of peanut butter squeezed onto toast, topped with sliced banana and drizzled with honey from the tea area? Or a waffle sandwich? Or a biscuitwich? Or a croissantwich, if you are feeling efficient but also fancy.
5. Build a classic yogurt parfait.
If you think about it, a parfait is really just a multi-layer sandwich, only instead of bread, there is yogurt, and instead of standard sandwich fillings, there are layers fruit and granola. Conveniently, all three of these ingredients are usually accessible at breakfast buffets, especially if you are somewhat flexible on your definition of "granola." For our purposes here, Raisin Bran is granola, Cheerios are granola, and Fruit Loops are also granola.
6. Bask in your unrestricted access to fresh fruit.
Grapes, bananas, assorted citrus, and cut-up melon are all fine, but berries are gonna be the real prize here. Do you know how expensive fresh berries are? (So expensive!) If you encounter an unlimited quantity of them (and they've already been paid for), it is not only your privilege but also your duty to eat as many of them as possible.
7. Plan ahead.
I am not here to tell you to steal from your hotel. I am here to suggest that quietly taking a to-go banana (or an orange, or maybe a pastry, or even two pastries) is more than acceptable.
When you are not currently hungry, you might find it difficult to imagine you will ever be hungry again, but that that time will come, and when it does, you will be forever grateful to yourself for having the foresight to grab an extra banana.