Whether you’re an early morning riser or more of a swing-by to brunch kinda person, there is one thing we can agree on and that is that breakfast is important (whether you’re eating at 7:00am or 12:00pm). The tide is turning in terms of breakfast options and that people seem to be moving away from the more traditional ‘Full-English’ and moving towards the various other more ‘continental’ breakfast options. Particularly in a hospitality environment such as a hotel or B&B, guests have come to seek out and expect food options during their stay, whether it be from an on-site restaurant, room service, or the complimentary continental breakfast.

Here we explore the origins of this breakfast style, some continental menu options, along with some other breakfast tips you may be interested in using for your establishment.

What is a continental breakfast?

The first known use of the term ‘continental breakfast’ was in all the way back in 1896 in “The Sanitarian,” but the idea had been around for a few decades before then as hotels made an effort to appeal to the changing tastes of both the emerging middle class and European travelers visiting the US and UK.

A continental breakfast is defined as “a light breakfast in a hotel, restaurant, that often includes baked goods, jam, fruit, and coffee.” What do these items all share in common? They’re all shelf-stable items in portion sizes that are ideal for large groups of people.

Where does the term come from?

In the United Kingdom the term “continental breakfast” originated in the mid-19th century. To the British, “the continent” refers to the countries of mainland Europe. A “continental breakfast” describes the kind of breakfast you’d recieve in places like France and the Mediterranean. It’s a lighter, more delicate alternative to the full English breakfast which is a cooked meal of eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, beans, and roasted mushrooms and tomatoes.

Continental breakfasts are also a contrast to American-style breakfasts, which boasted big portions of eggs, breakfast meats, pancakes, potatoes, and toast. Europeans don’t often opt for the American-style breakfast, which in some cases people find too heavy. They preferred more light breakfast fare like fruit, bread, and pastries. So hotels aimed to please their more refined palates.

The Europeans found the American breakfast, which contained too many animal products too heavy for a morning meal but rather preferred a much more modest meal. It mainly consisted of bread products and hot beverages such as coffee or fresh juices.

Why do hotels offer it?

Not only are these breakfast items more cost-effective for hotels, they also mean that you don’t require much staff to tend to a few trays of bagels, pastries, fruit and yogurt and carafes of juice. It’s also much easier to manage than, say, cranking out omelets and flapjacks to order. (Of course, some hotels do serve a much larger, more extensive breakfast). It comes largely down to preference, guests like the convenience of the food and the perceived value of getting something for free.

Continental Breakfast Definition

The continental breakfast is a light option typically consisting of pastries and baked goods, fruits, toast, and coffee. It is usually served buffet-style and modeled after the European help-yourself breakfast, similar to what one would enjoy in France or in the Med. Continental breakfasts highlight simplicity and focus on simple foods that can easily be stocked.

Why Offer a Continental Breakfast?

If you’re thinking about adding a breakfast option to your restaurant or hotel, here are some reasons why perhaps continental is the route to take in terms of breakfast options for your establishment.

  • Cost-Effectiveness – Foods such as pastries, cereals, and bread are inexpensive to purchase, can be ordered in bulk from wholesalers, and are fairly shelf-stable. They do not need to be made or purchased everyday, saving your establishment time as well as money.
  • Popularity – Continental breakfasts are easy for travelers on the go who may need to grab food early in the morning. This makes hotels with a continental breakfasts more desirable for travelers, leading to an increase in hotel revenue.
  • Manageability – Since most of the food options of a continental breakfast do not require being cooked, minimal staffing is needed to manage the breakfast area. This also allows for breakfasts to be served in nearly any space or room, whether it be in a lobby area or conference area.

Bring Out the Baked Goods

Baked goods are essential, a bread component of a continental breakfast is essential. Include at least one form of bread and one sweet thing to cover all your guests’ preferences. If you have the skills and desire, you can bake your own breads or pastries, otherwise pick up something special from a local bakery or order them in from a wholesaler. Its good to offer an artisan loaf of whole-grain bread for a healthy option, a few different fresh bagels or baguettes.

Offer Fresh Fruits, Yogurt and Granola

Fresh fruits are a crucial component of a continental breakfast, not only tasty and healthy, but adding lots of vibrant and attractive color to the arrangement. You could pop out a dish of apples, oranges and bananas so your guests can have a snack for later (we all pocket a piece of hotel fruit as a snack to have later in the day). But also include something a bit more fancy and preferably seasonal. Find pre-cut fruits at the supermarket or cut up some fruits like pineapple, kiwi and grapes. A selection of fresh berries is always a good option and requires minimal preparation. Also offer plain, unsweetened Greek yogurt, which is thicker and feels more luxurious than regular potted yogurt. Your breakfast guests can sweeten or add fruit to their own portion for custom parfaits. Some good granola or musili is also great to sprinkle on top!

Arrange a Cheese Plate

Lend a bit of European style to your continental breakfast buffet with a platter of good cheeses and cold sliced meats. Don’t skimp on this – ham is traditional for breakfast, but a flavorful salami or Spanish chorizo works well too, as does cold, cooked bacon for an American twist. Include one firmer and one softer cheese, such as a tangy cheddar alongside perfectly ripe brie, or an aged edam a mild chevre.

Provide Hot and Cold Beverages

Coffee is often the most essential element of the breakfast buffet, and unless you want to pay someone to take your guests’ orders, you have a few options: Place a single-serve coffee maker plus a selection of pods in an accessible area. Brew a full pot of coffee and set the machine to keep it warm; or fill an insulated carafe with hot coffee and put it with the buffet food. Remember to offer a selection of tea bags as well! Hot water for tea could be in a carafe, or an electric kettle full of water. For cold drinks, you’ll need a large pitcher of water and at least one type of juice, orange is often the classic option.

Don’t Forget the Condiments

Offer a selection of options for things your guests might want to spread on toast such as butter, jams, marmalade, honey, Nutella, nut butters or Marmite. You’ll also want milk for coffee and tea, along with sugar and sweeteners.

So, next time you’re at a hotel and you are nibbling on some toast while sipping your morning coffee and reading your newspaper at a hotel – you’ll know how it all came about! Bon appetit!

If you are planning on creating a continental breakfast for your hotel, B&B or guest house. There are a few basics you’ll want to make sure you have. And here at Freshways whether you are after high-quality milk, cream, yogurt, or cheese, you can rely on Freshways dairy products. Based in Acton, we’re one of the largest suppliers of dairy to London and across the UK. As a family-run and independent dairy supplier, we’re dedicated to providing you with the highest quality products at competitive prices. Get in touch today for more information on all our dairy products and business opportunities.