Luxury hotels' breakfast spreads are a last chance to impress guests before check-out, so why do so many properties' offerings disappoint?
Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong gets guests off to a good start with an impressive breakfast buffet and a dining room with views. Photo: Ritz-Carlton
It's the last thing you experience before you check out, so it shouldn't just be good, it should be golden. And yet bad breakfasts blight far too many hotel stays.
Firstly, I don't expect a hotel to stop serving breakfast at 9.30am on a Saturday morning, because I don't want to run downstairs in my too-small slippers, with koala hair, when I wake up at 9.28am. Secondly, I don't want to see a lead-in price of £25 for a "continental breakfast" when all I'm getting for that is something from the pastry basket and some caffeine. Finally - and this goes out to small "boutique" hotels in particular - I don't want to be directed to a buffet if all it contains is some luncheon meat and plastic cheese under a Perspex dome, a range of Kellogg's "fun-size" cereals and a basket full of refined carbohydrates.
I stayed at Castlewood House, a B&B in Dingle in the southwest of Ireland, a few months ago. It was fantastic. Each guest was offered a full printed menu that bettered the Wolseley, with myriad Benedicts, kippers, a hefty full Irish and fancy porridge. During stays at similarly sized boo-teek hotels I've ended up leaving the breakfast room empty because I don't eat toast and I don't want to start the day with pain au chocolat, fruit-flavoured 1970s-style yoghurt or slices of reformed, processed chicken.
Thinking of opening a hotel? Make sure you get the coffee right. Go to a Stumptown, a Caravan or a Fernandez & Wells to see how the drink is properly prepared and pay for rigorous consultancy. The Cipriani in Venice is one of my favourite hotels in the world, apart from one thing: they can't make coffee for toffee. Bellinis? Out of this world. Latte macchiato? Mi dispiace, no. When I'm lucky enough to be staying at the Cipriani, I have an omelette and juice and jump on the boat to the Caffe del Doge near the Rialto. Similarly, just about every hotel in Southeast Asia fails on the coffee count, and Lebanon too, where they may make the best wine in the world but can't shake off a national obsession with Nescafe.
The real stinger for a hotel breakfast can be the expense. I once splurged - having taken leave of my senses in the midst of a particularly plush dirty weekend - on room service at the George V in Paris. At 10am, on Bastille Day morning, a trolley arrived at my suite with all manner of coffee pots, fancy ceramics and floral arrangements. Unfortunately, I'd been out with my paramour until the early hours in the Marais, and we'd overdone it. As the waiter lifted the huge silver domes with a balletic flourish to reveal €140 worth of poached eggs, my partner, still in bathrobe, slipped quietly and speedily away to throw up. And that was the end of that.
When a hotel breakfast is great, it's a thing of wonder. And there is nothing greater than a lavish holiday-resort breakfast, where the buffet is designed to impress and they've done camp things with dragon fruit. Pile the patisserie high! Leave no cupboard unopened! I love it when there are multiple stations with staff preparing things to order. I love the smell of waffles being freshly cooked, and I love it when I'm in Asia and there's dim sum in steamed baskets. The most heart-warming sight of all on a luxury hotel breakfast buffet is the full bottle of champagne, in an ice bucket, with its neck swathed in starched white linen. Nothing says "I'm on holiday" like a 3,000-calorie, five-course breakfast, the mid-morning méthode champenoise buzz that's usually reserved for Christmas, and the knowledge that all you've got to do is make your way to your sun lounger with a Kindle full of Philip Roth.
About the Author
Mark C.O'Flaherty is the founder and editor-in-chief of Civilian, an irreverent, new online publication fusing luxury travel, the arts and design. For updates of its latest stories follow @CIVILIANglobal.