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omni.jpeg The Omni Hotel
Roasted Poblano Migas at Omni Mokara in San Antonio. Breakfast is an F&B calling card for hotels. However, COVID-19 has altered how that program is presented to guests.

How coronavirus has altered hotel breakfast service

Hotel food & beverage is cutting the buffet and turning to grab-and-go options

The hotel industry offers travelers a diverse range of service levels, room types and amenities based on price point, but one area most hotels share regardless of tier is breakfast. The morning daypart traditionally captures about 90% of overnight guests because they don’t have to leave the property for a meal after waking up. Breakfast buffets in particular have been a lodging staple for decades due to menu variety and perceived all-you-can-eat value.

However, since the coronavirus pandemic, the definition of hotel breakfast has changed considerably. Properties where buffets are the bedrock of their food & beverage program — like select-service brands and casinos — have either closed or modified them with attendants building plates of food for guests. Most hotels though, have dropped buffets altogether.

“Our buffet restaurant has been dark since the onset of COVID-19,” said Sebastian Hansen, area general manager for Hilton St. Petersburg Bayfront. “We currently offer a grab-and-go continental breakfast, but rely primarily on our Starbucks venue to meet guest needs. We’re strategizing how we can safely reopen our breakfast restaurant, focusing on freshly prepared a la carte menus, instead of a buffet concept.”

Prior to coronavirus, Hilton Bayfront’s buffet was busy with a wide-ranging menu, and multiple cooks working action stations for guests. Since then, the buffet has been re-evaluated not just by Hansen and his staff, but also by their management company Remington Hotels, which oversees 87 properties across the U.S.

“We’ve discontinued buffets at our hotels that have reopened their F&B programs. We’re offering complimentary to-go bags with fresh fruit, muffins, juice and energy bars, for example, and we’ve amplified our grab-and-go offerings for breakfast at other properties,” says Don Falgoust, vice president, F&B strategy and execution for Remington Hotels. “Guests in general have no desire to partake in buffets right now and are appreciative of our pivot to a safer environment.”

At Vail Resorts, with a portfolio of nearly 60 properties, to-go bags with breakfast burritos, sandwiches and parfaits have replaced morning buffets and a la carte menus for now. It’s part of the company’s strategy to “limit touch points for staff and guests,” explains Lou Trope, vice president, F&B, Mountain Division, Vail Resorts. “Since many jurisdictions have either banned buffets or added significant restrictions regarding service, we’re looking at the safest alternatives to provide breakfast but not in the traditional manner. This could include exclusively offering grab and go or some type of limited à la carte menu.”

River Walk Reconfiguration

Buffets are also off the menu at Omni’s two San Antonio River Walk properties: Omni La Mansion del Rio and Mokara Hotel & Spa, which are across the water from each other.

las-canarias-french-toast.jpegPhoto: French Toast at Omni La Mansion’s Las Canarias restaurant, on the San Antonio River Walk.

Credit: Las Canarias

Breakfast is an F&B calling card not just for those two hotels, but throughout Omni’s portfolio, under its regionally focused Art of Breakfast program. However, COVID-19 has altered how that program is presented to guests.

Las Canarias restaurant at Omni La Mansion shut down its buffet (Ostra restaurant at Mokara didn’t have one) and both places now offer streamlined à la carte menus, plus takeaway food, with dishes like roasted poblano migas, breakfast tacos, chilaquiles a la Mexicana and huevos rancheros.

“With the implementation of our Omni Safe & Clean and Stay a Part of Safety brand-wide initiatives, we’re adhering to guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, American Hotel & Lodging Association and our local government. This includes adjusted seating capacity to allow six feet of social distancing in each restaurant’s floor plans; strategically placed sanitation stations for guests and associates; and contactless menus via QR codes. Staffing has also been reduced to reflect our business levels and condensed seating for social distancing,” said Edward Parker, director of F&B at both San Antonio Omni hotels.

Capture rates for each hotel in this story are well below the 90% pre-COVID-19 figure mentioned earlier, and throughout the industry, fewer guests at breakfast means less staff are needed to serve them. Employees that are working the morning shift are required to wear masks and gloves at all times.  

Even before coronavirus hit, breakfast buffets had been under scrutiny, largely due to the amount of food waste they can generate. However, the real future of hotel breakfast depends on whether guests want to return to pre-COVID self-service buffets or stick with à la carte and to-go bags moving forward.

“People overall are quite sensitive to the safety of buffets right now,” notes Hansen, citing recent customer feedback, “but there is certainly a desire for guests to socialize in the morning again.”

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