Starting a Continental Breakfast
The term 'continental breakfast' originated in the mid-1800s, when light European-style breakfasts began to rise in popularity over heavier, meat-laden British breakfasts. The word also came to represent the pricing style in hotels where the cost of the breakfast was included in the price of the room, which was not the norm in Europe, a trend that holds true to this day.1 Most people associate continental breakfasts with hotels, but they are also sometimes seen in bed and breakfasts, cruise lines, and catering companies. The strong association with hotels is no surprise, with 70 percent of leisure travelers and 63 percent of business travelers claiming that the availability of a continental breakfast is influential in which hotel they choose.2
If you are hoping to add value to your hotel or other business by offering a continental breakfast, this guide can help you get started.
Although the term 'continental breakfast' may have started out as a way to describe a light breakfast, customers' expectations have grown over recent decades. While some businesses choose to keep their offerings light with pastries and fruit, many have chosen to add hot items to their hotel breakfast, such as waffles, eggs, and meat. When planning, keep in mind the equipment you will need to safely prepare and serve each item, and remember to budget for the pieces you will need. Consider the following items when crafting your continental breakfast menu:
- Fruit: Oranges, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, grapefruit, grapes, honeydew; can be served individually or in a fruit medley.
- Yogurt: Offer a variety of flavors and consider including low-fat or sugar-free options for health-conscious customers.
- Cereal: Can be offered in individual servings or from dispensers.
Breads & Pastries:
- Waffles: Can be frozen waffles or batter cooked in a waffle iron.
- Eggs: Often served scrambled in a chafer.
- Meats: Sausage links or patties, bacon, and ham are common choices.
- Gravy: Sausage gravy is often served with biscuits, particularly in the South.
- Potatoes: Cubed breakfast potatoes or hash browns.
- Oatmeal/Grits: Can be served pre-made or in individual packages when hot water is provided.
- Omelets: Can be offered with a variety of ingredients.
- Crepes: Breakfast crepes are often filled with fresh fruit.
- Smoothies: Custom smoothie stations can include fresh fruits and leafy greens.
- Coffee: Can be made with grounds, powder, or bag-in-box concentrate.
- Hot Water: Often built into a coffee machine, hot water can be offered to make tea and/or hot chocolate, as well as oatmeal or grits.
- Milk: May wish to offer options such as skim, 2 percent, and whole.
- Juice: Orange and apple juice are the most common, and several other options are available.
While the list above may seem overwhelming, remember that you do not have to serve everything every day. Many hotels choose to rotate their continental breakfast menu daily between two or three set menus, which long-term customers appreciate. Catering companies may wish to offer different packages for customers to choose from. Once you have decided which items you will offer, be sure to consider what condiments will be needed with those items, which may include butter, jam, honey, cream cheese, peanut butter, maple syrup, sugar and/or other sweeteners, and creamer.
While continental breakfast is definitely serving food to the public, depending on the size of your business and the options you choose to include in your menu, you may not actually need a food service license.3 Because the specifics of what you serve will determine if you need a license will vary depending on location, consult your local health department to see if you will need to acquire one. For the most part, if your food is pre-packaged or prepared by a licensed restaurant, you will likely not need an inspection. Likewise, if your business already serves food in some other capacity, your current food license may cover continental breakfast. However, some licenses only cover very specific applications, so consult your health department to be sure you remain on the right side of the law while adding your hotel breakfast.
If you determine that you require a food service license, you will need to study your area's health code regulations and be sure that all of your preparation and serving areas are up to code before you apply for the license. At the bare minimum, you will need a hand sink, a three-compartment sink or commercial dishwasher4, and equipment for preparing and serving food at proper temperatures. In some cases, employees who will be handling food will be required to take a food handling course to ensure they know how to properly prepare and distribute food. Once you have a food permit, be sure to check the requirements as you add menu items, as some permits will only cover certain food types.
Having the right equipment can help ensure you stay on the right side of health codes as well as offer your customers a beautiful, safe presentation.
- Beverage equipment includes coffee makers, cold drink machines for juice, hot water dispensers for hot cocoa and tea, and iced coffee machines. Pitchers are also available with ice cores or an insulated exterior to keep milk cool.
- Pastry display cases offer storage for pastries, doughnuts, bagels, and muffins. Cases are available that open from the front to allow the customers to select their own items.
- Utensils such as tongs, serving spoons, and ladles offer a sanitary way for customers to serve themselves at the buffet.
- Cooling tubs can help keep pre-packaged items such as yogurt, cups of fruit, or bottles of juice or milk cool.
- A commercial toaster will let your patrons toast their breads, bagels, or English muffins. These are available in pop-up or conveyor styles in varying sizes to meet your needs.
- A commercial waffle maker and some pre-mixed waffle batter are all you need for your customers to enjoy their own fresh waffles
- Countertop buffet warmers and chafers give you options for keeping hot food at safe serving temperatures. Chafers can be electric or require a heat source like canned heat. Countertop buffet warmers can be electric or gas-powered.
- Dry product dispensers allow an easy way to offer cereal options, bulk oatmeal, or instant grits.
- If you will use ingredients or serve products that need to be kept cold, find the right commercial refrigerator or freezer to make food storage simple.
- A mobile food station will allow you to create custom items for your customers, such as omelets, crepes, and smoothies.
- Find the right serving platters and bowls to serve food on your continental breakfast buffet.
- Sneeze guards offer food protection from germs and debris. These are available in models meant to be permanently installed, as well as portable units that can be moved as needed.
- Buffet stands and risers can help you arrange your serving area beautifully while also helping you maximize useable space.
- Make sure you have enough tables and chairs to seat all of your customers at peak service times.
Once you have your continental breakfast ready to debut, it's time to get the word out. Because it can be such a decisive issue for many customers at hotels, it will benefit you to list your continental breakfast in any media you advertise through. You can announce the new addition on your social media, and make sure it is listed as a major benefit on your website. If your hotel makes use of any local coupon books or travel websites, make sure the continental breakfast is included in your listing.
In addition to marketing your continental breakfast to potential customers, you need to make sure those staying with you know that the breakfast is offered. Consider adding the hotel breakfast to any printed materials offered in the room, and train employees to mention it and the time it runs to guests when they are checking in so that those who are interested do not miss out.
1. Why are Continental Breakfasts Called That? Today I Found Out. Accessed February 2016.
2. Appetite Grows for Free Hotel Breakfasts. CNN. Accessed February 2016.
3. Continental Breakfast Requirements for Lodging Establishments. Florida Restaurant and Lodging Magazine. Accessed February 2016.
<4. Cleaning of Equipment and Utensils. Accessed February 2016.