What Is a Continental Breakfast?

If you've ever stayed at a hotel or enjoyed a quick breakfast on the go, chances are you've encountered a continental breakfast. In a nutshell, a continental breakfast is a light, simple meal typically consisting of pastries, cereals, fruits, and various types of bread. The concept is extremely popular and is a cost-effective way to add extra amenities to your guests’ stay. We explored the origin of this breakfast style, continental menu options, along with some other breakfast selections you may be interested in using for your hospitality business.

Continental Breakfast Definition

A continental breakfast is a light morning meal typically consisting of pastries and baked goods, fruits, toast, and coffee. It is usually served buffet-style and modeled after the European breakfast, similar to what one would enjoy in France or the Mediterranean. Continental breakfasts emphasize simplicity and focus on foods that can easily be stocked.

Continental Breakfast Menu

Juicing Woman choosing Continental Breakfast Options

Here are some of the options that a continental breakfast consists of:

  • Baked Goods / Pastries
  • Fruits
  • Bread
  • Jams and Spreads
  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Juice
  • Optional: Breakfast cereals, eggs, meats, sliced cheese, porridge or oatmeal
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Why Is It Called a Continental Breakfast?

The term “continental breakfast” refers to the continent of Europe and the style of breakfast enjoyed in European cultures. The term first appeared in 1896 as a result of the turning of the century. Prior to the 1800s, the most common American jobs involved farm work and demanded a high-calorie breakfast to start the day.

However, as the country headed into the 1900s, the average job became more sedentary and emerging middle-class workers sought out a lighter morning option. At the same time, more and more European travelers were visiting America and staying in hotels. The hotels responded in kind by adding a light breakfast option to their menu that their European customers would appreciate.

Why Offer a Continental Breakfast?

Children enjoying Continental Breakfast

If you’re considering adding a breakfast option to your restaurant or hotel, here are some reasons why a continental breakfast may be a good fit for your establishment.

  • Cost-Effectiveness - Foods like pastries, cereals, and bread are inexpensive to purchase, can be ordered in bulk, and are fairly shelf-stable. They do not need to be made or purchased daily, saving your establishment time and money.
  • Amenity Popularity - Continental breakfasts are convenient for travelers on the go who may need to grab food very early in the morning. This makes hotels with free continental breakfasts more desirable among travelers, leading to an increase in hotel revenue and potentially a boost in hotel star rating.
  • Manageability - Since most of the food options of a continental breakfast do not need to be cooked, minimal staffing is required 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 room.

Hotel Breakfast Variations

The continental breakfast is just one hotel breakfast style you can choose from. Other variations may be better suited for your establishment and guests.

Global Breakfast Options:

Here are some breakfast styles you may encounter around the globe that differ from the European continental breakfast:

  • Full American Breakfast - Large portion of eggs, breakfast meats such as bacon or sausage, potatoes or hashbrowns, pancakes or waffles, toast, and coffee.
  • Full English Breakfast - Scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, baked beans, black pudding or white pudding, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes, toast, and tea.
  • Italian Breakfast - Cappuccino or latte, bread with butter and jam, cookies, biscuits, and pastries.
  • Israeli Breakfast - Eggs, cheese, herring, vegetables, fruits, and cereal.
  • Japanese Breakfast - Steamed rice, miso soup, cooked fish, pickled vegetables, tofu, boiled eggs, and tea.

Continental vs American Breakfast

While continental breakfast is often seen as a more convenient and lighter option, American breakfast offers a wider range of flavors and a more substantial meal. The continental breakfast is often favored by those who prefer a quick and easy breakfast, while the American breakfast is ideal for those who have a larger appetite or prefer a more traditional breakfast experience. American breakfasts are more commonly found in restaurants and diners, often being cooked to order and including additional items such as omelets, waffles, or french toast. The American breakfast is known for its generous portions and savory options, making it a popular choice for those looking for a substantial start to their day.

Continental vs English Breakfast

English breakfast, also known as a full breakfast or fry-up, is a heartier meal than its continental counterpart. It is a traditional British breakfast that is often associated with bed and breakfast establishments and country inns. The English breakfast is known for its generous portions and a variety of hot items. While continental breakfast focuses on simplicity and convenience, English breakfast is all about indulgence and a more substantial meal, often being associated with a leisurely weekend morning or a special occasion.

Additional Continental Breakfast Ideas:

Omelet Breakfast Station

In addition to the continental breakfast, some hotels also feature some extra options for their guests to choose from:

  • Breakfast Stations - These stations allow guests to enjoy a fresh breakfast that is customized to their liking.
  • Healthy Options - Many travelers seek out healthy options when they are on the go. Add some of these options to cater to alternative diets:
    • Fruit Platters
    • Low-Fat Yogurts
    • Turkey Sausage
    • House-Made Granola
    • Whole Grain Bread

Continental Breakfast FAQ

Below we answer some of the most common questions regarding continental breakfasts:

Is Continental Breakfast Free?

In many cases, continental breakfast is indeed offered for free at hotels and other establishments. This is especially true for budget-friendly accommodations that want to provide a convenient and cost-effective option for their guests. The reason why continental breakfast is often free is that it is relatively inexpensive for hotels to provide. Breakfast items are usually purchased in bulk and the preparation and serving of a continental breakfast is relatively simple, requiring minimal labor and equipment. It is important to note however, that not all continental breakfasts are free, as in some cases, hotels or other establishments may charge a fee for access to their breakfast offerings.

What Time Is Continental Breakfast?

Juicing Woman choosing Continental Breakfast Options

Unlike other types of breakfasts that have specific serving hours, the timing of a continental breakfast can vary depending on the establishment. Generally, it is served in the morning hours, typically between 7:00 am and 10:00 am. However, some places may start serving as early as 6:00 am or extend the time until 11:00 am. The flexible timing of a continental breakfast is one of its key advantages. It caters to different schedules, allowing early risers to enjoy a quick bite before heading out for the day and accommodating those who prefer to sleep in and have a leisurely morning.

What Is a Deluxe Continental Breakfast?

A deluxe continental breakfast is often found at upscale boutique hotels as it takes the traditional continental breakfast concept and elevates it to the next level. One key feature of a deluxe continental breakfast is the addition of hot items such as scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, or even breakfast burritos. By incorporating hot options, you're able to provide your guests with a heartier meal that will keep them satisfied throughout the morning.

A continental breakfast is a popular option for hotels, conference centers, and other commercial establishments that want to provide a convenient and cost-effective breakfast option for their guests. It offers a simple and convenient way for guests to enjoy a light meal in the morning without the need for a full-service restaurant or extensive preparation. When packaged with other amenities such as room service and turndown service, your establishment can offer a complete hospitality experience and cater to a wide range of guests.

Posted in: Management & Operation|By Janine Jones
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