Hotel trends come and go, but one thing that always seems to endure, in one form or another, is breakfast.
Certainly, breakfast service has evolved to focus on health and wellness, more self-service like grab-and-go and high-quality coffee service, but guests still expect the service in one form or another.
HOTELS recently spoke to Adam Crocini, senior vice president and global head, Food and Beverage Brands, Hilton, to find out what is new at the breakfast table with this industry giant.
HOTELS: Breakfast has, it seems, always been a sought-after amenity in hotels. What do you see as being the top three to five trends for breakfast in hotels right now and why?
Adam Crocini: At Hilton, we have noticed a handful of emerging trends in the hotel breakfast space, including a demand for complimentary hot breakfast, a desire for lighter and healthier options, the rise in iced coffee beverages and increased popularity in alternative milks.
We know that breakfast offerings, including complimentary hot breakfast at select properties, are important to our guests’ travel experience and we have leaned into this growing trend with signature favorites like cooked-to-order omelets at Embassy Suites or fresh-baked waffles at Hampton properties. As highlighted in our 2022 global trends report, people are also looking for fresh, light and “better for you” breakfast menu items. Though previously, morning dishes like avocado toast, grain bowls and smoothies were viewed as a trend, these fresh, more healthful items are now an expectation among our guests.
Additionally, we have seen the demand for cold coffee drinks, specifically, nitro and cold brew coffee, become increasingly popular in recent years. On a similar front, it’s been equally important to provide alternative milks such as oat or almond milks, to coincide with travelers’ evolving breakfast palate.
H: What are some of the innovative things you’re doing right now in the breakfast and coffee/tea arenas? What is proving popular with customers and why?
AC: We are always looking for ways to enhance our breakfast experience and satisfy customer feedback. For example, a recent survey by Hilton found that pancakes are the top breakfast choice for 70% of travelers on the road. To answer this call, we developed the Tru By Hilton Automatic Pancake Maker, which turns batter into delicious, golden brown pancakes with the wave of a hand. Our automatic pancake maker is now available across all Tru By Hilton properties, and our guests are loving it.
In the coffee and tea arenas we have seen that, unlike other regions, the Americas are not very tea-centric. Instead, coffee is the leader in our U.S. breakfast beverage space and we are innovating accordingly by providing more cold beverage options and milk alternatives. In the past year, Hilton also announced a new partnership with Bluestone Lane, an Australian-inspired premium coffee roaster, café and lifestyle brand, to provide guests at our Tempo by Hilton properties with an elevated on-property food and beverage experience that meets the need for more progressive fare with healthier options.
H: What are customers seeking right now in terms of breakfast? Vegan? Gluten-free? Healthy? Bacon?
AC: Now, more than ever, travelers are prioritizing sustainability and community efforts and are looking to our restaurants to feature sustainable or locally sourced ingredients. To address this preference, Hilton properties are reimagining their food and beverage experiences by offering creative, environmentally friendly dishes.
We have also recognized a shift in dietary preferences, with some guests opting for gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian and protein-based alternatives like tofu and plant-based meat. Our guests are increasingly environmentally-conscious and taking action – and these decisions are fueling the way we design our breakfast offerings. On the other hand, we also acknowledge some guests want to indulge when traveling so we don’t anticipate breakfast favorites, like bacon and waffles, will be disappearing any time soon.
H: Are breakfasts more buffet, sit-down or grab and go, or all three?
AC: Breakfast dining preferences tend to differ by property, location and the type of guest staying there. At Hilton, we have 18 distinct brands that offer varying breakfast experiences, ranging from buffet and sit-down meals to grab-and-go and room service. Families and guests who are staying in a resort environment still typically want the full-scale breakfast experience, whereas a la carte, buffet and to-go options are more favorable amongst business travelers. Having products available for our on-the-go guests allows them the convenience of continuing with their daily routine. While there has been a small shift from more formal breakfast experiences to quick, easy-access alternatives, the need for a sit-down meal is still available for guests interested in a more leisurely vacation.
H: What are top-selling breakfast items?
AC: Some of our top-selling breakfast items include buttermilk blueberry crumb muffins, croissant sandwiches, western omelets, avocado toast, in addition to the classic bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. At our Embassy Suites by Hilton, Hampton by Hilton, Tru by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton properties, the team has also seen that pancakes featured at the breakfast buffet are the most popular item.
H: How can hoteliers deal with some of the current challenges – staffing, shortages, prices – with such an important meal? Are there things that can be easier on hotels yet still sought-after by customers?
AC: We know that part of our guest’s joy stems from the element of service and their ability to interact with Hilton team members, but we have also found the use of innovations, like menu QR codes or contactless payment technologies, have not only improved the guest experience but also allowed our team members the time to focus on the aspects that make a stay at Hilton more exceptional. Additionally, we have seen our guests embrace our new retail, grab-and-go markets and kiosk options because they provide easy, paperless transactions and allow them to spend more time reconnecting with loved ones and colleagues while on the road.
We have also taken new approaches to hiring and recruiting by partnering with our hotels through virtual hiring events and a shortened application process.
H: What’s trending in terms of coffee and tea? Are you seeing special breakfast blends/cold brew/specialty coffees/yerba matte? What do customers want?
AC: We are continuing to see that cold beverages, like iced coffee drinks, and alternative milks, like oat and almond milks, are among the biggest breakfast trends for travelers because of their need to maintain a health-conscious, but fast-paced routine while on the road.
H: How do you still keep things luxurious while still maintaining budgets for breakfasts?
AC: At Hilton, our dining experiences prioritize best-in-class service and quality product offerings. By working with nearby farmers, dairy farms and fisheries, we are able to source fresh ingredients while also supporting the local community and better aligning with travelers’ interest in locally sourced ingredients. The proximity of the property to fresh and local ingredients allows for a better quality product while helping us manage costs. Balancing our menus with choices that everyone can enjoy also makes guests feel like they’re being cared for, and that’s an integral part of any hotel stay.
H: Hotels had to pivot for the pandemic, and things still seem to be evolving. Are there things from the height of the pandemic that still play out in the breakfast scene at hotels?
AC: The pandemic pushed us to rethink and reimagine the food and beverage services offered at our hotels, and those changes are still popular among guests today. Throughout the pandemic, there was a shift toward grab-and-go options and technologies that drive efficiencies, like QR codes and contactless pay, and changes to our food delivery experience as nearly all of our brands have now adopted a “drop off and go” structure. While our guests still value the ease and convenience of room service, they have also come to appreciate our contactless delivery option. That being said, we recognize some travelers still prefer more traditional room service and are prepared to offer this service at Hilton’s resorts and luxury hotels.
H: How have customers’ expectations changed since the start of the pandemic, and how can hotels manage their expectations?
AC: The pandemic created a lot of pent-up demand from travelers. We are seeing a rapid return to travel and, as a result, are witnessing new expectations from guests. Since the start of the pandemic, our customers’ lives, their priorities, their passions, have led to an increased need for quality experiences, a focus on holistic wellbeing, friendly and reliable customer service, and ensuring the properties in which they stay are providing the best guest experience possible.
At Hilton, our F&B teams experimented and introduced new items that highlighted their ingenuity and expertise while accommodating our guests’ shifting preferences. As normal dining experiences have returned, we recognize that guests still expect to see the products and solutions that thrived during the pandemic, and we have made it a point to intimately track our guests’ feedback to ensure Hilton continues to offer the best food and beverage selections from check-in to check-out.
Looking at the remainder of 2022 and beyond, we know that travelers’ food and drink preferences are continuing to change with the times. We are prepared to manage this by staying true to our customer promise of being friendly and reliable and curating our menus and experiences to accommodate and meet our guests’ needs.