What Is A Continental Breakfast?

When planning to travel for fun or business, you probably check out the amenities of a hotel before making a choice. A pool is always nice, and free Wi-Fi makes life easier. If you also get breakfast included, you can save time and money. But what is continental breakfast, anyway, and where did this term originate?

What Is Continental Breakfast?

Breakfast menus can undoubtedly vary from one hotel to the next. Still, a continental breakfast is generally a spread of light morning fare that doesn’t typically require much preparation, if any. For instance, it could be a buffet of pastries such as sweet rolls, muffins, croissants, toppings such as butter and jam, fresh fruit, juice and coffee.

Continental breakfasts can also include DIY foods, such as premade batter and a self-serve waffle maker or a toaster with various bread options. Milk and cereal, instant oatmeal and convenience foods such as Pop-Tarts, granola bars and yogurt cups also show up often in hotel breakfast buffets.

The foods provided are usually shelf-stable, although some hotel buffets that serve continental breakfast may include a hot item or two, such as sausages and eggs, as part of the deal.

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Why Is It Called Continental Breakfast?

What is continental breakfast by definition, though? MyRecipes.com quotes “The Food Lover’s Companion” in calling the continental breakfast “a light breakfast that usually consists of a breadstuff (such as toast, croissants, pastries, etc.) and coffee, tea, or other liquid. The continental breakfast is the antithesis of the hearty English breakfast.”

Kitchn found that the earliest known use of the phrase dates back to an 1896 edition of “The Sanitarian,” which was a magazine devoted to preserving “Health, Mental and Physical Culture.” British citizens often call the rest of Europe “the continent.”

The publication spoke of Brits accustomed to “great beef-steaks, hot rolls, buckwheat cakes, omelets, potatoes, coffee, and even, at Mr. Emerson’s, pie,” returning from travel in places such as France or the Mediterranean with tales of “the refined Continental breakfast of coffee and a roll.” There, “le petit dejeuner” — a lighter morning repast — is the normal breakfast tradition.

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Why Do American Hotels Offer Continental Breakfasts For Free?

In the U.S., heartier breakfasts were preferred by American farmers before the Industrial Revolution. However, this changed once the country became more dependent on factories and businesses and people needed fewer calories.

The lighter morning meals from Europe appealed to hoteliers, as the items are inexpensive and easy to provide. Light breakfast options were also expected by European travelers coming to the U.S.

In the American tradition, travelers regularly ate in hotel restaurants and their meals were included in the final bill. This was in contrast to European hotels, where food was not included at hotels. Eventually, some American hotels adopted a hybrid model as guests began to prefer eating elsewhere so they could dine more cheaply and flexibly.

Americans introduced to continental breakfast in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were largely dissatisfied initially. But, as the meals became a complimentary perk for lodgers, travelers were happy to receive the convenient, free amenity.

What’s your favorite item on a continental breakfast spread?