For many years now select-service branded hotels have been offering up a comprehensive free breakfast to guests, in many cases much to the dismay of cash strapped owners. These breakfast buffets have varied depending on brand and location but some can be quite extensive including any combination of bacon, eggs, waffles, pancakes, sausage, oatmeal, bagels, pastries, and cereal. In other words, pretty much anything a guest could want.
We all knew breakfast was going to be drastically impacted as a result of the pandemic with many industry observers forecasting the end of breakfast buffets forever. Last week we saw a giant step in that direction when Wyndham Hotels & Resorts announced it was “substantially reducing” breakfast requirements for its economy brands, including Days Inn, Howard Johnson, and Super 8.
For the aforementioned brands the breakfast requirements have been reduced to upgraded coffee and juices plus a prepackaged food item like a granola bar or pastry.
“Over the past two decades, the creeping cost of a free breakfast has had an impact on hotel profitability, particularly in the economy segment. The modifications we announced this week are based on extensive feedback from our owners,” said Scott LePage, president, The Americas, Wyndham Hotels & Resorts.
The company also is expecting to unveil similar changes to its Microtel brand—as well as its midscale and upper-midscale chains—in the near future. The real question is whether or not this is going to represent a real sea change in the industry and will other brand companies follow suit? With everyone in full cost-cutting mode these days I would be surprised if they don’t. While the general public has been trained to be concerned about the spread of the virus, the window for hotel companies to take advantage of this may be closing with vaccinations rolling out to a larger percentage of the population.
However, I would advise companies to proceed with caution on this. I understand that for owners there is little to no tangible return on this investment, but with some brands virtually eliminating this amenity could this be a difference maker?
I’ve heard many a guest say they’d rather go to a Courtyard by Marriott, for example, than a traditional full-service hotel, because of the free breakfast. You can’t underestimate what it means for consumers to get something for nothing, so to speak. The irony is the properties with higher price points and more margins have never given away breakfast. I guess the thinking is that guest is more equipped to pay for it, but I’m not sure that’s the issue.
There are plenty of owners out there who are no doubt excited about this development from Wyndham, but I would say to them be careful what you wish for. A free breakfast may just be the head start your competitive set needs in this market.