More hotels spruce up breakfast offerings

— -- Move over pancakes and omelets. Make room for lobster hash and five-spiced waffles with duck confit.

A growing number of hotels, particularly upscale ones, are treating breakfast like dinner, offering gourmet specials in addition to common breakfast foods.

Special entrees can increase restaurant revenue, attract local residents and differentiate a hotel from its competitors. Chefs can be more creative and use more local or seasonal foods. Guests also benefit because they have more choices and, maybe, a more memorable hotel stay.

"There's a big emphasis on special menus," says Jeanne Bischoff, publisher of Hotel F&B, a food-and-beverage trade magazine.

"Breakfast may be a guest's only meal at a hotel or the last time a guest talks to a hotel representative before checking out," Bischoff says. "Hotels want a guest to leave with a good memory, and their culinary offerings can accomplish that."

Offering more breakfast specials comes at a time when many hotel kitchens are looking to satisfy guests by adding more healthy foods and organic items to their menus.

Hotel guests are becoming "more sophisticated and discriminating" with their palettes, says Giuseppe Pezzotti, senior lecturer at Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration.

Breakfast specials this month at Le Merigot, a JW Marriott hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., include lobster hash with smoked paprika hollandaise and Kobe beef corned beef hash with fried organic eggs. The lobster dish cost $20, $4 more than the Kobe beef entree.

From special to regular menu item

At La Mansion del Rio in San Antonio, executive chef John Brand says he and guests were so pleased with a July breakfast special that it has become part of the permanent menu.

"It started as a blini, but now it's lemon ricotta pancakes with pine nuts and raspberries," says Brand about the $10 menu item.

Brand, a breakfast chef at four hotels in the past eight years, is fond of several entrees that he occasionally offers his morning diners. They include five-spiced waffles with duck confit, smoked salmon crepes and poached eggs over crab and cornbread.

Breakfast specials are "a growing trend," says Bart Bruning, vice president of food and beverages for The Ritz-Carlton. "We want to offer our guests variety and give our chefs an opportunity to be creative and to introduce more seasonal items."

Some frequent business travelers welcome such an approach.

"I would love to see more special offerings for breakfast," says Matthew Evangelista, a salesman from Industry, Pa. "I think eating the same thing day after day gets old really fast."

Marla Juliano, of Birmingham, Ala., likes the cooked-to-order breakfasts served at Hilton Garden Inn. On Sept. 15, some of the chain's hotels added three nutritious menu items: multigrain waffles with blueberry thyme compote; beef brisket hash with kale, whole-grain bread, poached egg and roasted sweet potatoes; and granola and flaxseed parfait with yogurt, strawberries and honey.

Juliano, who works in the beauty industry and stays at a hotel two or three days a week, wishes there were more choices at other hotels. "There are some mornings when I want more than simply continental and would love to see some bistro-type items offered," she says.

Breakfast specials are rare at many less expensive hotels that offer a complimentary breakfast, but some have begun offering better-quality and healthier foods.

Embassy Suites is the free-breakfast "trend-setter," says Michael Costa, an editor at Hotel F&B. The chain offers cook-to-order omelets with a choice of at least 10 ingredients.

At Hilton's Homewood Suites, complimentary breakfast items vary at each of the more than 240 hotels. At least two hot items, such as eggs, sausage, bacon and hash browns, are offered, as well as fruit, yogurt, toast and beverages.

At hotels that charge for breakfast, specials may or may not be priced higher than regular menu items.

Ritz-Carlton doesn't routinely price its breakfast specials higher than other menu items, Bruning says. The specials may help sway guests to make another visit to a Ritz-Carlton hotel and may attract local residents, he says.

Trying to exceed expectations

At the Barona Valley Ranch Resort & Casino in Lakeside, Calif., specials last week were $8 to $10. They included prime rib hash and poached eggs with organic chives and a shrimp egg-white omelet with artichoke and spinach.

Executive chef Dean Thomas says he offers many specials because the hotel is "constantly trying to exceed our guests' expectations at all meal periods."

At the Dolce Atlanta-Peachtree hotel in Peachtree City, Ga., specials are more the norm than regular menu items.

Special foods are added daily to the breakfast buffet, and the breakfast menu changes every week, says executive chef Len Elias.

Breakfast entrees that often appear on the menu include Tasso bacon spinach and mushroom quiche with fresh fruit and white chocolate pecan bourbon French toast with andouille sausage.

"I've never treated breakfast differently than any other meal," says Elias. "I look at what I can offer guests to keep them excited and eating on property."

TELL US: What do you look for on the morning room service menu and where in the hotel do you prefer to eat your breakfast? Your room or the dining room?