What Actually Classifies As A Continental Breakfast?

Continental breakfast spread on wooden surface
Continental breakfast spread on wooden surface - Julia Metkalova/Shutterstock

If you're already paying for a night's stay at a hotel, it's nice to know that breakfast is usually included too! But when your hotel boasts of serving a daily continental breakfast, what can you expect to eat the next morning? How does it differ from offerings at a traditional bed and breakfast? And what foods actually fall into the category of a continental breakfast?

A continental breakfast typically consists of lighter fare, from bread and pastry items like toast, bagels, or muffins to a selection of fresh fruits and yogurt options. Beverages like juice, coffee, and tea will usually be available, along with milk and sometimes cereal. On occasion, you may even find savory breakfast options like bacon, sausage, and eggs. The variety of options and food quality can vary depending on the hotel you're staying at. So be prepared to get up bright and early to check out the continental breakfast options for yourself — before all the good stuff is gone!

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Historical Origins Of The Continental Breakfast

breakfast spread
breakfast spread - New Africa/Shutterstock

The name "continental breakfast" might sound grand and opulent, but that's not always the reality of actual continental breakfasts. So, where did the name come from? The term "continental" refers to the continent of Europe — specifically the Mediterranean countries and France, which are typically known for lighter breakfast fare. This type of breakfast began appearing in hotels in the late 1800s, as the growing American middle class and visiting Europeans desired the lighter offerings of European breakfast cuisine.

As the middle class expanded, Americans increasingly took on less labor-intensive jobs that did not require a heavy breakfast to fuel the day. And although the term "continental breakfast" describes European fare, it originated in Great Britain. The Brits saw the continental breakfast as a contrast to their favorite — the full English breakfast. An English breakfast consists of heavier food items like eggs, sausages, beans, and even English pudding. You'll also find breads like toast and pastries. While some continental breakfasts today can include these heavier items, they are more often a bonus.

Why Do Hotels Offer A Continental Breakfast?

family taking food from continental breakfast buffet
family taking food from continental breakfast buffet - Miljko/Getty Images

For many standard hotels, offering a continental breakfast as an amenity is a simple and affordable way to enhance their service. Continental breakfast items are usually shelf-stable and inexpensive, like the aforementioned bread products. Hotels can stock up on these items and easily have food on hand to serve. This approach also saves on staffing costs, eliminating the need for cooks to whip up fresh pancakes or omelettes every morning.

It's a benefit for on-the-go travelers as well, who often don't have the time to sit for a full, hearty breakfast, especially if they're heading out in the morning to catch a flight to their next destination. More luxurious or boutique hotels typically offer full breakfast buffets instead of a continental breakfast, as their clientele is mostly made up of vacationers rather than weary travelers. So, next time you stay at a hotel offering a continental breakfast, know that you'll have some quick grab-and-go breakfast items on hand. It may not necessarily be the most satiating breakfast you've had, but it will get the job done as you head out for the day.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.