6 Things You Should And Shouldn't Eat From Your Hotel's Breakfast Buffet

One of the most consistent luxuries of travel is getting well-acquainted with the breakfast buffet at the hotel you happen to be patronizing. There's a certain comfortable aspect to the meal, whether it's the humble continental breakfast served by the average hotel or fancier fare offered by higher-end places. That said, no two hotel breakfast buffets are created equally. Some are little more than snack counters while others resemble dishes from Michelin-star restaurants. This sort of variety also means that diners can't approach every breakfast buffet with the same strategy.

Certain plates are likely present at virtually any hotel breakfast. These include staples like scrambled eggs, bacon, and orange juice. The rest is usually up in the air, but there are still a few tips and tricks that will help you to make the most out of any breakfast buffet you wander up to, plate in hand. It all takes just a little planning and patience to elevate hum-drum breakfast offerings to the next level, regardless of where you are staying. Here are some of the best hotel breakfast dishes to focus on, and a few you should avoid at all costs.

To help you head into your next vacation with an intent to eat well, we've laid out six of the best things to eat from a hotel breakfast buffet and six of the worst. It should hopefully help to kick off your next day away in the best way possible by creating a wholly satisfying buffet plate.

Should: Regional dishes

While this isn't a specific kind of food or meal, it's still always a good idea to add any regional dishes at your hotel breakfast to your plate. Whether it's a European cheese or a savory porridge, the breakfast dishes on offer at the average hotel buffet can be a great first step to understanding the local culture. Sure, some people might always like to start their day with eggs or oatmeal. But when on a vacation, take care to treat yourself to a local pastry or an unfamiliar piece of fruit. We suggest being even more adventurous and trying out true delicacies that may not be normal sights on a basic hotel breakfast buffet, like a hearty stew or smoked fish. 

The low-stakes element of meandering from your room to the lobby for breakfast also helps kickstart your day with ease. You don't necessarily have to coordinate transportation or make reservations at a local breakfast spot to taste the flavors of a city. Often, you can simply go downstairs (maybe even still in your pajamas) and enjoy a stress-free meal before a hectic travel day. 

Sometimes, hotels across the world are so well-known for the local cuisine on offer in their breakfast buffets that it's the sole reason some travelers even book a stay.

Should not: Scrambled eggs

Scrambled eggs might be one of those breakfast items that you're guaranteed to find at any average hotel buffet, but that doesn't mean you should always add them to your plate. Unfortunately, many hotels use powdered eggs rather than cracking fresh ones to make their scrambles. It's even common for the eggs to be prepared via microwave, which could explain why the eggs at hotel breakfast buffets have an odd texture and never seem to taste as good as the ones you make at home. 

Now, there's nothing nutritionally wrong with powdered eggs, given that they serve as a protein source with a long shelf life. However, anyone who has compared powdered eggs to fresh ones can instantly tell that the powdered ones are seriously lacking in flavor.

Another reason not to eat scrambled eggs from the hotel buffet is food poisoning. The FDA recommends that cooked eggs be served immediately after they're prepared. Yet, it's often unclear how long the vat of scrambled eggs has been sitting on the buffet. Eating eggs stored at the wrong temperature is one of the easiest ways to get salmonella poisoning or other foodborne illnesses, which can obviously put a damper on your stay away from home. Ultimately, it's best to avoid the temptation. Thankfully for those who can't go a morning without eggs, many breakfast buffets have better egg options that scratch the same itch. 

Should: Fresh fruit

It's also almost guaranteed that your hotel breakfast buffet will have some kind of fresh fruit available, which is never a bad idea to add to your plate. Whether it's a pre-cut fruit salad or whole bananas and apples, you can't go wrong starting your day off with nutrient-dense fruit that's still unlikely to bog you down. Then there's the travel element, as whole fruits like apples or bananas are easy to slip into your bag for a later snack during your travels. 

Additionally, it's becoming popular for hotel breakfast buffets to present fresh juice options, sometimes even made to order. If you're lucky enough to stumble on a juice bar at your hotel, a fresh glass is a great partner to many other breakfast items you have selected from the buffet table. Moreover, for those who are traveling to tropical locations, the fruit is often more fresh and flavorful that the stuff you're used to buying at your local grocery store, which makes it well worth a spot on your plate. 

Should not: Lemon wedges

It may seem like a small thing, but be sure you avoid slices of lemon meant to add to water or hot tea. Pre-cut lemon slices are prone to cross-contamination from several types of bacteria. When lemons are sliced, it's easy for the peel and flesh to come in contact with many potentially bacteria-laden surfaces, including poorly-washed hands, cutting boards, and utensils. These strains of bacteria, like E. coli, can lead to food poisoning and other illness. It's even worse if the lemons aren't refrigerated, as room temperature air provides optimal grounds for bacteria already present in the food to continue to grow. 

While you might think the self-serve lemons from the buffet are safe because you're pouring your own drink, those lemons still had to be prepared in a kitchen where they are at the same risk for contamination. Furthermore, other patrons might get their lemons from the same vat, which can also lead to the spread of bacteria.

And if you think you're safe putting a lemon slice in your drink because it's alcoholic, slow down. Not even straight liquor can kill all of the bad bacteria that could be present on that wedge of lemon.

Should: Omelet station

An alternative option to those disappointing breakfast buffet scrambled eggs is the ever-popular omelet station offered by many hotels. Some of the most beloved hotel breakfast buffets in the world have some form of a made-to-order egg station as part of the breakfast experience.

The omelet station is a great way to make sure that you're eating fresh eggs that are made to order. The eggs are likely cracked from their shells right in front of you. Whether you order a loaded omelet or fried eggs, this is a protein-packed way to start your day that's cooked fresh and exactly the way you like it. 

Another plus to the omelet station is that it's easier to avoid allergens. The setup of the station, in which you're face to face with the chef, is ideal for striking up a natural conversation between the cook and the customer. That way, you can be sure you don't start your day off with a nasty allergic reaction. It's also a great environment to converse with a food-knowledgeable local who may have some truly great and under-the-radar recommendations to make your vacation even more of a treat. 

Should not: Quiche

Yet another egg dish worth skipping on your next hotel breakfast buffet is any kind of premade quiche or egg souffle. Like scrambled eggs, these dishes are often made with those seriously flavorless powdered eggs rather than the real deal. These sorts of egg dishes also suffer from the same risk of foodborne illnesses, especially if they aren't kept at the proper temperature at the buffet table.

Now, this is not to say that you should never try the quiche at any breakfast place or even a high-quality hotel breakfast. However, it's good to use your best judgment when picking up any items from the buffet table that could be at risk for growing bacteria. After all, no one wants to manage an upset stomach during their vacation. What kind of exceptions might apply? If you're at a small bed and breakfast where the spread includes a fresh-baked quiche made with locally-sourced ingredients, it's probably safe (and likely even more delicious than what you find at bigger chains). However, beware of a massive breakfast buffet with too many items for the staff to properly monitor at once. That's probably not the best place for your next quiche Lorraine.

Should: Bread

The display of bread options at most average hotel breakfast buffets is usually enough to entice anyone into toasting up a carby treat to kick off the day. Whether it's French bread, English muffins, bagels, or any number of pastries, the options are usually relatively expansive. Bread can also serve quite well as a vehicle for other buffet ingredients. But why stop with buttered toast or a bagel and cream cheese? These are reliable staples, but the bread section is prime for even more creativity. 

An entry-level breakfast buffet hack is to utilize your bread of choice to make a breakfast sandwich. Pile it high with eggs, cheese, meats, and hash browns — the opportunities are as limitless as the buffet. You can also opt to make a piece of bread or an English muffin an entire meal by loading it with peanut butter and banana slices or smashed avocado and eggs.

What you craft largely depends on the hotel offerings, which is why it's a good idea to scope out the entire buffet before making your breakfast selection. Also, try double-toasting whatever you add to the toaster. Hotel appliances are notorious for being underpowered, so remember that it might take a little patience to get your bagel perfectly toasted. 

Should not: Yogurt

Yogurt is undoubtedly a healthy breakfast selection for your first meal of the day, but as a hotel guest, you should use more discretion when it's time to whip up a parfait from the breakfast buffet. It's usually a safe bet to grab a single-serving yogurt cup to accompany the rest of your morning meal. Many hotels opt for a small refrigerator of yogurt cups that help prevent food waste and cross-contamination. However, steer clear of any communal vats of yogurt that every guest can put their hands in. 

Done right, yogurt is full of good bacteria that promote gut health. It can also be prone to growing bad bacteria that can cause foodborne illness, especially if it's left out at room temperature for more than two hours. You can't always be sure how buffet food was handled before it make it to the table, so it's a good idea to skip out on any questionable dairy from a less-than-stellar breakfast buffet. 

Should: Tea bags

Tea bags are another hotel breakfast staple that often gets overlooked, especially when they're placed next to more flashy items on the buffet. However, the coffee and tea station is an often underutilized aspect of the breakfast buffet that deserves more praise. Depending on the hotel, the selection can include dozens of different teas as a caffeinated or caffeine-free herbal kick-off to your day. The individually-wrapped single servings also make the process more sanitary and customizable than a communal pot of coffee. With a little patience and skill, you can even create chai tea lattes or iced tea and lemonade combinations to wash down your bacon and eggs. 

We admit that it's controversial when it comes to determining if it's socially acceptable to steal food from the hotel buffet for later. It might be a bit over the top if you bring in Tupperware and Ziploc bags to smuggle out a full meal for later. However, no one is going to think twice if you slip a couple of tea bags into your pocket. It could be well worth it to make a comforting beverage in your room long after the buffet has closed.

Should not: Breakfast meat

It's hard for nearly any meat eater to resist the smell of cooking bacon and sausage in the morning. It's common for a hotel breakfast buffet to include at least two kinds of breakfast meats if not more. The temptation is real, but some seasoned travelers suggest skipping the carnivorous options on the breakfast bar altogether. For one, buffet breakfast meat tends to be disappointing, as it's often overcooked and underflavored.

Additionally, since that might is likely bought in bulk, who knows how long it was sitting in the hotel freezer before it made its way to your breakfast plate? A former hotel worker from Tennessee, Brandi Augustus, went viral in 2021 for exposing the horrors of the breakfast buffet, where the quality of the meat was a main talking point. "Sausage is not supposed to be grey. Stop eating grey sausage," Augustus said on her TikTok. Ultimately, whether or not you select meat from the buffet depends in part on the buffet's vibe. If you get a bad feeling, it's probably best to trust your gut. 

Should: Oatmeal

Oatmeal is undoubtedly an underrated hero of the hotel breakfast buffet. It's a humble classic that gets a bad rap for being boring, but it just needs a little spicing up to change your mind. Many chefs who travel often say they always opt for oatmeal on the buffet because it's healthy, it keeps you full for a while, and it's endlessly customizable. Oatmeal can be sweet or savory, for one, and the possibilities are only limited by what's on offer at the buffet. 

You can spice up oatmeal with fruit, nuts, eggs, vegetables, and almost any condiment. Try making a simple peanut butter and banana bowl, or perhaps a bacon, egg, and cheese combo for a savory oatmeal. We often eat with our eyes first, so be sure to spend some time making an aesthetically-pleasing bowl for an added bit of brightness to start your day. 

Many people who choose to eat oatmeal for its health benefits recommend loading it with peanut butter or even protein powder to up the nutrient intake. Also, you can easily grab some oatmeal packets to bring to your room for later or even make DIY overnight oats in your room's mini refrigerator. 

Should not: Waffles

Any hotel buffet with guest-operated waffle makers carries a certain level of intrigue. That's because hungry breakfast patrons might be tempted to craft their waffles and load them with toppings, but the idea is often better in theory than in practice. First of all, the waffle-making area can be cutthroat. Some people will hog the iron to make a batch of waffles for their entire table while you're helplessly waiting for a turn. Or someone can easily snag your waffle when your back is turned while you load up on butter and syrup. 

Even worse, some hotel workers suggest that you don't trust the raw batter set out next to the waffle iron. Some claim that new batter gets mixed in with the old to make it appear fresh, masking the smell and allowing it to last longer.  If that makes your stomach start to churn (as it should for anyone), then it's best to skip the waffle line altogether the next time you scope out the hotel breakfast buffet.