Hotel breakfast buffet, we hardly knew ye

© Martin Parr/Magnum Photos

With the news that hotels will be doing away with their breakfast buffets post-coronavirus, Joe Bish pays tribute to the joys of their mis-matched, reheated tidbits.

On the battlefield of the food YouTube comments section, a years-long war has been raging: just how wet should scrambled eggs be? According to the Gordon Ramsays of the world, the answer to that question is Very. On and off the hob, every half minute or so, barely allowing them to cook. A dollop of crème fraîche and a handful of chopped chives for colour. A big wet pile of sloppy creamy eggs please, garçon. To me, and the other soft-egg Allies, this is perfection. To the hard-egg Axis powers, however, this is what they would describe as egg soup”.

There’s a place of neutrality when it comes to scrambled eggs, a demilitarised zone where soup egg lovers and the rubber egg faithful can come together, and play their Christmas Day football match: the nirvana of the hotel breakfast buffet.

As if the Covid-19 pandemic had not claimed enough of our humanity already, hotels will now be doing away with their, apparently already unprofitable, breakfast buffets, as reported by The Times. They will be replaced by à la carte and pre-packaged” options, the latter a hideous phrase that conjures up images of the worst condensation-riddled sandwiches in their cling-filmed sarcophagi.

I mention eggs so heavily because, though they’re rarely the consistency you want them, it would take an iron heart to complain. Unless you’re some depressed businessman hopping from meeting to meeting across the continent, slapping some beans on your plate before getting indigestion in the Uber, the hotel breakfast buffet should stir excitement. Here we are, in Paris, in London, in Rome, in Budapest, in Barcelona. We’re about to go on an adventure that starts innocently at a museum and ends in paralytic shouting at some nice bar that doesn’t deserve it.

A luxurious breakfast is for billionaires and children… Adults don’t have time for joy in the morning, they have to wait until at least 12:30 for that”

The buffet, as a concept, is strange and exciting. Several hundred conflicting options, challenging you to be the master of your own destiny. Baked beans and Edam cheese? A bowl of cereal and a sausage sandwich? Boiled eggs and a blueberry muffin? You are God, finger poised on the various dials of your own character creation screen. The character you’ve gone for is ham and grapes guy”.

Not only does the breakfast buffet let you loose to be as disgusting as you want, it also serves as a kind of World’s Fair futurism exhibit. Strange contraptions that ferry bread through a conveyor, sliding down the back and emerging as toast. Industrial egg boilers, mass heating gadgets. Every morning is a meal with the Jetsons.

Outside of our unsustainably gluttonous full English”, the metropolitan British breakfast is generally a sad coffee with a sad bakery item. After all, a luxurious breakfast is for billionaires and children. Adults don’t have time for joy in the morning, they have to wait until at least 12:30 for that. Some countries, however, have breakfast in the blood. France, for instance, is a nation that knows what it wants, and what it wants for the most part is butter on and in everything. Buttery pastry, butter in the sauces, butter on the jambon-beurre, butter on the cheese. A trip to France, even outside of its hotel fare, will serve you up joyous breakfast treats one after the other.

And that’s the prevailing emotion with the hotel breakfast buffet: joy. It’s the freedom that comes with something leisurely, something where the looming presence of a waiter doesn’t panic you into picking something shit. It’s a micro holiday in and of itself, relaxing into a Frankestein’s platter of mis-matched, reheated tidbits. To lose them is a great tragedy, and speaks to a greater loss we will all be feeling culturally, intimately, in the years to come: the extinction of benign and thoughtless behaviour.

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