There are chances that you’ve stayed in a particular hotel specifically because you wanted the free continental breakfast, maybe you love to eat fluffy egg dishes or huge pancakes. And you might be disappointed when presented with options like a mug of coffee, a tiny banana-nut muffin, and a small bowl of fruit.

To some, it might not seem enough, especially if you’re used to made-to-order options for your day’s first meal. To others, this might be the right amount of food they need to start their day with.

Whatever you like, let’s take a deeper look at this popular breakfast option for travelers here in America, and let’s see how this free meal came into existence.

What is a continental breakfast?

This term was first used in the Sanitarian, in 1896. Still, the idea had been around for decades before then because American hotels made an effort to appeal to both middle-class travelers from America and Europe.

According to the website Merriam-Webster, Continental breakfast is a light break in a hotel, restaurant, etc. It includes typically baked goods, jam, coffee, and fruit. What’s common in these items is that they’re shelf-stable items that are available in portion sizes perfect for large groups of people.

Where does the term ‘continental breakfast’ come from?

The word continental breakfast originated in Great Britain in the mid-19th century. To Britishers, the word continent refers to the countries of mainland Europe. A continental breakfast is a type of breakfast that you’ll get in places like France and the Mediterranean. It’s a light and more delicate alternative to full English breakfast, which includes a plate of eggs, bacon, sausage, beans, toasts, tomatoes, and roasted mushrooms.

Continental breakfast was also a stark contrast to usual American breakfast, which included a large serving of eggs, breakfast meats, potatoes, toast, and pancakes. Europeans did not like American-style breakfast, and they found it too heavy and greasy. They wanted a more modest breakfast which included fruit, pastries, and bread. So American hotels started to add it to please the European travelers.

Why do hotels offer continental breakfast?

Hotels started offering continental breakfast because they are cost-effective for hotels. Hotels don’t need much staff to set up carafes of orange juice, trays of pastries, and bagels in the lobby, and it’s also easier to manage. And guests love free food.

Why is continental breakfast free?

In America’s traditional payment model, hotel guests use to eat all their meals in the hotel’s restaurants. The cost of the meals was included in the final bill at the end of their stay, which means room rent plus food expenses and other expenses.

However, as guests in America started to prefer cheaper and flexible dining arrangements, hotel owners began to adopt a European-style plan where meals were not included in the total cost of their stay. Guests only had to pay for their room.

Eventually, a hybrid plan emerged. It was known as the continental model to set it apart from the other pricing structures. In a continental-style hotel model, breakfast was included in the price of the room, but guests had to make their own arrangements for dinner and lunch. It is a standard model in most of the hotels around the world.

So, the next time you’re at a hotel and enjoying your complimentary pancakes while sipping your free cappuccino and reading your free magazine or newspaper, you’ll know how continental breakfast came to existence.