December 4, 2023

Healthy Breakfast

I really like this Healthy Breakfast

The 10 best free hotel breakfasts across the US

If you’re reading this, send Pepto Bismol, because I am still full and my stomach hurts.

Over the course of a week, I’ve eaten more waffles, eggs, egg products and oatmeal than one should possibly be allowed to — all for the sake of journalism.

You see, as prices for everything from hotels to gas have been skyrocketing this summer, it’s more important than ever to take advantage of every perk available along with those pricey hotel rooms, starting with the most important meal of the day: breakfast.

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There are plenty of hotel chains that offer free breakfast to all guests, but which ones are even worth the stomach space? Which ones serve something better than questionable melon mixes, muffins as dry as the Mojave Desert, scrambled eggs that are more soup than solid and, God forbid, bad coffee?

We at TPG wanted to find the best free hotel breakfast of them all.

To determine the top hotel breakfasts available, I checked into 10 of the most popular hotel chains that offer a truly free breakfast to every guest in every room to see which ones are the best.

While my credentials as a senior hotel reporter at TPG and my deep, deep love for breakfast certainly qualified me for this very unscientific ranking, we also thought it would be helpful to call in an expert. So, we tapped social influencer, professional eater, trained chef and food journalist Shay Spence to repeat the test at the hotels that yours truly determined to be the top three contenders and to help crown the winner.

Here are the results of TPG’s Battle of the Free Breakfast.

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How we found the best free hotel breakfast

Before we delve into the rankings, let me explain a little more about how we conducted this test.

Since I’m based in New York City, it was easy to find what I’ll call “clumpings” of hotels in roughly the same area. Once I charted out which properties we wanted to zero in on, I checked into multiple hotels a night, including three near LaGuardia Airport (LGA), two by Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), one in Newark away from the airport, two in NYC’s Long Island City neighborhood and two in midtown Manhattan. (There was also one hotel that duped me and didn’t actually offer a hot breakfast as advertised, so always call ahead to confirm.)

Each night, I’d time which breakfast started the earliest to decide where I needed to sleep. The next morning, I hit the different breakfasts in a greasy, sugary, highly caffeinated and waffle batter-covered sprint.

After narrowing down the list to the top three hotel breakfasts, our food expert Shay repeated the process in sunny Miami.

What makes a free hotel breakfast the best?

To compare each hotel’s free breakfast, we looked at a number of different factors using some obvious metrics (like which hotel offers the largest variety of choices), input from our readers (who offered a lot of opinions on what makes a free breakfast good) and how things tasted.

Specifically, we considered four key criteria:

  • Variety: How many options of hot foods, proteins, cereals, fruits, bread and pastries, yogurts, juices, coffees and teas, condiments and more were available?
  • Dietary friendly: Were there options available for a wide swath of dietary restrictions, including non-dairy milk or yogurts, gluten-free bread or pastries, vegan items and the like?
  • Presentation: Was the breakfast area clean and organized? Were the foods labeled so guests knew exactly what they were putting on their plates?
  • Taste: How did it all taste?

While I tried to be uniform in applying these standards to each hotel I visited, the reality of the situation is that all of my reviews were based on my particular stay at that particular hotel on that particular day.

Although most of these brands offer some sort of standard guidelines on how to operate breakfast at each of their locations, there’s always going to be some deviation. Someone might have run up right before you and snagged all the cinnamon rolls or, as I witnessed at one hotel, poured so much batter in a waffle maker that it erupted like Mount Vesuvius and had to be decommissioned for a bit.

If anything, the takeaway here is that some hotels offer a solid free breakfast lineup that can fill you up and save a large family some serious cash if you take full advantage. However, others are a pretty big letdown; so much so that you’d be better off snagging a 99-cent sausage biscuit at a nearby McDonald’s.

Now, as the bacon overlords have ordered, read on for the oh-so-official rankings of the best free hotel breakfast.

10. Comfort Inn

Coming in last out of the brands we tested, my breakfast at Comfort Inn was truly miserable.

If you love mediocre-tasting carbs, your experience may be a little more pleasant since this buffet was heavy on unlabeled bread, bagels and muffins.

I gave bonus points to the waffle station since it had an iron that made four mini waffles that could be split up easily for kids or give guests the option to make just one tiny portion. I was excited to see strawberry waffle mix but quickly concluded that it was “disgusting and absolutely should not exist,” as I wrote in my notes.

For proteins, the premade cheese omelet tasted like a knockoff Kraft single in a rubber envelope.

Worst of all, the sausage that I assume was pork had an unnaturally grainy texture. Tasting it nearly derailed my entire morning of breakfast evaluation and left me feeling nauseated. I would have loved to wash down that horrible experience with a glass of tangy orange juice, but the juice machine was out of order.

Related: Get five elite status levels with one credit card

9. Hyatt Place

Hyatt Place offered what could have been a really great breakfast, but this particular one dropped the ball.

There were a few hot options, including sausage, premade cheese omelets and hash browns. Unfortunately, the hash browns were greasy and lacked flavor, which might have been salvageable with ketchup or hot sauce, but neither was anywhere to be found. The cheese omelet was spongy and cold despite sitting in the heated food area, and the sausage, which I again assume was pork, was dry but at least had a nice flavor.

There were four different types of bagels on offer here but no sliced bread.

Butter, cream cheese, grape jelly and Nutella were also missing, so there was nothing to add to your bagel. If I’d been more enterprising, I could have combined the everything bagel with the sausage and egg to make a tastier breakfast sandwich to hide the blandness of it all.

I was glad to see diced peaches, almond milk and Dannon Light + Fit 50-calorie yogurt as healthier alternatives, but I was shocked that decaf coffee was nowhere to be found. Also, the individual green apples wrapped in plastic were a strange addition, though probably good for folks heading out for a packed day who wanted a shrink-wrapped, healthy snack.

Related: What’s Hyatt elite status worth?

8. La Quinta by Wyndham

My breakfast at La Quinta got a lot of things right, including a very clean space and a great assortment of classic breakfast staples, such as three types of cereals, various fruits and a waffle maker with whipped cream and even sugar-free syrup.

What was different about this setup, for better or worse, was that it also had breakfast items like Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese biscuits and bagels that you could heat up in a microwave. Personally, I liked the individually wrapped items so I could read the nutritional information and know exactly what I was eating. What wasn’t fun was waiting for the single microwave to be available for use with all the other hungry patrons.

There was also a good assortment of bread and bagels, along with spreads like butter, Nutella and miscellaneous jams. Some other condiments like ketchup, mustard and hot sauce were available, too. (I couldn’t help but wonder: What exactly do folks do with mustard at breakfast?)

One thing I loved about this La Quinta outpost was that, despite its juice machine being out of order, the fridge had gallons of Tropicana orange juice for people to pour themselves. Other upscale edibles included Chobani yogurts, Almond Breeze almond milk and a nice staff member keeping things clean and chatting with guests.

7. Fairfield by Marriott

My breakfast at Fairfield was the perfect example of how things sometimes taste way better than they look. Case in point? The nondescript breakfast quiche that sort of looked like a really burned cheddar biscuit from Red Lobster … but also a very ill potato.

Thankfully, it was actually very tasty, light and clearly on the healthier side thanks to a green ingredient, despite there being no indication of what that ingredient actually was. (My best guess was spinach?)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, at least for hot food, was a delicious, premade chocolate-chip waffle that was sweet enough that it didn’t need syrup (though regular syrup and whipped cream were available).

Other main dishes included some sort of premade cheese bagel that reminded me of snacks I made myself at the age of 10, a blueberry scone so dry and chewy that my jaw got tired after one single bite and preheated Jimmy Dean sausage, egg and cheese croissants, which are always trusty, though the croissant itself was a little ragged after sitting in a heated dish too long.

There was also an oatmeal station, though the oatmeal was very bland if you didn’t doctor it at the topping station with nuts, shredded coconut and raisins. Starbucks coffee was a big win, but the orange juice was basically flavored water.

Related: Award travelers guide to the Marriott Bonvoy program

6. Hampton by Hilton

At my stop for breakfast at Hampton, I was truly impressed by how the brand labeled everything, making it clear and easy to understand the options.

During this breakfast, I knew the sausage was actually turkey sausage, and it was fresh and flavorful. The French toast sticks were a fun (albeit chewy) alternative to the mess of making my own waffle. But for research purposes (and my love of sugar), I went ahead and tried both of the hotel’s available waffle mixes: malted vanilla and banana nut bread.

Honestly, I liked them both — and someone else must have, too, as I later saw that the entire waffle station had been cleared out and the residue of a flood of waffle batter caked the area.

The seemingly now-standard cheese omelets were on offer, but they were once again too rubbery for my liking. Still, they were better than disgusting powdered eggs.

Danishes, blueberry muffins and various kinds of bread to toast made for another carb-heavy meal, but Quaker oatmeal with a small but classic set of toppings (brown sugar, raisins and pecans) and yogurt were available as two of the only healthy-ish options.

Was it a totally knockout meal? No. But did I appreciate that subtle unique takes like two flavors of waffles, French toast sticks and even more juice choices than just orange and apple? You betcha.

Related: How to choose the best Hilton credit card for you

5. SpringHill Suites

SpringHill Suites had a nice mix of everything, earning it a spot in the middle of the pack.

What I liked about this breakfast was that it had staples like a waffle station with pre-filled cups of regular batter (so there was no guessing how much you’d need, decreasing the likelihood of encountering a Wafflegeddon situation) and various name-brand cereals.

It also had a solid assortment of not-so-typical items like sausage, egg and cheese everything bagel sandwiches, cupped spinach quiches and fluffy but dry cheddar biscuits.

Additionally, there was an advertised station where you could make your own breakfast bowl with scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, salsa and fresh spinach. Sadly, when I was there, there were no eggs, salsa or shredded cheese. While spinach and slices of cheese (the items that were available) are certainly light and healthy options that could pair well with the yogurt, bananas and oranges on offer, it was still a bit of a bummer to not have the true make-your-own-breakfast-bowl experience.

What really set this breakfast apart from others in this list, though, was the condiment station that allowed for more customization and flavor for what could otherwise be pretty generic options.

As a native Texan, I was obsessed with the Classic Blue Agave Sriracha from my favorite hot sauce company Yellowbird, which went great on the bagel sandwich. Other condiments included Cholula hot sauce, Tabasco, Dickinson’s Sweet ‘n’ Hot Pepper & Onion Relish, sugar-free syrup and mango dessert sauce to top the waffles and even a sea salt grinder. For oatmeal, there were at least seven different add-ons, including nuts, raisins and shredded coconut.

My one complaint here was the weak coffee (very, very weak). It was nowhere close to adequate enough to kick-start a busy travel day.

Related: This may be our favorite SpringHill Suites — and it’s in the shadow of Zion

4. Holiday Inn Express

I have to be honest, of all 10 hotel breakfasts I tried, none scorned me like Holiday Inn Express.

Don’t get me wrong, it was clearly great to earn one of the higher slots on this list, but the location I visited was out of Cinnabon cinnamon rolls. That’s one of the brand’s staples, and I was looking forward to that sweet, ooey-gooey goodness.

Beyond that cinnamon roll letdown, though, everything else was pretty great.

For starters, the buffet was clean, well organized and clearly labeled. I was pretty impressed with all the hot foods. The scrambled eggs weren’t super fluffy, but they tasted better than they looked. The cheese omelets were sitting in too much liquid for my liking and fell apart when I picked one up, but tasted fine, though weirdly buttery. The turkey sausage links were a bit dry, probably from sitting out, but they had the right flavor for this breakfast sausage-loving fool; however, the ground pork sausage was too chewy and overcooked.

The highlight of this breakfast was having the freedom to make what you want with any of the items available. In the end, I mixed up the ground pork sausage and scrambled eggs with salt, pepper and Frank’s RedHot sauce to make a nice little bowl.

Other pluses included fun kids’ options like Cap’n Crunch cereal and Danimals yogurt, as well as the healthy alternatives, including Dannon Light+Fit yogurts, hard-boiled eggs wrapped up in pairs and individual packets of sugar-free syrup and Silk almond milk.

The coffee cake was fluffy, sugary and warm, too. It (almost) made up for the lack of cinnamon rolls.

Related: The new IHG Rewards one program benefits

3. Homewood Suites by Hilton

At Homewood Suites, the scene was chaos.

I was in midtown Manhattan, it was the weekend of every major NYC university graduation and it seemed like every guest had decided to hit breakfast at the exact same time. That said, the staff at the hotel did an incredible job keeping each food station refilled and stocked, clearing out plates and changing out the coffee as we all desperately gulped down caffeine.

Despite the herd of hungry travelers, Homewood Suites did a few things right. This started with offering a number of warm options like some pretty great breakfast potatoes that were nice and crispy, a fried egg that was greasy but so much better than the rubbery cheese omelets I refuse to ever eat again and waffle sticks that were droopy from sitting out but less messy than using a waffle machine. While the corned beef hash was, er, what I imagine my corgi’s dog food tastes like, the other warm options made for a filling meal.

I was glad to also find a warm banana nut muffin, thick orange juice and pretty decent coffee.

At the bread station, toast and bagels were toasted more quickly thanks to an industrial-style toaster that could accommodate more items than a standard pop-up one, saving everyone in the crowded space the headache of hovering over each other.

On the healthy eating front, there was a basic oatmeal station, though with fewer toppings than others I had visited. Available items included yogurt, granola and that weird melon mix that makes everyone uncomfortable, but surprisingly tasted fine.

All in all, there were several solid options to enjoy.

2. Residence Inn by Marriott

When I checked into the Residence Inn by the airport in Newark, my heart sank as the receptionist told me that the breakfast offering served every morning was a grab-and-go bag — even though I had confirmed beforehand that it wasn’t.

Luckily, that receptionist was wrong.

When I went into the lobby the next morning, I was delighted to find one of the best free breakfasts I’d seen yet. There was an incredible selection of hot breakfast items and I nearly cried when I saw, for the first and only time during this experiment, proper iced coffee — and it was good!

For hot food items, Residence Inn serves preheated, wrapped options that I found truly delicious and less questionable than a lot of the other breakfasts.

I particularly loved the Green Chile Food Company’s egg, chorizo and cheddar cheese breakfast burrito, though I did wonder if such a heavy, messy and spicy breakfast item would be the best choice for a guest’s stomach on a busy travel day. The Jimmy Dean sausage biscuit was classic and delicious, and the ham, cheese and pepper omelet was the best of the premade options I had across all the hotels I visited.

I also enjoyed a blueberry scone with big, flakey bites of sugar, the Grower’s Pride orange juice that didn’t taste as watered down as most of the others I’d tried and an egg quiche that once again had an unidentifiable green ingredient that I assume was spinach and which tasted delicious.

Personally, chocolate muffins are not on my breakfast wish list, but I noticed plenty of people scarfing them down next to me while others munched on healthier options like oatmeal with blueberry compote, walnuts and other toppings. Even better for people with more restrictive dietary needs, there was Silk oat milk and Lactaid lactose-free milk.

Overall, it was truly a standout breakfast for me.

Related: The 11 hotel breakfasts we’d order every day if we could

1. Embassy Suites by Hilton

For my No. 1 pick, I chose — drum roll, please — Embassy Suites.

I’m not shocked this was my favorite because I already knew that it’s the only free breakfast that has a made-to-order omelet station, a huge perk in my book.

For my omelet, I went for a classic ham and cheese, and the line cook made it perfectly. But if you want to be a little more adventurous, you can, thanks to options like mushrooms, jalapenos, spinach, peppers, onions, tomatoes, sausage and bacon. He could even make an egg white omelet or a fresh pancake.

Beyond the made-to-order station, I found everything else simply better than its competition: There were fluffy scrambled eggs, premade omelets, bacon that was delicious (albeit a little floppy), breakfast sausage and even home fries that were crispy and tasty. For a healthier breakfast, there was cantaloupe that wasn’t in a weird melon gloop mix and pineapple, as well as yogurt and oatmeal with a great assortment of toppings.

Other highlights included a soda fountain with Coke products (we love Diet Coke at TPG, even at 6 a.m.), four different types of Sunkist juices, lots of prepackaged baked goods, different types of toast or English muffins, salsa that was great with the eggs and even an electric coffee machine that could make “bold” coffees or an iced coffee. To be honest, the iced coffee didn’t blow me away, but I was glad it was available.

Ultimately, Embassy Suites’ free breakfast really sets itself apart with the number of offerings it has, making it a terrific spot for all types of travelers — especially families or groups with varying tastes and preferences. And with all those choices, including made-to-order items, you’re really getting a great value out of your breakfast considering how much you’d pay for an omelet at the IHOP down the street.

Now the question is: Did our food expert, influencer and former food editor Shay Spence, agree with my findings?

The grand champion winner is …

With the top three free breakfasts decided in the NYC area, Shay hit the road in Miami to crown the official winner of the ‘TPG Battle of the Free Breakfasts’. He stopped in at our top three picks: Homewood Suites, Residence Inn and Embassy Suites.

At Residence Inn, Shay said the scrambled eggs stole the show, but the premade waffle was a “major no.”

Homewood Suites “was kind of popping off, actually,” according to Shay, and having a do-it-yourself waffle maker gave it an early edge. However, in his book, the limited oatmeal toppings and lack of any non-dairy milk options took that lead away.

At Embassy Suites, real meats like bacon and sausage upstaged a lackluster pancake, but the option to “get your veggies in” at the build-your-own-omelet station, plus the use of real plates rather than paper or plastic, pushed it into his top breakfast spot.

But really — you have to watch this scrambled egg showdown for yourself.

So now, by the power vested in me by the bacon overlords, Shay’s expert taste buds and The Points Guy himself, we present to you the twice-confirmed winner of ‘TPG’s Battle of the Best Free Hotel Breakfast’: Embassy Suites by Hilton.

Now excuse us while we turn to green juice for a little while. But before long we’ll be back on the road and be sure and wave at other budget-conscious and hungry travelers from the Embassy Suites fresh omelet station.