American journalist and author John Gunther wrote “All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast.” Breakfast is everything. The beginning, the first thing, the most important meal of the day. It is the mouthful that is the commitment to a new day, a continuing life.
American nutritionist Adelle Davis had famously said, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”
When you are brought up in a Bengali household, you are supposed to eat each meal, including the evening snacks, like a king hence you do not appreciate Ms Davis till you start travelling on work without your mother accompanying you!
Till my travelling came to an abrupt halt in March 2020, the one parameter that made me evaluate a hotel or B&B I stayed in on tour was the “breakfast”. I opted for loyalty programmes not for the number of stars but for the breakfast and the free wi-fi. I went back time and again to the same place when revisiting the city or town because of the breakfast. I recommended the same to my colleagues and friends for…you guessed it right…the breakfast!
When I mention “breakfast” it is not just about the food, but the entire eco-system created around it – the layout of the place, the people attending to you, the spread, the timing, and the flexibility built into the operation. These five factors, working as an orchestra, make up for a sumptuous symphonic meal. And it applies to whatever category of place you are putting up when on work, from a fancy seven star to a basic students’ lodge, from Toronto to Tirupur and everything in between and besides.
Leopold Senghor, a former president of Senegal had said, “Human rights start with breakfast.” With no real idea of what else did Senghor have an opinion on, I found this one quite apt. It is the first meal of the day. How it goes will more or less define the rest of the day. You need to visit the market, meet a client, negotiate a deal or make a presentation in a couple of hours from breakfast time. Hence if it puts you at ease and brings a smile to your face when you get up to get going, everything looks possible and positive.
The food ‘stations’ need to be at one side instead of scattering them all over to create the impression of literally being a spread!
The layout of the place is important. It needs to be orderly and modular. The food ‘stations’ need to be at one side instead of scattering them all over to create the impression of literally being a spread! The seating needs to be modular, with places for groups as well as individuals. I particularly liked one layout which had tables for three.
On asking, the manager said that they had noticed that most of the 4th seats at tables for four were unused, hence the decision as it creates more seating. Also, the visual of a triangular table looks different and quirky, hence appealing. I have always preferred the option of sitting out rather than in a closed area, especially in colder climes as it gives you fresh air right away in the morning!
Coming across a friendly face in the morning makes you approach the day better.
The people attending to you make a huge difference too. The Intercontinental in Frankfurt close to the Hauptbahnhof [main railway station] had multilingual people at the breakfast zone with their name badges mentioning the languages they conversed in. It immediately puts people at ease as it allows clearer communication and clarifications. Coming across a friendly face in the morning makes you approach the day better.
I have found the people at The Orchid in Mumbai very helpful without being unnecessarily interfering. They know about the distance to maintain – close enough for a call yet far enough to ensure you do not feel uneasy. Then there was the Chrome Hotel on AJC Bose Road in Kolkata where they greeted you by your name if you stayed long enough for them to recognise you.
The spread is at the centre of the entire eco-system called “breakfast”. It should be varied enough to reassure a Bengali mother that her child would eat like a king or queen for sure. I used to initially wonder at rice and noodles being served too but when I realised that some of us in parts of the world start our day with that, it all made sense. As did the ‘chhole bhatoore’ and ‘luchi torkaari’.
If the spread is limited in the case of smaller places, the menu has to be universal in nature with the option of made-to-order if customers have the time. Being stingy on fresh fruit, cereal and milk do not send out the right signal. Having a couple of local dishes and local seasonal fruits always helps as that is a sure way of tasting the cuisine of the place you visit at work. In Kolkata, I would like to taste Himsagar while it would be Banganapalle in Hyderabad during the mango season.
Breakfast zones also double up as the 24-hour café in most places therefore they seem to close down pretty early.
Breakfast zones also double up as the 24-hour café in most places therefore they seem to close down pretty early. Just an hour more actually brings customer delight. I remember this hotel in Kota that continued the breakfast menu well close to noon and it was a boon for all the salespeople who get up late after a night out drinking with customers or network partners. Timing is crucial for a breakfast zone. It has to start real early for those taking morning flights with the option of packed breakfasts. And continue till late morning to delight the late risers. I remember the Leonardo Hotel in Hannover, next to the airport, that was popular for its breakfast boxes.
Flexibility is the final but equally critical brass piece in the symphony called breakfast.
Flexibility is the final but equally critical brass piece in the symphony called breakfast. It can stretch from tailoring the spread to transforming the breakfast zone into another space at the snap of a finger. The tiny Hotel de Prony on Rue de Prony in Paris incorporated some of my suggestions in their breakfast spread to accommodate my tastebuds as I would typically stay for months there. It tied up with a Pakistani restaurant to add parathas on weekends!
The Best Western at Gare du Nord, again in Paris used to switch into a workspace once all have had their breakfast, with each table having electrical connections and chargers to allow us to work for hours and also hold meetings there. A clever way of generating more revenue as we would order something or the other as we worked, and nobody minded that at all!
And then there was a hotel in Hamamatsu in Japan where they had a live tempura station at breakfast time itself on some occasions which I forget. This was an utter delight as we had heard so much about this Japanese favourite adopted from the Portuguese missionaries. We gaped at the master chef going about the amazing rituals of presentation and drama in batter frying prawns, onion rings and eggplant strips into a golden delectable delight to be enjoyed with tentsuyu sauce. My colleague who also happened to be a Bengali bit into a piece and exclaimed, “Dada, this is just like our piyaji and beguni! Joy guru!!”We were, quite obviously, late for our meeting.
(Avik Chattopadhyay is co-creator of Expereal India. Also, he is the former head of marketing, product planning, and PR at Volkswagen India. He was associated with Maruti Suzuki, Apollo Tyres, and Groupe PSA as well.)
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