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Dining at the Complimentary Buffet

One of the curiosities of travel is the complimentary buffet at the hotel.  If I have a travel rule, it’s to stay in places that offer at minimum a decent breakfast.  This is becoming increasingly common in most mid-priced hotel chains, probably because people like me turn our nose up at continental breakfasts of toast and mini muffins in favor of hot breakfast options.  Lump the $5 you lay out to feed me into my hotel bill, but don’t expect me to dance in the lobby for white bread and grape jelly. Microwave eggs? That’s not hot breakfast where I come from.

But I can look the other way on a few things with breakfast. Robust coffee cures a lot of affronts to the senses. Dinner is a different animal.  Candidly I try to go out for dinner whenever I travel, but sometimes you’re stuck at the hotel making the most of what they offer you.  A full kitchen in these circumstances is highly desirable, but for value there’s something to be said for the complimentary dinner buffet too.  Some days it’s not bad at all, with Italian or Szechuan food that seems anything but “free”, it’s actually “good”! But for every delightful international spin at the buffet table, you’re subjected to the uninspired cheapest option they can serve you that they can get away with. Like last night’s lukewarm ham and bean soup and wilted salad. After experiencing that combo I promptly walked down the street for a fast food chain’s chicken sandwich. It takes a lot for me to make that kind of leap.

I found myself in this fine dining hotel for two nights in a row, and tonight featured two kinds of pasta and a salad bar. It wasn’t all that bad, with the Alfredo option full of fresh (to me) vegetables and a light cheese sauce that didn’t overpower the dish. Two nights, same kitchen, two very different experiences. Hit or miss, to be sure, but what do you want for nothing? I don’t make a habit of grazing at the complimentary buffet, but now and then you hit it just right.

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