Roadtesting the (Free) Motel Breakfasts

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Here is your choice. You are staying in Texarkana, Tex. and you could sleep in a Courtyard by Marriott. Or, 300 feet away, there is a TownePlace Suites, also by Marriott, Which is your pick?

The free breakfast at TownePlace Suites won me (at Courtyard, there's an à la carte menu), and a secret of many hardened roadwarriors is that we are suckers for free breakfast.

That's the surprise: every morning across America millions of travelers are wolfing down free breakfasts served up by motels and hotels.

Millions more, staying in the wrong motels and hotels, are shelling out $10 and more per day for breakfasts that are no better than the freebies.

Which group do you belong in?

Know this: not all free breakfasts are created equal (some are only cold items, others have lavish hot buffets). But many are very tasty - and varied - as suddenly breakfasts have emerged as a prime battleground especially among low-end hotels and motels. A bed is a bed...but fresh made waffles, now we are talking differences that matter.

Consider this your primer on free morning eats for frugal guests.

Skeptical that it could possibly be delicious?

Consider what may be the best free breakfast in the land: Hyatt Place's Kitchen Skillet Breakfast. "I think this is a great chain with healthful choices for breakfast," said nutritionist Stacy Goldberg, CEO of food consulting company Savorfull in Detroit. "They always have fresh fruit including bananas, with peanut butter as an option. They have an oatmeal bar with sliced almonds and nuts, as well as egg white sandwiches. They put the calorie counts on all of the sandwiches for both consuming the whole sandwich and open faced. They also have cereals -- non-sugar options -- as well as whole wheat toast available."

At the North Phoenix Hyatt Place, the current rate is under $90 per night

There are other favorites.

Joel Cormier, head men's hockey coach at Eastern Kentucky University in Richmond, Ky., said his favorite for housing his players - on a limited budget - is Marriott's Fairfield Inns. Said Cormier, that chain's draw is "the selection of fruit, yogurt and chocolate milk - perfect for anybody with a sports team."

The chain itself stresses that there is more than that to eat. According to its marketing material, breakfast consists of "scrambled eggs, sausage and oatmeal...Belgian waffles, bacon, biscuits & gravy, sausage or turkey Canadian bacon. Morning cereals, seasonal fruit, yogurt, hard boiled eggs and an assortment of bread and muffins are also available."

The tab for a night at the Franklin Township, N.J. location - maybe 50 miles from Manhattan - is $119. Breakfast included.

Cormier, incidentally, delivered a body check to one motel purveyor of free breakfasts, dissing the entire Super 8 chain: "'You get what you pay for' seems to translate into the breakfast menu," he sniffed.

That chain brags on its toaster waffles, fruit cups, dried cereals and more - but having eaten there myself, I have to admit my vote is with Cormier.

Donna Wheeler, a director of sales and marketing for Destination Hotels in Hawaii, casts her ballot for Country Inn and Suites (no affiliation with Destination), where she stayed when on business in Schaumburg, Ill. Wheeler explained why: "It had abundant choices of cold and hot items – eggs, sausages and pancakes or french toast, fresh strawberries with whipped cream, other fruit, toast and assorted pastries. What I noticed is that they had Asian breakfast items like rice, furikake, miso soup – I saw their Asian business clients enjoying these items, as I did, coming from Hawaii."

A room fetches around $114 at that hotel.

At TownePlace Suites, the menu is much more minimal. Cereals, muffins, fresh fruit, coffee, and, where I stayed, there also was yogurt and bagels with cream cheese. That stripped down menu, by the way, is a motel baseline and - frankly - it is a lot more appealing than the rubbery steamtable scrambled eggs and greasy bacon found in some motels. The latter might be free, but the heart disease that follows won't be.

Many votes also were cast for Drury Inn's QUICKSTART breakfast. In the chain's description, "Hot means sausage and eggs, not bread and a toaster. Our hot breakfast includes scrambled eggs, sausage, Belgian waffles, biscuits and gravy. Plus fresh fruit, bagels, pastries, juices, hot and cold cereals, toast, milk, coffee, tea and more."

Strip away the marketing breathlessness, and multiple sources told MainStreet that when they have the choice, they always pick Drury's, citing breakfast as a big plus.

At the Woodlands, Tex. Drury Inn rooms usually go for around $200 per night.

Other chains that win loud praise for free breakfasts are Holiday Inn Express and La Quinta Inns.

So now you know. There are no free lunches, but there are plenty of free breakfasts.

--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet

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