‘When you wake up in the morning Pooh,' said Piglet, ‘what’s the first thing you say to yourself?’ ‘What’s for breakfast?’ replied Pooh.
Breakfast should be a big event, but it is often under-played by hotels. I stayed last month in a posh place in Norfolk, and thought, after a good dinner and a quiet night in a comfortable bedroom, that it might be worth an entry in the Guide.
I sat down to breakfast full of hope because the menu boasted: ‘Freshly squeezed orange juice.' Sadly, when my glass of juice came, it was unmistakeably straight out of a packet. When I tetchily asked the waitress how it could be described as ‘freshly squeezed’, she insisted that it was, adding: ‘We buy it just down the road.' The definition of ‘freshly squeezed’ may be elastic, but this is a stretch too far. Hotels that charge £200 a night should squeeze their oranges with passion in the kitchen each morning.
It wouldn't cost a fortune, even if it is not done by hand. My not very rigorous research suggests that a big commercial squeezer can cost as much as £5,000, but one suitable for a small hotel can be bought for £500, and a second hand one for less. If the oranges are bought in bulk, a fair-size glass of freshly squeezed juice would cost less than £2, surely a reasonable investment for even a modest hotel. Guests like to be spoilt. If they want juice out of a packet, they can get that every day at home.
Breakfast is the last thing that a guest experiences before checkout, so it shouldn’t be just alright, it should be great. Memories are made of this, and they shouldn't include tired kippers, battery farm eggs, cold toast and supermarket jams. Most of the B&Bs in the Guide provide an excellent breakfast. They know that it is on what they will be judged. But all too often hotels, even otherwise good ones, leave it in the hands of junior staff and a harassed junior chef.
Coffee is crucial, and making it is not rocket science. But most hotel coffee is indifferent because the beans used are neither freshly roasted nor top quality. When I come across a place that is passionate about its coffee, I forgive a lot else. Nor do I mind whether it is made in an expensive Italian machine with lots of knobs or a cafetière. Both can produce excellent results.
Ditto with marmalade. If it says ‘home made’ on the menu, it should be made in the hotel’s kitchen. By far the best marmalade I have ever tasted is made by the owner of a Cornish village shop. It takes him more than five hours to make a batch of 23 pots.
Retail is detail so the saying goes. But so is hotel-keeping. It is the small touches, the excellent toast, the great coffee, the fantaqstic marmalade, the delicious scrambled eggs that one remembers. I acknowledge that not everyone is a marmalade or coffee snob. But as Pooh noted: there are few things more important than a good breakfast.