Beginning The Day With Breakfast Buffets
Unique service items, safe hot-holding capabilities, satellite cook stations and signature items to help create appetizing displays are all elements operators need to consider when offering breakfast buffets to customers.
Chef begins preparation for breakfast buffet service at Cafe 4750 at the Ritz-Carlton's Amelia Island Resort.
Popular at locations including hotel and resort dining rooms, catered conventions and noncommercial facilities such as colleges and universities, self-serve breakfast buffets offer advantages for both customers and operators. Buffet menu items such as scrambled eggs, pancakes and breakfast meats may be prepared in kitchens in bulk, presented in facilities' hot-holding equipment and re-stocked by staff as needed. Frequently, a display-cooking station offering custom omelets or other cooked-to-order breakfast items is now included with buffet options. Whether mobile or fixed, a variety of equipment may be utilized by operators to serve breakfast buffet menus successfully.
The historic Sagamore Hotel, Bolton Landing, N.Y., has been a favorite resort destination for visitors to the Adirondack Mountains for over 100 years. Resort guests can enjoy breakfast, either la carte or self-serve buffet style, every morning in the hotel's dining room, which features expansive views of nearby Lake George.
"Buffet-type meal service has advantages for both operators and customers," affirmed the Sagamore's Ted Bearor, assistant director of restaurant operations. "Customers can make food choices in any combination that they want, take the portions that they desire and serve themselves and dine at their own speed, not determined by service from the kitchen, which is especially convenient when eating with kids," Bearor continued. "Buffets can also be dining service revenue-builders as operators can accommodate more covers per meal and simplify dining operations."
The breakfast buffet at the Sagamore has recently undergone some organizational changes thanks to Dawn McKinley, assistant dining manager, who changed the flow of service by separating hot and cold buffet menu items. Hot breakfast items such as scrambled eggs, cheese blintzes, fresh blueberry pancakes and breakfast potatoes are prepared in a spacious kitchen adjacent to the dining room and are displayed for self-service at one buffet table in gleaming silver heated chafing dishes from the Sagamore's extensive banquet servery equipment collection, along with appropriate silver serving spoons and tongs. Display-cooked omelets are also available from a separate station in the dining room, where Chef Walter Jones mans two butane-fueled portable burners, preparing omelets in expertly cured pans for guests who may choose from fillings displayed in bowls in front of the station.
The cold buffet table offers items such as bagels, breads and pastries with a self-serve toaster, accompanying jams and jellies, and a platter of lox, cream cheese and sliced tomato and onion. Multiple silver bowls of fresh fruit are presented, as are cereals along with yogurt and milk in small containers displayed in a large metal bowl embedded in ice. "Our buffet food basically sells itself, but 'eye appeal' in the presentation is very important," said McKinley. "We've added some aesthetic touches, such as rustic Adirondack-style wood and wicker baskets for bagels, pastries and fruit to complement our glass and silver service items, and some antique signage and greenery to spruce up the presentation. Adding risers and tiered platters to the buffet presentation also presents food items at different eye levels, creating a more interesting and appetizing display."
Breakfast buffets may also be catered for meetings at satellite locations on the Sagamore's grounds. For these special group breakfasts, portable carts are used extensively, including hot-holding carts loaded with trays of food items prepared in the kitchen and "stewarding" carts with built-in storage areas for cold food items and smallwares, which can be covered with linen tablecloths and used as buffet service tables.
The Sagamore Hotel Chef Walter Jones prepares omelets to order for a breakfast buffet at a separate station containing butane-powered portable burners.
The Ritz-Carlton hotel chain typically offers specialty buffet breakfasts at all of its worldwide locations. At the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Amelia Island, Fla., buffet breakfasts feature Southern-style specialties, including cheese grits, biscuits and sage sausage gravy, applewood smoked bacon and country cured ham, as well as basics such as scrambled eggs with chives, pancakes, potatoes, fresh fruit, bagels, pastries and yogurt. The buffet is offered n the Hotel's Café 4750 every morning and at catered banquets.
"We use the casual atmosphere and the natural ocean-side beauty of our location as a backdrop for our catered breakfast buffet service," said Erin Pazetta, banquet operations coordinator for Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island. "Rather than more formal silver chafers, we use unique teakwood koas, handmade in Hawaii for buffet menu service. The teakwood rectangles sit on covered pedestals with metal interiors that contain two liquid-fuel heating elements. Metal pans with about 1/2" of water sit inside the wooden koa to distribute heat evenly to menu items. This design has proved effective at providing protection from the elements during outdoor buffets, and the wooden koas also serve to retain heat more efficiently than metal chafing dishes." Koas are used for hot-holding most items served at special buffet banquets except for biscuits, which are held under heat lamps, and the accompanying gravy, which is held in a bain marie.
Breakfast buffet at the Sagamore Hotel dining room includes separate cold buffet and hot buffet tables. Cold buffet items are arranged at different levels for access and eye appeal. Hot buffet items are held in silver, liquid fuel-heated chafing dishes.
The backbone of everyday breakfast buffet menu preparation at Café 4750 is an island station equipped with eight electric induction-style burners, as well as a smaller, two-burner induction station. The smaller hot island functions as a display-cooking station where a chef may prepare omelets to order, as well as specialty items such as seafood frittatas. The larger island provides hot-holding for self-service of prepared breakfast items. The power behind induction cooking is an induction coil that sits beneath a ceramic cooktop that, when supplied with an electric current, creates a magnetic field that heats a pan by exciting its molecules. Special cookware and holding pans that also contain magnetic elements are, therefore, essential to induction cooking and holding. At Café 4750, this necessary metal content is provided by a line of French cookware used at the induction stations. "There are many advantages for us in the use of the induction burners in the café's buffet," said Jason Goodnite, assistant café manager. "They're extremely safe, create no ambient heat and offer precise temperature control. We set burners for 150°F. for hot-holding of buffet items, and can be confident that food will be maintained at safe holding temperatures."
Notre Dame University in South Bend, Ind., provides an example of a self-serve-style breakfast buffet where equipment is permanently installed and cross-utilized for different menus at different meal times. The two student dining halls at Notre Dame are configured with serving stations where much of the equipment is visible out front and is used to display-prepare cook-to-order items. While student numbers for breakfast meals are the lowest of the day, according to David Prentkowski, Notre Dame's director of dining services, about 2,000 students are served breakfast in each dining hall on a typical day, a relatively high volume of breakfast service compared to that at other types of facilities. Some breakfast offerings are available for students all day in the dining halls, to accommodate those who desire these items at unconventional times.
Staff member restocks hot-holding chafing dish with cheese blintzes, prepared in an adjacent Sagamore Hotel kitchen, for buffet service.
During breakfast hours at the university's dining halls, gas-fired flat top grills are utilized to prepare eggs and omelets to order. Students may choose from a variety of fillings, which are stored in refrigerated wells in front of the station, to be added to their omelets. Self-serve electric waffle irons are a popular preparation item in Notre Dame's dining halls. Supported by containers of batter in refrigerated wells along with a ladle and measuring cup, students can prepare their own fresh, hot waffles by following laminated instruction sheets located at this station.
At breakfast time, fresh fruit is available at the dining halls' refrigerated salad bar station, and fruit juice is always available at beverage stations. Drip coffees, including decaf and a flavored "gourmet style," are prepared in gallon-capacity brewers and transferred by staff to airpots, which are distributed to various locations in the dining halls, along with hot water and tea bags, to offer diners convenient, self-serve refills.
During breakfast service at Notre Dame University, the grill station is used to prepare egg dishes to order.
A custom-built cabinetry cereal station offers students 25 different types, which are available throughout service hours. "We wanted this station to be designed to suggest a home kitchen environment," said Prentkowski, "and the base area of the cabinet offers space for bulk storage of cereals." The station also includes a milk dispenser, separate from the dispenser found at the beverage station, for serving convenience.
Permanently installed steam tables in dining rooms are used at breakfast time to hold menu items such as breakfast meats, potatoes and special menu items such as breakfast sandwiches, which are pre-prepared in the facility's back kitchen and re-stocked by staff as needed. "We have an extensive food safety and HACCP program in our university dining halls, and staff also check all held foods' temperatures periodically to make sure we're maintaining safe temperatures, and clean and sanitize stations such as the waffle irons," explained Prentkowski.
- Liquid fuel-heated chafing dishes
- Serving spoons
- Serving tongs
- Butane-fueled portable burners
- Omelet pans
- Glass and metal bowls
- Wooden and wicker bowls
- Serving platters
- Portable hot-holding carts
- Stewarding carts
- Liquid fuel-heated koas
- Heat lamps
- Bain marie
- Induction burners
- Induction-compatible cookware
- Flat top grill
- Electric waffle irons
- Refrigerated wells
- Custom-built wood cabinet
- Beverage dispenser
- Gallon-capacity coffee brewer
- Steam tables