My favourite part of staying in hotels is hotel breakfast. Breakfast food, or at least the breakfast food I traditionally eat, is some of the simplest to prepare, but I really love it when someone else scrambled those eggs or fried that bacon for me. I genuinely look forward to it every time I travel.
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This week Quartz ran a story where the writer suggested having breakfast as a way to get to know a new place. I had never really thought about the idea before reading the piece, but after a bit of thought realised that it's a practice I've been doing for years.
In most cases when I travel I'm alone and travelling for work, with just a few hours of free time each day to really get to know a place. I always head down to the hotel restaurant (presuming there is one) to have a sit-down breakfast there, read the paper, and do a little people watching.
The Quartz writer suggests heading to a fancy hotel, which is well and good but probably not necessary. She suggests doing so to watch the service, which doesn't really excite me but if it does you then you should absolutely try it out. Instead, I would suggest finding a place where you're going to be waited on rather than going to the buffet, but beyond that, it doesn't need to be super fancy.
The key no matter where you go: Talk to people.
When you're alone at a restaurant I've found that the waitstaff is typically pretty interested in talking to you (you don't have anyone else to talk to, right?). Make small talk. Ask them if they're from the area, see how they think you should spend your free time that day. Locals are always going to have the best suggestions for things to do, and will often point out time-specific highlights such as a neighbourhood festival or special event that you won't find out about in guidebooks and web searches.
If you do end up at that hotel buffet, ask the guy making your omelette.
Yes, you could ask a concierge at your hotel the same question, but they're likely to point you to more formal recommendations or suggest places the hotel might have a partnership with. With the waiter, you're getting an honest answer to what he would do in your shoes for the day.
The same trick also works with taxi drivers. I make a point to chat with Uber drivers whenever I'm on a trip. In most cases, I'm visiting a place because I'm working on a story about a brewery or distillery in the area. The driver will often tell me about a local trend, bar, or even a new up and coming brewery I haven't heard of.
I've travelled with way too many people who want to grab a to-go pastry and hit the town in the morning rather than have breakfast. It's the most important meal of the day, and when you're travelling it can be important for more than just food.