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Musings on Eating and Drinking in Fancy Hotels

I’ve written before about the challenges of eating while attending work conferences (conference food part 1 and part 2). But on my most recent trip, I noticed a couple of new oddities that got me thinking.

Fancy vs. regular hotel

Have you ever stayed in a fancy hotel? If so, you may have noticed an oddity about them: in some ways, they don’t offer as many amenities as regular hotels. Especially when it comes to eating and drinking.

Take breakfast. A lot of hotels offer a continental breakfast as part of their fee. It might not be a great meal, but it’s something.

Or at the very least, you can get free coffee and tea. You might have a little coffee/tea maker in the room, or perhaps the lobby has coffee and tea selections. One way or another, you can usually find something to help start your day.

Some of the fancy hotels, though, don’t offer breakfast. Well, not free anyway. Certainly you can order breakfast to your room for an exorbitant price, or go to a little restaurant in the hotel to pay slightly less.

But what really got me about my recent work trip was the lack of access to hot beverages. No machine in the room to produce hot water of any kind. And since I didn’t rate a suite, I didn’t have a microwave to heat anything. The lobby didn’t have any free drinks, either.

I even called the concierge and asked if it was possible to get a coffee/tea machine in the room – and I was told they didn’t have any! This meant I had to pay $5.07 to effectively get a cup of hot water in the hotel café. (I had brought my own tea bags – I just needed the water.)

Suddenly something I’d seen years before in Heathrow made much more sense: a traveler’s tea kettle. It struck me at the time as a uniquely British item, but now I get it. (I also found an immersion heater online, that you just put in the water to heat it up – I might have to get it.)

Alluring snacks on display

Here’s another difference with the fancy hotels. The snacks.

At a more regular hotel, you can probably find a vending machine if you want snack foods like candy bars, chips, maybe nuts or a granola bar. Or you might have a mini bar in your room, though even then you’d at least have to open it to see the food options.

Not so with the swanky places. The snacks are proudly on display.

What’s also crazy is that some of these displays have pressure sensors, so if you take a snack off to look at it, and you wait too long to put it back, you’re going to be charged. (20 seconds in the case of this hotel.)

Once you’ve already paid, then you might as well eat it, even if you’re not super hungry, right?

And at least in my recent hotel, these were not insignificant items, either in volume or cost. I’d say the bags were 5-6 inches tall. And they were definitely pricey – the nuts were $13/bag, and the candy $10/bag.

I couldn’t help thinking how potentially tormenting this could be to someone just starting to practice mindful eating, or anyone who has a difficult relationship with food. If the sight of food encouraged you to eat, this could make you miserable.

You couldn’t even try to hide the snacks away because then you’d get charged. You’d just have them staring at you the whole time. Maybe you could put something in front of them, but they would be hard to ignore completely.

Conference food

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the other food at the conference as well. This is largely determined by the conference host (in this case my company), not the hotel, but I still find it fascinating.

This was the schedule:

  • 7:45 to 8:45 was breakfast. Everything from yogurt to pastries to cold cereal to eggs and sausage and potatoes.

  • 10:30 to 11 was a snack. I have to admit to being surprised to see cookies and brownies appear for a morning snack, but there they were.

  • 12 to 1 was lunch. This was a full variety of salads, marinated veggies, other sides, and hot offerings like chicken or steak or fish – plus some fruit and at least 4 mini desserts.

  • 2:30 to 3 was another snack. This did include fresh fruit, but also more sweets, like ice cream and more brownies.

This struck me as excessive. I know that eating on a regular basis can be helpful for digestion and to regulate hunger levels, but that assumes you’re eating small amounts. These big buffet meals don’t encourage small portion sizes.

My approach

I’m grateful I have years of experience to help me navigate some of these land mines, but it’s still not always easy.

One of my strategies is to bring my own breakfast food, so I’m not starving by the time the official breakfast starts. (Since I get up around 5, waiting until close to 8 to eat doesn’t work for me.) Too bad I couldn’t have the instant oatmeal this time around, due to the lack of hot water, but at least I had some other food options.

I skipped the mid-morning snack, and for the buffet lunch, I checked out all the options first – including dessert. If I saw something sweet that was particularly enticing, like the triple layer chocolate cake, I got a little less for my main meal to leave room for dessert. And one lunch I skipped dessert and then had some of the sweets at the afternoon snack instead.

Then I waited until I was actually hungry and had a lighter dinner. I also had my own snacks with me in case I got hungry later in the evening and wanted something that didn’t cost an outrageous amount.

It worked pretty well. But sometimes I have a niggling wish that I could just grab an ice cream bar without thinking about it. Being mindless does have some occasional appeal.

Mostly, though, I’m happy to remember that I make these decisions deliberately because I feel better when I do. And for me, that’s what it’s all about.

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