Your Essential Etiquette Guide To Hotel Breakfast Buffets

Whether you're a "sunglasses inside" person or not — depending on what happened the night before — the key to crushing a mind-blowing hotel breakfast buffet comes down to three things: Hot crêpes, chilled fruit, and stellar company. (And champagne. Always champagne.)

But there's also a secret handshake-type situation going on between you and the hotel: It's the honor system, aka the gentleperson's agreement to, you know, be cool. Do you grab the lobster scrambled eggs from the chafing dish with your own fork? Probably not. Do you eat your weight in miniature blueberry muffins? Maybe. And could you stay all day, eating your way through every meal, sunup to sundown, never leaving the dining room, forever and ever times infinity? (Does the Pope poop in the woods?)

From croissant tongs to butts in the seats, we're busting out our most brunchable manners so you can cruise through your next hotel breakfast buffet smoother than a bagel with silky cream cheese schmear. After all, you gotta learn the rules before you can break 'em. Last one to the mimosa bar's a rotten egg!

Break out the stretchy pants

Disguise your upcoming biscuits and gravy bump with a little haute chocolate fashion. But instead of going for a stomach and liver smooshing 19th century corset-type number, keep your bottomless bacon and eggs comfy and cozy with something far less restrictive: stretchy pants. This may also be translated to stretchy shorts, stretchy skirts, stretchy jumpsuits, stretchy fanny packs ... just keep it un-squeezy with elastic. And maybe 2 percent lycra.

While you might want to read up on the specific dress code, it's probably pretty chill for the first meal of the day. Modern resorts seem to understand that what happens at the Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel stays at the Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel. Even the fabulously appointed Bellagio breakfast buffet in Las Vegas simply asks that you wear shoes, and slightly more fabric than your swim club look. A small price to pay for unlimited mini muffins.

Because of these easy breezy parameters, you can pretty much pick your poison re: your buffet wardrobe. While you could always rock vertical stripes to magically look taller, or a ruffled neck to distract from your belly, we'll be kicking back in our new sweats set, looking like a minimalist mob boss smokin' sausage links.

Don't skip the water

If there's one meal where we condone trying to eat as much as humanly possible, the breakfast buffet is it. It's only respectful of the hotel's generosity to get our money's worth out of the spread they have presented for us. But contrary to what you might think, you are gonna want to fill up on water, pre-chow. Like, a lot of water. Listen, it's for your own good, so you can comfortably eat an extra tall stack of chocolate chip pancakes covered in whipped cream and chocolate sauce, okay? We're on the same team.

The strategy here is to hydrate like a maniac. Not only does water keep your stomach from shrinking (and then limiting how much raspberry yogurt parfait you can stuff into it), proper H2O also gets your digestive juices rockin' and rollin' so you can handle all the sweet, salty, and savory treats that are suddenly making an appearance in your gut. Throw out the welcome mat with some solid hydration.

Since we're talking breakfast, most of your water drinking prep will probably happen the day before you hit the buffet. Let's say an example strategy might be: For every vacation marg you cheers, you drink a big ol' glass of water. Easy, right? Whatever happens after breakfast, though, is between you and the hotel pool lifeguard.

New plate, new you

This isn't about planet Earth. This is about the cleanliness of busy hotel buffets. And as loud as the little voice inside your head might be screaming, "Reuse your plate to save the environment, Trish," always grab a new dish for your second (or third) time around the block. Same goes for silverware and glassware. Here's why:

Say you polish off a biscuit and omelet and take your plate back up for round two. Even before you touch a serving spoon, your plate is already covered in fingerprints, food remnants, and saliva. Once you scoop up a serving of fried potatoes and accidentally — ever so slightly — touch the buffet spoon to your plate, and then return it to its home, it's like you just licked the entire tray of potatoes by adding your personal DNA to the recipe. Imagine everyone else doing that, too. Ew.

Enjoy that carefree hotel life by leaving all of your used dishes at your table, and approaching the buffet for seconds, hands-free. And feel comfortable asking for anything you might need; restaurants are stocked with plenty of clean plates, bowls, and those cute mini cream and syrup pitchers. Staff will clear your table while you're perusing the fruit spread by the ice sculpture, and by the time you get back to your seat, it'll be like those first 2,000 calories never existed.

No butts

Sorry ladies and kiddos! There is zero preferential treatment when it comes to the buffet line. Think "Hunger Games" versus "Titanic," and get your game face ready for first come, first served. "I'm the king of the world!" — says Jack, in "Titanic." And every single person at the buffet.

Of course, no one's elbowing their way into the line. (We're hungry, but hello, we just woke up, we can barely see clearly right now. Is this sliced cheese or napkins? And don't get us started on the "is it butter or ice cream" situation. Fool us once ...) Instead, we're a polite breakfast buffet society, and we do our best not to accidentally separate a group of friends, or anyone else who might be dining together. Get in-between Gammie and her favorite grandkid and suffer the consequences.

If you're wondering whether it's okay to reach into the line for something small, like an extra roll, or to walk ahead of someone who's having a moment with the scrambled eggs and holding up the line, the general consensus is ... kind of, at your own risk. While it might be considered a practical move by most buffet goers, don't be surprised if someone gives you the side eye.

Wash, dry, repeat

First rule of buffet club, always wash your hands before buffet club. Even if you just got ready and washed your hands in your room, you probably touched countless surfaces after that, without even thinking about it. You grabbed your hotel key card, you opened the room door, you pressed the elevator buttons, fluffed your hair, fixed your lip gloss, grazed a railing, and touched your arms — all while handling your favorite handbag. (Yes, that one. You know you never wash that thing.) And, yeah, you're still holding your phone

All of these are high-touch surfaces, and you're about to enter the high-touch heaven (or hell, depending if you're a glass half full type of person) of the buffet line. Since you're the only person whose fingers might touch your mouth, clean hands are your best defense against ingesting any rogue elevator germs. It's also a worthy step in keeping things as clean as possible by the hash browns. Once you arrive at the dining room, just pop into the loo for a quick hand wash, and then get to eating. You secretly hope everyone else is doing this, too, right?

Step one, use warm water and a gentle cleanser — just kidding. We all know how to wash our hands. But even though your paws are sparkling clean, don't go picking things off the buffet with them. Save that kind of sweet roll familiarity for your next backyard buffet.

Chill out with the mini muffins

Yes, we're here to live out our greatest breakfast fantasies. Yes, we want to customize our Belgian waffles with crushed Oreos inside and peanut butter melted on top. And yes, our eyes are way bigger than our stomachs! But let's just agree to be slightly reasonable with how we load up our plates, and only serve ourselves as much as we can stomach. Literally.

If you're an omnivore, it's likely that everything at every buffet station could find its forever home in your belly. It all looks so freakin' delicious, perfectly cooked, and appetizingly displayed under those warm lights ... unlike the hotdogs at 7-Eleven, for example. We're simply appreciating the beauty of each curated buffet item by sampling one of everything, right? [BZZT.] Wrong.

Maybe it's bad karma, but it's definitely bad manners to go full "Hoarders: Buried Alive" with too much breakfast buffet on your plate. While no one will judge you for enjoying the full all-you-can-eat experience, throwing away a bunch of stuff you couldn't possibly eat is another thing altogether. Keep it relaxed by choosing wisely, finishing most of your plate, and — of course — going back for another gooey cinnamon roll at the sweets bar.

Handle serveware with care

Nowhere else in the universe is an innocent spoon as much of a ground zero for creepy-crawlies than it is at the buffet. Be it a pair of springy tongs, a pronged fork, or a ladle, there has never been more confirmed mishandling of a utensil in the history of the world. But we can stop this vicious cycle. We can unite as one, and finally use the stainless steel slotted spoon like it was destined to be brandished.

A quick rundown on buffet serveware: Don't touch it unless you need it, don't put the handle in the food, and don't mix serving utensils with other dishes. Wow, it's so simple, we almost dropped the breakfast taco tongs on the floor and put them back in the bin with all the recently renamed "carpet lint" tacos. 

The no-touching thing (and keeping handles out of the food) is all about minimizing the chance of possible germs festering in the cheesy eggs. And using separate utensils for each dish keeps foods from mixing in a way that's not allergy friendly, not temperature friendly, or, y'know, just kind of icky. Let our French toast be French toast, and our quiche Lorraine be quiche Lorraine — and our cooties be kept to ourselves.

The food is not takeout

We feel you on this one. Maybe you don't want the chocolate chip muffin, or breakfast burrito now, but you might want to eat it later. Totally makes sense. You paid for your room, the buffet comes as part of the package, and your snack habits ain't nobody's business. But, in all fairness to buffet buffs (yes, we coined that!) everywhere, there's generally no to-go when it comes to the buffet.

The obvious reasons here are that the hotel could lose money if everyone loaded up their plates with several meals' worth of food, and then doggie-bagged it out the door. While we can't vouch for how great those soggy hash browns will taste nine hours from now, most hotels already have policies in place that clearly state "no leftovers." Some even bank on you doubling down on your meal, with an additional charge for taking food out of the dining area.

While you might be able to get away with snagging an apple or pudding cup for later, most of us agree that it's courteous to enjoy your food while at the buffet. And if you absolutely must grab something to-go, sneak out one of those mini boxes of Corn Pops to munch on in your room, but leave that artisan bread basket where you found it.

No dodging the sneeze guard

Well, there's not too much to demystify about the sneeze guard. It's there for a reason: You. And her. And them. It's there for the guy with the sniffles, your far-sighted aunt, Lorraine the throat-clearing busy-body from MadTV, and you. Because even though your mouth smells like a minty rose garden, nobody wants your breath steaming up their food. So no bobbing and weaving around the acrylic screen, no matter how good of a reason you might have.

The sneeze guard has been making publicly shared buffets possible since 1959. Otherwise, we might all be falling head first into the sausage patties. Just imagine a world in which anything could fall from the sky and into the shakshouka. Flies, sneeze spray, watches, jewelry — it was the Wild West.

Homer Simpson once explained the sanitary guard as merely being an obstacle that you have to overcome in order to grab food or sneeze on it. Do everyone a favor and don't be Homer. (No offense, Homie.) Let the sneeze guard do its job, so we can all go back to our temporary careers as competitive breakfast eaters.

Curb your chocolate fountain enthusiasm

Gird your loins. The chocolate fountain that you were hitting up at that fancy hotel buffet — with all the strawberries and bacon you could carry on one plate (everything goes with chocolate fountain, right?) — it may be less "magic," and more "microscopic bacteria" vibes than you might think. Like eating chocolate fungi fondue? We didn't think so. If you're going to partake, use the appropriate skewers for your fruit, and keep your actual body clear of those sweet, rushing waves.

Instead of liquid chocolate flowing from virgin cocoa mountaintops and straight to that crazy contraption at the buffet, the chocolate is indeed recycled ... over, and over, and over. If it somehow becomes tainted, the whole chocolate dream is going down.

How could that possibly happen, you ask? We've sourced a buffet employee who dutifully reported on their first-hand experience to Reddit. Citing customers who skipped the dippable food and went whole-hog into the chocolate with their hands, or even their face, we especially couldn't deal with the story about a guest with a broken arm, who wanted chocolate-covered strawberries. The staffer wrote, "She manages to stick most of her cast under the fountain so that the thing is basically coated with chocolate. Instead of trying to alert a staff member so the fountain could be closed down, sanitized, etc. she proceeded to casually walk back to her table and eat her dessert." Thanks for that — we just gave up chocolate fountains forever.

No samples

We've all seen the gross-out footage. A hotel guest is caught on camera, slurping soup straight from the buffet ladle — and then putting it back in the pot. A patron uses tongs to grab a tater tot, eats it, and goes in for more. Another picks up a muffin, sniffs it, and adds it back to the pile because it's blueberry and, guys, they wanted a cinnamon apple muff. While that's a pretty obvious "don't," a not so obvious one might be the no sampling while you're in line rule of thumb.

The theory here is that you could unintentionally mix your own germs and saliva into the chafing dishes. And worst case barfy scenario, everyone else is doing that too. Kind of makes all the pigs in a blanket seem way less cute.

Even if you're a total wiz with a quiche server, and are just using your own plate and utensils to eat, there's still an opportunity for your digestive juices to fly from your mouth, and onto someone else's food. With a little peaches and cream pancake patience, you'll be sitting pretty and enjoying your hard-earned treats in no time.

Eat the big bucks

Screw the eggs. Get the lobster first! Want to win every hotel breakfast buffet ever? You gotta go for the money makers, baby! Hotels bank on you filling up on budget-friendly fare like biscuits, pancakes, and bread, leaving the expensive stuff on the buffet table, and money in their pockets. But we're not here to play nice. We're here to throw down. [Crab leg crack!] Just because we have manners doesn't mean we have to settle for Jell-O salad.

Surprisingly, many guests eat a smaller amount of food than the hotel expects. But we don't feel a shred of remorse for knowing our way around a surf-n-turf station like the back of our hand. It's like "The Price Is Right," but for breakfast. And you better get savvy to that big-ticket sustenance.

Options, of course, depend on the hotel. But keep a few of these foods tucked away in your brain grapes for the right occasion. Spot some caviar? Get it. Raw bar? Hit it. Bottomless champagne? Bottom's up. King crab? Checkmate. Prime rib? We'll take it all. Ostrich egg omelet with Rogue River bleu cheese, and shaved truffles, topped with Greek E-La-Won luxury olive oil with edible gold flakes in it? You know what to do.

Go hog wild-ish

Can you actually sit down to an all-you-can-eat for as-long-as-you-can? Eh, it's a blurry line that you might cross (or not) at any particular hotel buffet. It might seem like a TLC extreme eating reality show in the making, but some of us have managed to work two mealtimes into one sitting. Props to these modern day thrill seekers.

So what's the official timeline? Common thought is that it seems to span anywhere from a respectable two-hour window, all the way to "no one's watching, so the food's all yours." It's a little dare-devil style, but it's been done. Just remember that the food will likely transition with the sun. Deviled eggs become egg salad sandwiches, and breakfast sausages may go the way of the dinosaur (you can find them on display at the Natural History Museum next to the Microraptors).

Still, there is a legal standard that applies, in case you're thinking of pulling out the stops. Eating at the buffet involves a sort of understood contract between you and the hotel. Basically, breakfast means breakfast as far as timelines go. So it's polite to not overextend your welcome. However — you can definitely eat as many crab legs as you want. Still breakfast o'clock? BRB, we're gonna cruise by the egg and cheese bagel sandwiches one more time.

A simple thank you

Look, those blueberry pancakes don't just appear out of thin air. And that bottomless stack of clean plates sure doesn't wash and dry itself. So if you happen to catch one of the busy hotel staffers working hard to make this the best breakfast experience you've ever had, just offer them a friendly "thank you" — even if you've got a mouthful of Frosted Flakes French toast. "HANK OO" comes across just as thoughtful.

Of course, along with that verbal pat on the back, there's the gratitude that involves a little cash. Unless there are absolutely zero hotel employees on hand at the buffet, it's good manners to leave a little tip — at least in the United States. It doesn't have to be an amount that makes the news. But someone helped you slice the beef, or got you a new fork after yours slid onto the floor. And that person would probably appreciate a little high five for their hospitality.

You could always leave a glowing review on Yelp, complete with a video of a slo-mo syrup pour onto a piping hot short stack. But we like to go old school and thank the staff in person. After all, we're coming back again tomorrow morning — and we're simply locking in our favorite omelet maker for our next spin around the sun.