10 Unspeakable Acts You Should Never Commit at Your Hotel Breakfast Buffet

Jason Hoffman/Thrillist
Jason Hoffman/Thrillist

We've got a feeling that Taylor Swift has never been in a motel. Why? On her new album, there’s that one song about how she’s in a getaway car and she left the guy in a motel bar. Anyone who’s ever been in a motel knows they do not have bars. For the sake of believability, perhaps she should have left him at the continental breakfast bar.

In the hierarchy of needs that dictates why we choose to stay at one motel and not its competitor across the street, free continental breakfasts fall just below WiFi and just above a functioning TV that gets Law and Order: SVU reruns. Last year, when ~one~ of us impulsively hiked up a mountain alone, she was powered by a pre-dawn breakfast of three microwaveable omelettes -- these delightful frozen things that you nuke for 2.5 minutes until steaming and then bite into to discover a single, liquified slice of American cheese folded tenderly into the middle.

The thing about continental breakfasts is they’re slightly nicer than the average breakfast, a small but meaningful step above what you're usually grabbing on your way out the door. But they’re also very much created with the awareness that breakfast isn’t the big highlight of your trip. No one's winning any awards here. You're not getting a white-gloved brunch spread with a carving station and mimosas here. You're getting basic nourishment. 

Still, having neither pomp nor circumstance doesn't give you license to behave like a monster at the breakfast buffet. People tear into the thing with a vigor reserved typically for hyenas -- or folks seeking samples at Costco. There are certain unwritten rules that come with the privilege of grazing on free fruit salad, toast, cereal, and, if you're very lucky, waffles. We've written them out for you in the hopes that the next time you descend on a steaming tray of scrambled eggs at a Super 8, you make us proud and behave with civility.

Do not swipe other peoples’ waffles

There are a few things that should go without saying, yet apparently need to be said anyway. You don’t fuck with cats, Jellicle or otherwise. You don’t put your feet on the back of somebody’s seat on a plane. And you don’t, under any circumstances, take a waffle that you didn’t personally pour into the mold at the waffle bar. This is not some fancy restaurant, and the person who made that waffle in a road-weary haze while wearing pajamas is certainly not a sous chef at an off-highway resort buffet. If a person has moved on to another station and left the waffle in the mold, by all means take it out and put it on a plate. But not your plate. This goes for bagels, pancakes, or anything else at the breakfast bar. There is a special place in hell for monsters who take waffles they did not earn. 
MORE:The unwritten rules of flying are also not up for debate

No hovering

When operating a beat-up toaster in a motel lobby, there almost always seems to be somebody hovering over your shoulder, staring daggers at the appliance as if a combination of anxiety and impatience will make something warm up faster. This is the breakfast equivalent of somebody reading over your shoulder on the subway, but with the added discomfort of heaving hot morning breath on the back of your neck right before you eat. 

Don’t take food you're not going to eat

Have you ever looked at the trash at a continental breakfast? It’s practically overflowing with uneaten food, and there’s nothing sadder than realizing “hey, this shithole has biscuits and gravy at least,” then seeing a trashcan full of savory, maybe-delicious sausage gruel sitting next to an empty vat. For the love of all that is holy, only take the gruel you plan to eat. 

Don't roll up in pajamas like this is your own kitchen

You see it at every hotel breakfast buffet: Some dude who just kind of rolled out of bed and slid on some pajama pants but neglected to put on shoes, then spreads out the entire Sunday newspaper on a table, puts his (again, unshoed) feet on the table, and starts eating, scratching himself, and loudly mouth breathing while guffawing at the comics like he’s sitting at home. This is not acceptable. Sure, this isn’t some fancy avocado toast-slinging breakfast joint, but it’s definitely not your kitchen. Be a functioning member of society. And put on some damn shoes.  

Use the provided utensils

Those tongs, scoops, ladles, and spatulas on the breakfast bar are not decorative. Would you go to a buffet restaurant and just start grabbing at entrees with your grubby hands? No. So don't be the weirdo who scoops cereal out of a vat with their hands, or sorts thought a stack of bread looking for the perfect slice with their fingers.

Tongs: Not a suggestion | aaabbbccc/Shutterstock

Reuse your plates, bowls, and utensils 

Most hotels didn’t get the memo released in the ‘80s: Styrofoam is bad. But here it’s a necessary evil for folks who don’t want to cup their hands to hold milk and cereal. You’re going to make an environmental impact here, but you can reduce it by biting your lip and reusing the damn things when you go up for round two. There is no shame in using the same bowl you used for Froot Loops to get a round of Lucky Charms. And if you have your own plastic containers or plates on hand -- maybe you’re going camping, or maybe you’re a traveling Rubbermaid salesperson -- use those instead.  

Do not linger

This is not a bar. It’s a place to recalibrate and get moving. You’re taking up precious real estate if you’re just sitting there, looking at your phone and waiting to be hungry again. Most people here are in a hurry. Cede some table space. 

One or two things for the road is OK. Three is pushing it.

Blueberry muffins and single-servings of yogurt are finite resources. You should feel OK about taking some for the road, but not enough to sustain you on a non-stop road trip from Portland, Oregon to Portland, Maine. Your choices have an impact, and that impact might mean that nobody else gets to know the joys of a generic, mass-produced scone once you’ve hit the buffet like a doomsday prepper. Same goes for coffee: If you've got a to-go cup, by all means fill it. But a carafe or one of those huge 7-Eleven mugs means you're pushing it, and denying others simple pleasures like bad coffee. 

You're mother is (probably) not here: Clean up after yourself

Tables are prime real estate in the breakfast bar, and nothing quite kills your appetite for warmed-over scrambled eggs like realizing the dude before you left 15 semi-full creamer containers, crumpled up napkins, and a half-eaten donut on the table, forcing you to temporarily transform into a busser. Look, accidents happen, and we're not crying over spilled milk. But we might yell at you over spilled milk if you leave a little white lagoon puddled up right next to the cereal, then casually walk away like a shitty little toddler. If you make a mess, clean it up. 

If there is a tip jar, use it

“Ugh, I already have to tip the housekeeper, now I have to tip the kitchen staff,” you might say if you’re the kind of person who definitely isn’t invited to parties because you’re the worst. You just ate three plates of breakfast, likely made a huge mess, and took a handful of goodies for the road. You paid zero extra for this privilege. ("But I paid for the room," you contest, because, again, you are terrible). If there’s an option, the least you can do is chuck $1 in a jar for the people who warmed up your eggs and clean up after you. 
MORE:You’re not tipping your hotel housekeeper enough

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Kastalia Medrano is Thrillist's Travel Writer. You can send her travel tips at kmedrano@thrillist.com, and Venmo tips at @kastaliamedrano.
Andy Kryza is Thrillist’s Senior Travel Editor.