Continental Plan: What It Means for Breakfast

croissant and coffee
••• Getty.

The Continental Plan, which is sometimes abbreviated as CP in hotel listings, means that the quoted rate includes breakfast on the premises for every guest who occupies a room overnight.

Normally this meal takes place in the hotel's restaurant or in a dedicated breakfast room with a few tables and chairs. You can also think of this as bed-and-breakfast, regardless of whether you're staying at a hotel, resort, motel, lodge, inn or even a B&B.

What Is a Continental Breakfast?

Typically a continental breakfast is set out buffet-style — meaning you have to get up, select what you want, serve yourselves, and bring your food back to your table. You'll also have to collect and arrange your own plates, cutlery, glasses, and napkins. There is no set limit on how much you can eat, as long as you leave enough for the other guests.

A continental plan breakfast array is usually only available during a span of several hours in the morning. It's a good idea to ask about the schedule at the front desk when you check in so that if you snooze, you won't lose.

In some hotels and resorts on the Continental Plan, a waiter may present you with a menu and serve your entire meal and even give you the option of upgrading to a hot breakfast for a fee. In other places, servers are simply on hand to bring and refill coffee and tea cups. Although there is no fee for breakfast when you stay in a hotel on this plan, it is considerate to leave a small tip if you've been served by a waiter.

Aside from this breakfast, all other food ordered at the hotel would be billed to your account.

It's What's for Breakfast

A continental breakfast normally consists of coffee or tea, fruit, fruit juice, and some kind of bread. (Morning carbo-loading may be just the thing to see you through a day of exploring and touring.)

The bread served by your hotel may be as simple as a loaf where you carve off a slice by yourself or as appealing as a basket of freshly baked croissants, scones, and a variety of muffins with butter and homemade or bottled jams and jellies. At some facilities, yogurt and fresh fruit also may be available. The Continental Plan does not include cooked breakfast foods such as eggs, bacon, French toast or pancakes.

Reality Check

Since hotels and resorts on the Continental Plan don't charge for breakfast, the meal may be skimpy or not of the highest quality. We'll never forget the inn, whose name shall go unmentioned, that offered a sliced loaf of white bread, a tub of margarine, and a jar of Tang to welcome the sleepy to a new day.

Unless you're on a tight budget or know that something special is unlikely to be waiting, don't feel obligated to get dressed, find the breakfast room, and feed yourselves on site. Sleep in and later treat yourselves to a great breakfast at a local café on your schedule. Or pick up hot, melt-in-your-mouth croissants from a Paris bakery to eat in the park, buy simits from an Istanbul street vendor, or grab a cappuccino at a coffee bar in Rome or Florence and drink it standing up, just like the locals do.

Memorable Mornings

Better hotels on the Continental Plan do go above and beyond to provide an outstanding breakfast in a glorious setting. One of the most charming Continental breakfasts we had the pleasure to devour came at Abbaye de Sainte Croix, a Relais & Chateaux inn in Provence, France. It arrived complete in a picnic basket lined in a souleiado textile print and left on our doorstep with a discreet knock — and the homemade bread was still warm. We carried the basket to our balcony overlooking the region's tall cypress trees and marveled at both the view and our good fortune.

The continental breakfast at Hotel Splendide Royale Lugano was unforgettable for the variety, quality, and deliciousness of the morning buffet at this Swiss property close to Italy. Welcomed in by the smiling ​maitre d' in a white tuxedo jacket, we found many mouth-watering surprises.

They included Prosecco to convert freshly squeezed juices into sparkling mimosas. Tiny buckwheat circles topped with a dollop of sour cream and caviar tempted amidst the abundance of cheeses and meats, quiches and tortes. And for a sweet start to the day, we savored miniature cannoli and tiny fruit tarts, all baked that morning in the hotel kitchen, made with love and served with pride. 

Other Hotel Dining Plans