Achieving the best start to the day

Achieving the best start to the day; Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism, talks breakfast. Deborah manages a field force of more than 40 assessors, as part of the accommodation assessment scheme for VisitEngland; each assessor grades around 300 properties a year, ensuring that they are safe, clean and legal.

It may be a cliché, but the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, is never more apt than when you think ‘B&B’. In fact, it is so important to guests that an entire section of our assessment criteria is dedicated to the provision and quality of breakfast at any establishment. We even go one step further and honour the B&Bs whose breakfast goes the extra mile, giving out our coveted breakfast awards to those which exceed guest expectations by offering an excellent range, great presentation, quality ingredients and brilliant service.

We are often asked how you can objectively assess the quality of a breakfast, grading it between one and five stars. For an inspector, this all comes down to what and how a breakfast is offered. So for example, we assess the ‘provision’ of a breakfast, requiring either a cooked or continental breakfast to be served in a designated eating area, but will not judge specifically what is on offer, unless we’re considering you for an award. Similarly, we grade businesses on the number of hours that breakfast is on offer, clear pricing (in the event of a room only rate, or if breakfast is on offer to non-residents), availability of a menu, written or verbal, the choices available, and the provision of allergen information which is of course a legal requirement.

Aside from this, our assessors fulfil a secondary role as expert advisors, offering information and guidance to help improve businesses, lower costs, increase profits and generally support who you are and what you do. Although they won’t reveal themselves during the inspection, at the end, and as part of their report, they will be able to offer additional information and formal or informal chats to help owners. This could be anything from suggesting a switch from a fruit salad to whole fruit offering, reducing unnecessary wastage, or expanding the existing menu and guest choice, while using ingredients that are already in stock. While these may not seem big changes, they often offer significant value for an owner, because they are relevant to the specific circumstances of your business.

Of course for your guests, the taste needs to be good, and they will want to be fully satisfied, however we don’t include this in the official objective criteria as taste is very subjective. That said many of our assessors eat hundreds of provider breakfasts a year, so are pretty clued up and will be able to tell you if they feel something is not up to standard.

What is also a consideration, but which doesn’t specifically fall under the breakfast criteria are the legal food preparation requirements. As part of the wider assessment, we will expect to be able to easily access and check environmental health reports and food hygiene compliance to ensure these are up to date.

So when it comes to breakfast, here are some of our most significant good practice guidelines.

  • Provenance – where you source your ingredients can be an added USP, and doesn’t necessarily cost any more to implement. As one owner told our assessor “We don’t offer an English breakfast, we offer a local breakfast”. The devil is in the detail and hospitality offers an opportunity to meet guests’ individual requirements, and using local ingredients often starts a great conversation. If you do go local, don’t forget to shout about it! 
  • Locality – many areas in the UK have signature ‘dishes’ or local delicacies. Although some of these may not be relevant to breakfast, if you can incorporate delicacies it is an excellent USP.
  • Dietary Needs – it is now a legal requirement to display or make available information on the allergen ingredients of any of your dishes, but this also presents an opportunity to cater for, and shout about, your commitment to guests with special dietary requirements. Many suppliers will be able to offer substitutes for specific products on your menu and in many cases (think sausages for example), you will be able to adopt the dietary version for all your guests. My local butcher does amazing gluten-free, dairy-free sausages, and no one I know can tell the difference!
  • Accessibility – assessed as part of the wider grading, accessibility in the dining area is paramount. Adequate space between tables is a must, tables should not wobble, making sure there is clear contrast between cutlery and tablecloths for visually impaired guests, offering dining flexibility for diabetics, all are important and assessed.

There really is no perfect breakfast, but there are some absolutely fantastic ones! If in doubt, ask your guests what they would like to see on the menu and incorporate small changes as and when you can.

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