Continental Breakfast Definition
A continental breakfast is a light meal in the morning consisting of some type of baked bread, typically French-style croissants or Northern European-style pastries, fruits like bananas, apples or berries, juice (orange or apple) and tea or coffee. In some cases cereals or other grains are also included.
It is contrasted in Europe with the “English breakfast” or “fry-up,” and in North America with the “American breakfast.” In both cases, in addition to the above (though typically the bread is just toast, and fruits are often not included), there is usually a meat component (usually a form of pork), a style of eggs and, depending on which version, fried mushrooms or tomatoes and sometimes baked beans (English), or fried potatoes (American, “home fries”).
The continental breakfast is typically offered at hotels, included with the price of the room. English or American breakfasts are more commonly offered at bed & breakfasts (B&B) or more formally at pensions (for long-term lodgers where meals are included).
Why Is It Called A Continental Breakfast?
The first known use of the term in America was in 1896 in The Sanitarian to refer to this “light” meal derisively, in no way comparable to a good, hearty breakfast, which should include “pie” (by which we understand, “meat pie,” not apple).
“The Continent” refers to mainland Europe by Britons, who are across the English Channel in “the British Isles.” British travelers to the “continent” were treated to such breakfasts in France, Italy and Spain, and their accounts spread to America, where hotels quickly took up the term.
The change from heavy, hearty breakfasts to lighter fares, from the point of view of hotels, also came about as a result of the change in the eating habits of its patrons, who were no longer working in the fields in heavy manual labor.
It helped, of course, that these lighter breakfasts were easier to accommodate and much more cost- and labor-efficient for hotel management, especially with the advent of bulk-processed foods (a piece of pastry wrapped in plastic, for example, which could sit on the shelf for days before being consumed, could be purchased in bulk at wholesale rates).
Nowadays, a continental breakfast is standard for any hotel stay, included in the cost of the room, and is an expected part of any business trip the world over.