Breakfast expectation (re)calibration

In these pandemic times, consider how what used to be a matter of preference – the density/proximity of other diners at breakfast – is now reframed as a matter of level of acceptable risk to personal health. Spotted on a business trip to Tennessee many moons back, I was struck by the surprisingly finely-calibrated setting of expectations presented by this sign around the first meal of the day, and how much time one should expect to commit to consuming it.

Initially, the not-so-subtle traffic light-inspired color coding of the different levels of busy-ness was likely meant to nudge prospective diners towards the lower-traffic “green” times with the assumption that smaller crowds and a “leisurely breakfast” would naturally appeal to many (although the idea of “leisure” perhaps being diluted for some by the need to get out of bed before 6 AM in order to enjoy it). That said, matching the colloquial “weight” of the breakfast imagery with the corresponding crowd size might work against that aim, with it being easy to align the imagery of a “light breakfast” (a single cup of coffee) to the Light Breakfast Traffic time, and the “heavy breakfast” (a very satisfying-looking, nearly-monotone smorgasbord of carbs and cholesterol) to the Heavy Breakfast Traffic time. From there, it’s a short, mistaken leap of logic for the fast reader to assume that the level of “breakfast traffic” and the nature of the food served at that time, based on the corresponding photograph, are one and the same. Choice of imagery aside, one thing that’s hard to argue with is the placement in the elevator, along with a lack of any other wall-based reading material.

How were these times and terms were arrived at, and how standard this is across other hotels in this chain, or neighborhood? How would you define “leisurely”, and how could you imagine your own definition fitting with what it may look and feel like down under the fluorescent brightness, amidst the succulents embedded in gravel and faux-wood and vinyl cushion bench seating in the breakfast buffet area of an industrial park business hotel outside of Nashville at 6 AM? Leisurely?

What would a redesigned breakfast experience look like in this pandemic moment, where breakfast traffic might need to be “light” by necessity until a vaccine is widely available? Assigning/allowing choice of a designated breakfast time slot at check-in? Discounted room service to diminish crowds gathering in one area? Multiple breakfast food trucks and outdoor seating in the parking lot during warmer months to spread guests out? Zooming out a bit further, as Google Maps adjusts to give warnings when one’s route will take one on crowded transit lines, or necessitate crossing a border where there are Covid-related restrictions in place, what other parts of daily life could now plausibly come with a digital or physical sign such as this?

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