What's So Continental About a Continental Breakfast?

istock / istock

A stale bagel in a Midwest motel is a far cry from a flaky croissant at a Parisian cafe, but the sentiment is the same. The American continental breakfast imitates the traditional light morning meals common in mainland Europe—you know, “the continent”—where breakfast isn’t lauded as the most important meal of the day. (By some eaters' standards, it’s barely a meal at all.)

Take the traditional petit dejeuner in France: coffee, bread, maybe some fruit and yogurt. For hoteliers, the appeal of a light morning meal is clear: It’s cheap, easy to provide, and satisfactory to European tourists. But when the small meal first popped up in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, American diners were appalled. Harper’s Weekly demanded it be banished from the “hemisphere where the Monroe Doctrine and the pie should reign supreme.”