Perfectly civilised people, people who remember birthdays, smile at old ladies in the street, never hog a second seat on the bus, tip generously, return phone calls and hold open doors – that is, people like you and me – lose it at breakfast time. Specifically, hotel buffet breakfast time. While at home, a quick slice of wholemeal and a hastily slurped cup of tea may suffice, when it comes to the allure of the hotel morning buffet, it seems many of us discard any thoughts of dignity in the race to pile our plates high in a horrific game of gustatory Jenga.
If the true indication of a person's character is who they are when they think no one is watching, then many of us are greedy pigs.
But the truth is, people are watching. Specifically, Alan Bennett. And he is very disappointed in us. In an extract from his diary published in the London Review of Books, he describes a trip to Venice in November:
"The greed at breakfast in our hotel is also dispiriting, one young woman this morning with such a passion for fruit that she piles her plate with melon, pineapple, grapes and kiwifruit and fills her pockets with tangerines to the extent that, in the process, nature itself is demeaned.
"Hard to be a waitress at breakfast and retain a respect for one's fellows. Some of the well-to-do guests can't wait to get the food back from the breakfast bar to their table, one young man downing a tumbler of orange juice en route and a boy stuffing himself with sausages before he even sits down."
It is something most of us recognise both in others and ashamedly ourselves. There is an anxiety that comes over many of us as we approach a hotel's chafing dishes filled with sausages, bacon and eggs, platters piled with sweet, sliced fruit, tiny jars of jam and neatly arranged pots of yoghurt (which often get taken, but then never get opened), pitchers of juice and pots of tea and coffee. Are we getting our fair share?
Will an extra slice of toast, a stolen tangerine or a pile of pancakes offset spending a king's ransom on a room with no view and a hanger deficit?
We need to get a grip and pass on the granola, or the kedgeree, or the goat's cheese frittata – at least all at once, on the same plate. It's only breakfast. Other meals are also available.
But it is just so hard to resist the pull of the buffet. Here are some of the signs that you, too, are part of the bad breakfast club. How many of these crimes against decorum have you committed in pursuit of nourishment? Or, maybe, just simple, old-fashioned greed.
Leaning tower of chipolatas
We see you, with your master engineering strategy of cantilevered sausages, on a bacon foundation, holding up a scrambled egg elevation topped with a cupola of fried mushrooms and tomatoes. Never pile a plate higher than your own head. It's just not a good look.
Save it for later
No one believes that thing about your low blood sugar. Don't be the person who wraps danishes up in a napkin and secretes them in a handbag, or sleight-of-hands a boiled egg into a pocket "for later" (true story) or – worse – as I observed in a hotel recently, where I saw a man butter up a stack of bacon sandwiches, complete with ketchup, and tuck them into his rucksack. You will forget they are there. When you do find them they will be full of sand. Your bag will end up full of bits. You deserve the dry cleaning bill, frankly.
Just because you can
There's a reason that no one, before you, ever put homemade granola, hash browns, scrambled eggs, buttermilk pancakes and baked beans on the same breakfast tray. Oh, and all topped off by a fruit mountain – including watermelon, kiwi and loads of pineapple chunks which, quite frankly, usually turn your stomach, but you find yourself strangely drawn to every time you hit the buffet. The choice can be overwhelming, but it's the grown-up thing to make a reasonably rational one, or you just look like some kind of deranged breakfast lunatic.
You're not kidding anyone with your Gwyneth Faux-trow act. That is so elegant, your big white plate with its tiny blob of live, whole goat's milk yoghurt and perfect arc of mango. You are so above the vulgarity of others as you sip your hot water with lemon. Statistically, you are also the one most likely to be piling into a 10 tube of Pringles from the mini bar by 11am. And it is a scientific fact that you are also most likely to make off with a suitcase bulging with pilfered body lotion.
Pick a lane
Beware. It's as easy to be a fashion victim first thing as it is later in the day. Teaming your avo on toast with bircher muesli and double-stuffed French toast is just as much a faux pas as head-to-toe labels and logos. Transcend the trend – simpler is better. Remember, in the words of Coco Chanel (and maybe Alan Bennett), "elegance is refusal".
The recent "bottomless" restaurant trend really is the pits. Whether it's the weird Goop-inspired fruit juice or prosecco later in the day, resist, resist, resist. It is a truth universally acknowledged that hotel coffee, even in some very good establishments indeed, is utterly dire and you'd be better off popping round the corner to some neighbourhood joint for a real hit. A chalkboard outside and a lumberjack/burlesque dancer vibe inside are often promising signs.
This article originally appeared in the The Daily Telegraph, London.