Most hostels these days offer a free complimentary breakfast as part of your stay. In my experience however, most of these have been very basic, and although I think anything free is good, it is also important to be aware of what to actually expect before booking.
What you should expect in a typical hostel breakfast
These are the basics of what you should expect from every hostel breakfast. They are very basic, but they are free.
Bread – Every hostel breakfast I have ever had at any hostel over the world has included bread. Sometimes you get a choice of wholemeal or white bread, but most times it will just be plain white cheap bread. The kind of “own brand” stuff you can get out of the supermarket. To me, any free food is good food, but it’s important that you don’t go expecting anything more than this as far as bread is concerned. If you get anything more, then count yourself lucky!
Butter/Margarine – You’ll usually always get some sort of spread to go with your bread/toast. In most cases they just put out some butter or margarine, but sometimes you’ll get stuff like jam, Vegemite, marmalade, or some other type of spread. It just depends on the hostel, and where you are in the world.
Cereal – There are usually one or two types of cereal available. Almost always one of those cereals is corn flakes. You’ll also probably get rice krispies or something like wheatabix (or the local brand equivalent). Very rarely will you get cereal beyond those basics.
Tea/Coffee – Most places offer free tea and/or coffee. Some hostels offer free tea or coffee 24/7, but go in expecting it just at breakfast, and if you get it for longer it’s a bonus.
Sugar – If they offer tea, coffee, or cereal, you’ll almost always find they have sugar to go along with it.
Milk – Hostels will usually always put out milk to with your cereal, tea, coffee, etc.
Fruit juice – Most hostels will offer fresh orange or apple juice.
Above are the basics of what you should expect as part of your free hostel breakfast. Anything less than this and there are other hostels which offer better value for money.
Another factor to consider however is that depending on where you are in the world, you can expect different variations of your breakfast. Especially with the more expensive hostels, you’ll sometimes find you get more than the basics, and food is more in line with what the locals eat.
For instance, in places like Germany, Holland, Belgium, and many other surrounding countries, people usually have various types of cheese and ham with their breakfast. In Scandinavian countries it’s typical to have a variety of breads to choose from for your breakfast as well as all this, and in England many people enjoy a “full” English breakfast, which is essentially fried bacon, eggs, sausages, bread, and possibly mushrooms or tomatoes. My home country of Scotland also has their version, only it has square sausage instead of lynx, and usually has some black pudding too. That being said, most hostels don’t offer any of this, at least not free. A lot of places in Europe will offer you cold meats, cheese, and maybe croissants as part of the free breakfast, but it really just depends what hostel you are staying in. You will almost never get a full English or Scottish breakfast free in the UK, but you can usually purchase it at the hostel restaurant/café or elsewhere outside if you want.
You’ll also find a lot of places offer fresh fruit at breakfast, although not always.
In my experience, if you expect the basics and then get more it’s always a bonus. It’s important not to budget as though you’ll get a full meal for a breakfast in the hostels, as that is usually not the case, at least not for a balanced diet. If you’re ok to fill up on bread and cereal though, then you could definitely save yourself some money!