Restaurant Briefing: Let’s Do Brunch
Restaurants around the country are enjoying a continued interest in brunch and some are responding by expanding “brunch” hours and days as well as offering more creative, nontraditional brunch items alongside the old favorites.
”People are crazy about brunch, and they don’t seem to mind waiting in line for a table,” says Thomas McNaughton, Chef, Central Kitchen, San Francisco, CA. Brunch is 50/50 reservations and walk-ins, and 30% are regulars. “We have quicker turnover and lower average checks at brunch but more covers, so we add extra staff on the floor to keep things moving.” Some brunch customers want light dishes, while others want hearty items, Thomas says, so they offer raw oysters, yogurt/granola, and a three-cheese plate in addition to eggs, wood-fired burgers with a fried egg, and their signature and most popular dish – fried chicken Benedict, a dish that, he says, will always be on the menu. “We don’t change the brunch menu very much because our brunch regulars want to count on their favorites being available”. . . On the lunch menu at Cafe Nell, Portland, OR, is a section called “Weekday Brunch,” featuring some of the most popular items from the restaurant’s weekend brunch menu. “We’re a neighborhood spot with a loyal clientele, some of whom are not traditional 9-to-5ers and who are big fans of our weekend brunch, so brunch during the week really appeals to them,” says Vanessa Preston, owner. The weekday brunch items are not only the most popular, but also don’t require heavy prep, i.e., French toast, Huevos Rancheros, and the Monte Cristo sandwich. “If you have the following, brunch business is incredible, it’s like dinner in the morning,” says Vanessa. “Our average checks at brunch often can be equivalent to dinner, due to some $20 entrees and $12 mimosas and Bloody Marys.”
“Brunch is an opportunity for people to enjoy the restaurant while keeping the price point reasonable. Plus it’s where some of my most fun food is created and more often than not people order the more interesting dishes rather than our ‘simple breakfast.’ We take into consideration that many brunch goers are only having two meals on the weekend so we punch up items like hash browns a bit.”
– Kent Rathbun, Chef/Owner, Jasper’s , Plano, TX
“One of the things our brunch guests are looking for is unique cocktails,” explains Robert Mallin, Service Director, Craftbar, New York, NY, “and our four signature brunch cocktails that are made with spirits from local producers have become a point of differentiation for us.” The brunch menu has four sections: eggs and savory, sandwiches, small plates, and larger plates. Robert says the chefs enjoy using the small- and large-plate formats to experiment and create specials. Because of demand, weekend brunch is served from 10:30am – 4pm . . . “Initially we were open for lunch on weekdays but now we’re open only during that time period on Fridays,” says Andy Chandler, GM, Bistro Blanc, Gleneig, MD. Lunch customers often requested brunch dishes from the weekend brunch menu (i.e., eggs Benedict and Belgian waffles), plus the chef is a fan of brunch, so, he says, “We decided just to have two menus – one for brunch and one for dinner. Our customers love Friday brunch and many have become regulars.”
“Sunday Brunch is one of our stronger meal periods,” says Jeff Tunks, Chef, Acadiana, Washington, D.C. The dining room features a three-course $29 New Orleans-style brunch with live music and $3 Mimosas and Bloody Marys. Jeff says the prix fixe ensures a higher average check and helps cover the cost of the band. “We also have a kids’ menu with $6 entrees and $3 appetizers, and an a la carte menu with regularly priced cocktails is available in the bar”. . .At Dish Society, Houston, TX, brunch is served from early morning (7am Saturdays, 8am Sundays) until midafternoon. “Our brunch customers are willing to splurge and they’re not in a hurry,” reports Aaron Lyons, Owner, who says that average checks run $20 to $30, about double the weekly breakfast checks. The restaurant is casual and service is “flex-casual” at brunch (versus full service at dinner), with customers ordering and picking up their food at the counter. The farm-to-table menu changes seasonally and sticks to the basics, adding modern spins (i.e., pork belly hash), but keeping dishes approachable, not too far out. “We get our regulars involved in tastings when we’re creating new brunch dishes.”