What About Brunch

In May, OpenTable named its annual picks for the 100 Best Brunch Restaurants in America, having analyzed more than 10 million reviews to find them. All that, just to search for the best omelet? Yes! Brunch is hot. Brunch is an event. We know America’s most creative Eggs Benedicts and zingy Bloody Mary’s are out there – and they’re not going to find themselves.

So what do OpenTable and American consumers look for? As the upscale, more gourmet cousin of breakfast, consumers expect more complex items with better ingredients – a heightened experience – from brunch. Items are frequently based on the top breakfast components, which according to Mintel, are still eggs, potatoes, bacon and bread. No surprise then that Eggs Benedict is the No. 1 brunch item in America1. Pair that with the number six hottest culinary trend – ethnic-inspired breakfasts – listed in the past several years of the NRA/ACF “What’s Hot?” report, and you have the Benedict menu at Denver-based Snooze. From their Bella! Bella! Benny, based on prosciutto and Taleggio cheese on ciabatta to a Chilaquiles Benedict with barbacoa beef on ranchero sauced tortillas with roasted poblano hollandaise to Benny Goodman, anchored by lox and cream cheese on toasted rye, Snooze is ready for brunch diners.

Morning Meals

And it’s not only restaurants that want their piece of the quiche – food manufacturers help us enjoy brunch at home. The quiche field is covered with choices from Trader Joe’s, Nancy’s, Wegmans and La Terra Fina, not to mention those from Kellogg’s Special K, like its Sausage, Quinoa, Peppers, Mozzarella & Asiago Crustless Quiche. Consumers can choose from a range of frozen brunchy bowls from Jimmy Dean, Tyson and the new Moe’s Southwestern Grill line, including ingredients of eggs, yukon gold potatoes, pork chorizo, pico de gallo, jalapeño lime hollandaise and avocado.

Beyond the normal motivations for all diners to enjoy brunch, it’s worth mentioning here that Millennials overtook Boomers in early 2016 as America’s largest demographic group. Considering their increasing buying power, it’s also worth discussing what they, specifically, would like for brunch. Millennials:

  • Are adventurous diners, pioneers in items like shakshuka, chilaquiles and bibimbap.
  • Enjoy meals as social occasions to be shared with friends and family – brunch is made for them.
  • Gravitate to finger foods that can be shared, like deviled eggs, Scotch eggs and poutine.
  • Are the reason operators are adding communal tables, often high-tops.
  • Like to eat whatever they want, whenever they want – we wouldn’t have all-day breakfast without them.

Technomic found 38 percent of Millennials enjoy eating foods that are usually associated with later dayparts, but with breakfast ingredients added.2 (Envision egg-topped brunch burgers.) Mintel agrees, saying that pizza is becoming a gourmet brunch dish. It found that 61 percent of consumers think of breakfast pizza as being for brunch vs. breakfast.3 Examples on brunch menus include:

  • Chilaquiles Pizza with Parmesan cream sauce, 5 scrambled eggs, crispy tortilla strips, grana padano, fresno chili, green onion and Cholula hot sauce (Stella Barra, Santa Monica)
  • Breakfast Pizza made with red pepper, smoked bacon, fresh green onion, over-easy eggs and Béchamel sauce (Rustico, Alexandria, Virginia)
  • Breakfast Pizza topped with pomodoro, fingerling potatoes, bacon confit, eggs, fennel sausage and mozzarella (Maximiliano, Los Angeles)

The above list shows why pizza incidence on brunch menus grew 12 percent between 2015 and 2016.3

Other dishes making a splash on brunch menus: 1

  • Second only to Benedicts on brunch menus is French toast, growing 18 percent between Q2 2015 and Q2 2017. The dish is constantly being adjusted with new bread types, stuffings and toppings to keep it intriguing.
  • Toasts in general continue to rise in popularity, with topped items like avocado toast becoming common at brunch. Toast of any description rose 74 percent in brunch menu incidence between Q2 2015 and Q2 2017.

Millennials helped influence McDonald’s to finally flip the switch on all-day breakfast. But they also demonstrated to the rest of us that we also want to eat whatever we want, whenever we want. We have all relaxed our daypart expectations and decided we can take a pause, relax and socialize in the middle of a day. Who enjoys leisurely dining on favorite comfort foods, lingering with friends over a mimosa and letting the world spin without them for a while? Pretty much everyone, that’s who.

1. Mintel, Breakfast and Brunch – US – July 2017

2. Technomic, Breakfast Consumer Trend Report

3. Mintel, Pizza Restaurants – US – November 2016

Rediscovering Brunchtime

When did you last add a daypart to your operation? Consumers have grown more flexible in their dining habits and no longer view dayparts as sacred. This is evident in the significant increases in all-day breakfast providers, late-night menus and snacking. Trend-watching operators took note and likely already have adjusted some portion of their days to take advantage of changing consumer habits. But for those who’ve hesitated, brunch deserves a look.

The number of brunch dishes grew 25 percent in menu mentions between Q2 2015 and Q2 20171, an impressive surge. And by late 2016, 39 percent of American operators offered some type of brunch program.2 That could mean grand buffet tables, floral arrangements and carving stations, or simply a special menu with creative items. Either way, a good brunch lineup provides enticing options for both reserved traditionalists and the adventurous.

In days gone by, brunch was found mainly at hotels or long-established restaurants that were fixtures in their communities. But today we find a wide range of chains adding brunch to increase traffic and add interest. Maggiano’s Little Italy, a Brinker International chain, is not open for breakfast, but still launched weekend brunch in early 2017 with 12 entrees developed to reflect the essence of its brand. The Meatball Benedict places two of the chain’s signature meatballs atop English muffin halves and covers them with poached eggs, oven-dried Roma tomatoes and hollandaise. Now that’s the smart way to support a brand while adding little to no ingredients to inventory.

Morning Meals

Maggiano’s is hardly alone in its daypart addition. Chains as diverse as McCormick & Schmick’s, Jack in the Box, Lucille’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Que, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar all offer brunch every Saturday and Sunday. Granite City is one that offers only Sunday brunches, while Sullivan’s Steakhouse specializes in holiday ones.

Why offer both breakfast and brunch? Because they’re two different types of dining. Breakfast is sustenance, brunch is a mindset. Brunch means relaxing, lingering and sipping a cocktail. It’s also an increasingly popular destination for consumers who see brunch as an elevated experience, a feeling of anticipation for something out of the ordinary – even a treat.

To reap more than rising headcounts from brunch, use it to:

  • Keep choices fresh with seasonal produce.
  • Try out unexpected twists on old breakfast favorites.
  • Test potential new dishes, providing management an opportunity to interact with guests while gauging reactions.
  • Hybridize a popular lunch/dinner dish like grilled cheese, flatbreads or BLTs by adding eggs.

Finally, brunch is no longer just for weekends. Some operations have begun trying out midweek brunches to fill tables during typically slow times. Others have gone all-in, creating separate all-day brunch restaurants. Hutch American Café and City Mouse are recent additions to Chicago’s culinary scene that have taken the second route, both open seven days a week, serving only all-day brunch.

  • Hutch launched in 2016 with a creative menu including Totchos, a twist on both poutine and nachos. Tater tots are topped with pico de gallo, truffled cheese fondue and fried egg. For more substantial entrées, Hutch serves intriguing chilaquiles, skillets, sandwiches, wraps, toasts and Benedicts.
  • City Mouse opened this year offering an extensive beverage menu to accompany its brunch foods. Menu items include fun dishes like the Gas Station Sandwich made with egg, hash browns, cheese, grape jelly, sausage and Michigan-grown fruit.

Consider: a 25 percent increase in menued items embraced by 39 percent of all operators – that’s an opportunity impatiently waiting for you. Eggs provide not just the comfort consumers want, but the versatility to create incredible dishes for them. With them, your restaurant can become a destination, not just building sales, but also loyalty. And not just for individuals, but for groups of family and friends, which is how we eat our brunch.

1. Mintel, Menu Insights Q2 2015-Q2 2017

2. Datassential, The Keynote Report: Breakfast, November 2016