Midday meal loyalists can’t get enough of brunch. Smithsonian Magazine references a 1895 Hunter’s Weekly article by British author Guy Beringer entitled, “Brunch: A Plea” – supposedly inspired by the author’s own hangover – in which he speaks of brunch putting diners “in good temper.” Luxuriating over bottomless mimosas, creamy egg dishes, and fresh pastries can do that to a person.
Brunchers are passionate diners. Some make elaborate plans weeks in advance and corral friends and family to build special occasions around it. Among the most dedicated are cash-strapped millennials, who will splurge on a brunch meal even when wallets are bare, according to Restaurant Marketing Labs.
But executing a brunch that appeals both to the masses and to persnickety diners can strip some chefs of their will to cook. Not every restaurant has a solid brunch following, so it can also be expensive to produce and difficult to market.
A peek at Google trends reveals how location impacts brunch revenue. The terms “Mother’s Day brunch near me” versus the ubiquitous “brunch buffet” return entirely different cities. Metro areas lead the pack with Washington, D.C., followed by New York, and Miami-Ft. Lauderdale. Crabcake Benedict-friendly Charleston and the beignet paradise of New Orleans wrap up the top five regions for diners on the hunt for brunch. Contrast that with brunch buffets, most popular in Las Vegas in the lead followed by Honolulu, San Diego and Los Angeles.
Brunch is a balancing act for chefs and restaurant management. To make it successful and keep it exciting requires dedication, creativity, and patience. Here’s how five North American restaurant leaders make that happen.
JP Potters, Executive General Manager and Wine Director of Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar (Vancouver)
The seafood-focused Boulevard Kitchen & Oyster Bar, attached to a 500-room hotel in downtown Vancouver, is located in an ultra-high-end tourist area of the city. Building on the success of the restaurant and guests who frequent it, a couple of years ago, Boulevard management began strategizing how to make brunch more theatrical.
“It’s one thing to have good food and wine but lots of people have that,” said JP Potters. “We wanted to do something that would make the experience more exciting for diners and engage them.”
Boulevard’s mimosa trolley was just the ticket. “People really like the mimosa trolley going from table to table – what we learned is that a server can walk to a table and offer someone an alcoholic beverage at brunch and they’ll often decline, but when they see the cart, diners are more likely to accept,” says Potters, who serves French Champagne or very high-quality Prosecco.
“It says a lot about the psychology that people place a higher premium on the visual impact of having a high-quality product they can see with their eyes and not just on a flat menu.”
Potters also gives guests choices among the mimosas he offers. In addition to the traditional mimosa with fresh squeezed orange juice (never frozen from concentrate) Boulevard features a rose lavender mimosa and an elderflower mimosa with housemade elderflower syrup.
Boulevard dishes have a wow factor: lobster, sable fish crabcakes, and appetizers like the Boulevard “experience” with local oysters, Read Island mussels escabèche, poached prawns, octopus ceviche, and olive oil crisp with mignonette and cocktail sauce.
“Brunch service requires a lot of positive energy and everyone has to give a lot more, so naturally it is a bit of an odd time of day to be switched on to all smiles and go-go-go,” says Potters. “For most servers, it is the end of their week after five or six days when there are not as many smiles.”
For the benefit of his staff and his restaurant, Potters hires specifically for lunch and brunch. His dinner team doesn’t work lunches or brunches and he looks for a very specific type of server for that shift.
“If I’m interviewing late-night people and the most interesting thing to them is obscure wines, I know they will not enjoy working brunch. But there are people who only want to work Sunday and Monday daytime, because for them it is a side hustle and not the only thing they want to do,” says Potters. “Those servers see the brunch shift as fulfilling a need for them, rather than fulfilling the need for us. When you recognize that, it changes the psychology of it: find a person for whom brunch will be of benefit rather than insist on people doing this shift and everyone is happier.”
Potters’ tips for resurrecting a bland brunch:
- Empower staff and spread out the menu development process, if you have a competent team. Sharing this is important for people, so don’t hog the development process.
- Get ahead of your planning and give yourself the space to practice. Don’t try to develop a dish for today – that’s a losing formula. Instead, plan far enough ahead of it that you have the time to develop the dish.
- Be critical. Put your dishes in front of people you value. Don’t be so married to the first version of a new dish that you’ll become offended. Go through that sharing process and be okay with positive criticism.
“Our normal dish development process allows for all of our chefs, sous chefs, and senior line cooks to participate and develop dishes on their own,” says Potters. “We give them a brief of what we are looking for a specific month or season to set up goalposts.”
Dishes go through a rigorous process passing across the Boulevard management team, including executive chefs Roger Ma and Alex Chen and Potters. After, they share refining elements to make it stronger, like adding a textural component. [Read more…]