Let's do brunch – how to get it right

01 August 2014 by
Let's do brunch – how to get it right

The boozy brunch has officially arrived in the UK, but how easy is it to get it right? Elly Earls asks hoteliers and restaurateurs how to host bottomless weekend feasts without breaking the bank

Long, lazy weekend brunches have been virtually compulsory for New Yorkers for decades, and for many Dubai residents there hasn't been a week go by in the past five years without a trip to a bottomless boozy brunch. London may have taken a bit longer than other cities to become acquainted with the possibilities offered by brunch, but restaurateurs and hoteliers in the capital and across the country are certainly making up for lost time now. Originally a combination of breakfast and lunch, brunch can now mean anything from a mid-morning snack to an all-day weekend dining experience.

At Flesh & Buns in Covent Garden, customers can expect unlimited Japanese food with free-flowing wine or Prosecco; Chelsea restaurant Bluebird has all-day brunch parties with DJs and Bloody Mary trolleys; and at One Canada Square guests can enjoy traditional favourites like eggs Florentine or salmon tartare with pianists playing in the background.

This is just the tip of the iceberg; elsewhere, weekend all-day diners can find brunch combined with karaoke and build their own Bellini kits (Bunga Bunga in Battersea), American buttermilk pancakes (Avenue in the West End) and French croque madames (Coq d'Argent in the City). But although there are hundreds of different takes on brunch in London alone, the overriding concept is, by and large, the same: informal but indulgent and, above all, fun.

Changing lifestyles
According to Robbie Bargh, founder of hospitality consultancy Gorgeous Group, the growing popularity of brunch reflects the fact that our lifestyles have changed. "Time with friends and family has become so valuable and brunch has become the alternative Sunday lunch where family and friends get together," he explains.

"The working day has become longer, so friends are waiting for the weekend to hang out and brunch has become that perfect informal social gathering. It makes Sundays so much more fun and much longer, and it's also a great way of having cocktails and Champagne at breakfast!"

Similarly at Peruvian restaurant Coya in Mayfair, guests receive complimentary punch on arrival as well as unlimited wine or Champagne, depending on which menu they opt for.

"Offering a large selection of starters, such as our ceviche classico, followed by a main dish that each individual can choose, has been a great formula for brunch," says chief executive Adam Bel Hadj.

One Canada Square also offers a set brunch menu, which includes dishes from Europe, the USA and Asia, and costs £20 for two courses or £25 for three courses. For an extra £15, customers get endless raspberry Bellinis, Bloody Marys, Prosecco or white, red or rosé wine.

Different demographics
There's no single type of cuisine that will make or break a brunch menu. The key is variety and making sure you can appeal to different demographics. At One Canada Square, this was the thinking behind launching a bottomless brunch in the first place.

"We wanted to offer something a bit different that still reflected our core product and appealed across all demographics and types of bookings, from a pitstop while shopping to a celebration with friends and family," explains Jessica Dahlin, marketing manager at parent company ETM Group.

To come up with the brunch menu the team picked the best sellers from the Á la carte menu. "Classic eggs Benedict and our shorthorn burger served with smoked Cheddar and hand-cut chips are both incredibly popular for those getting over a Friday night. The lighter options, such as braised kale and broccoli omelette, don't sell as many, but appeal to those people heading off to the shops to try on a new dress afterwards," Dahlin notes.

And don't forget the kids. "Sundays are days of laziness and having a good time with the family," Bel Hadj says. "At Coya, kids under 10 eat for free, making the brunch more accessible to those with families, and there's a special area where kids can play after the meal. There's often a film showing for children too, as well as a selection of board games."

For the grown-ups, there's a live band playing a mix of classic and modern Latin American sounds, and Coya isn't the only operator to have cottoned on to the fact that some form of entertainment always goes down well at a leisurely weekend brunch.

For Dahlin, it's what could make a customer choose your brunch over one of the hundreds of others out there. "What is key is ensuring your offer is relevant and competitive. Don't be scared to do something different and innovative," she advises. "Adding in little extras such as live music or iPads to keep the kids entertained could be the USP."

However, it's crucial to keep things relatively simple. "Don't overcomplicate the menu or the concept - remember that brunch is a leisurely weekend meal, something a little indulgent, relaxed and fun," says David Loewi, managing director of D&D, which operates Bluebird, Coq d'Argent and Avenue among
many other restaurants. "Keep your key customer in mind - what do they want from their Saturday or Sunday morning: somewhere to read the paper, a family breakfast or even a continuation of the night before?"

Getting it right
With its often unlimited food and drink and laid-back nature, brunch is a very different style of service to that which chefs and front of house staff are used to. Not only is extra prep time required in the kitchen, guests often arrive sporadically, have more time to spend at the restaurant and want to make the most
of everything on offer.

Dahlin says communication between staff and guests is therefore crucial. "Communicating how the offer works to the customers at the beginning of their experience is the biggest difference from a normal service," she explains. "This has, however, provided a great opportunity for the waiter or waitress to spend extra time at the table, finding out a bit more about the kind of experience the customers would like and delivering accordingly.

"The other challenge is to keep drinks topped up without encouraging irresponsible behaviour. Training and the presence of a manager on the floor keep the balance right."

For Bargh, the only way to make brunch a success is through encouraging loyalty. "Repeat business is key," he concludes. "And it does take a while, so you must allow for a gradual increase in business."

Ways to make brunch work
Unlimited booze
Red and white wine, Prosecco, Bellinis and Bloody Marys go down particularly well on a Sunday afternoon. And some operators like Bunga Bunga have even made their unlimited drinks interactive: guests can build their own Bellini with the kits provided at each table.

Pastries, pastries and more pastries
According to Robbie Bargh, "bunnage" (pastries, breads and accompaniments) is a must for a successful brunch. The coffee profiteroles with mocha cream at the Cookbook Café in Mayfair are just one mouthwatering example.

Sustainable fare
Dishes created from all local ingredients are always popular with today's educated diners. At Ask For Janice in Farringdon, for example, the thoroughly British menu includes everything from Chatsworth smoked salmon from Hackney with goat's curd, caper berries and rye through to iced pink finger buns and lardy cakes.

Brunch isn't brunch without eggs - whether that's a classic omelette or a twist on a traditional favourite. At Bunga Bunga, guests can sample the Bunga's Benedict pizza, topped with Hollandaise sauce, spinach, smoked salmon and a soft egg.

An attention-grabbing alternative to Sunday lunch Japanese restaurant

Flesh & Buns launched its Sunday bottomless brunch menu in June 2014 and chef-proprietor Ross Shonhan has been overwhelmed with the response he's had so far.

"It's been absolutely great, particularly considering we've had great weather during that time," he says. "As we're in a basement, the good weather should
hurt us, so the fact people have picked up on our Sunday afternoon brunch when there have been several sunny Sundays has been great."

Prior to launching brunch, Shonhan's Sunday afternoon trade had been OK, but he'd always envisaged the restaurant's huge dining room being full of big groups of people getting stuck in, medieval banquet-style. "We wanted to offer an alternative Sunday lunch where it's not all about roast and Yorkshire puddings," he explains. "But we had to deliver it in a way that caught people's attention."

The idea of the brunch is that customers leave "drunk, full and happy" and the unlimited food and freeflowing wine or Prosecco certainly helps them on their way.

When guests sit down, cocktails and snacks arrive and they choose which menu they want - the £29 or the £36 option. Each includes unlimited hot and cold dishes, a signature main course, unlimited Prosecco, red or white wine and a dessert for the table. The only difference is that the more expensive menu features the restaurant's most labour-intensive dishes. It hasn't been easy to get brunch right, Shonhan admits.

"We've had to alter the amount of covers to make sure our kitchen could produce the food well and fast," he says. "We have also started taking credit card details to confirm reservations, and put more emphasis on our first seating at 12 o'clock and 12.30pm because initially it was a bit harder to sell. We've got it there now by having two defined seating times."

An international offer with a local focus
Long, leisurely, unlimited weekend brunches at the Cookbook Café at the InterContinental London Park Lane launched in 2009 and have since been consistently voted among the best in London.

"We decided to replicate the very best of the international offerings and localise it to London," says director of food and beverage Helen Douglas. We did this by presenting all the classics, but with local ingredients and UK menu additions, like the roast on Sundays."

The restaurant's unlimited offering, which costs £49 per person, includes a breakfast and starter table featuring waffles, pancakes and eggs to order; a market table of salads, sashimi, local cheeses and meats; traditional main courses, which can be served 'family style' to share; and a pastry station of mini desserts.

We also offer unlimited Crémant and Bellinis with home-made peach juice, tea and coffee," Douglas adds.

The variety of the offering is what Douglas believes has kept guests coming back again and again. "There are healthy options (sashimi, salads, eggs) for those that don't want to overindulge and all the brunch classics for those who want a treat," she explains.

Saturdays and Sundays also have very different guest profiles. "We thought it was important to introduce two different styles and we have seen a clear difference in our guest profile on Saturday, with more women and large group gatherings.

Sunday is without a doubt when we have the families that gather. It's lovely to see family generations coming in to celebrate together," Douglas says. "The success is our repeat guests. They love that we don't increase our prices every six months; we've maintained the same price positioning for well over a year
and manage our costs."

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