Breakfast Branches Out – US Food Trends

21 December 2007
Breakfast Branches Out – US Food Trends

Operators wake up to the fact that breakfast foods can entice diners morning, noon and night.

This article first appeared in the 1 December 2007 issue of Restaurants & Institutions (R&I).

R&I is the USA's leading source of food and business-trend information and exclusive research on operators and restaurant patrons. Editorial coverage spans the entire foodservice industry, including chains, independent restaurants, hotels and institutions. To find out more about R&I, visit its website here >>

By Allison Perlik, Senior Editor

Diners don't stop longing for comfort-laden breakfast foods once the clock strikes noon. Many family-dining restaurants long have understood that breakfast foods sell whenever they are available, and now kitchens of all kinds are catering to consumers who want cereal at lunch, omelets for dinner or pancakes late in the evening.

More than 40% of consumers say they'd like to see breakfast served all day, according to Chicago-based market researcher Technomic Inc. Simple, familiar recipes and budget-friendly pricing help break old menu-daypart boundaries. The fact that traditional breakfast foods can be full meals or quick, simple bites adds to their timeless appeal.

Don't discount pure novelty as a selling point, either.

"The first thing your mind says when you see a breakfast item on the dinner menu is, ‘What's that all about? Maybe I'll try it,'" says Executive Chef Amos Pedersen of 707 Restaurant & Bar in Philadelphia. "A lot of people crave something different."

On Pedersen's upscale-American menu, a mini cast-iron skillet of sunny-side-up eggs, potatoes and bacon draped in melted Cheddar sells well as a meant-to-be-shared starter. An "all-day" omelet with ham, Swiss cheese and chives, paired with a mixed-green salad and grilled bread instead of typically heavier breakfast sides, also is a popular choice.

"We haven't had much demand to add waffles and pancakes yet, but nothing's out of reach," Pedersen says. "If you can sell an omelet at 10 p.m., why not something else?"

Fun is Just One Reason

At Cereal World in Minneapolis, the main menu offerings are multiple cereal varieties with add-ins such as dried fruit, candy and nuts. The cereals' portability, low cost and relative healthfulness are selling points at any time of day for the restaurant's largest customer base: students from the nearby University of Minnesota.

The originality of the format (also seen at similar concepts such as Chicago-based Cereality Cereal Bar & Cafe and The Cereal Bowl in Miami) is a draw, as is the nostalgia breakfast cereal evokes, says owner Julie Marshall.

"People may have cereal at home, but we have a lot more options," she says.

Fresh strawberries, bananas, almonds and pecans are among the most-ordered toppings. Skim is the most popular milk choice; soy, banana, strawberry, chocolate and lactose-free varieties also are available. To keep customers' concoctions crunchy, milk is served in separate 8-ounce containers.

At Kitsch'n, a retro-comfort-food restaurant with two locations in Chicago, Chef-owner Jon Young's menu offers breakfast until 3 p.m., and Young often runs breakfast specials through dinner.

"About 40% of what we sell between noon and 3 p.m. is breakfast dishes," he says. "Those recipes are 5% to 10% lower in food costs, so it's a smart business decision to keep them available."

Customers often look for richer, more substantial foods when ordering breakfast past typical morning hours, Young notes. One briskly selling example is Cherry-Bacon Breakfast Strata, a hearty casserole served in generous slices.

Eggs are whisked with extra yolks and combined with milk, caramelized onions, shredded Gruyère, sweet cherries and fried sage. The mixture is poured over cubed bread and cherry-hardwood-smoked bacon, sprinkled with a topping of breadcrumbs and crumbled bacon, and baked.

Young also finds success selling traditional recipes revamped with a breakfast spin. Chicken Marsala inspires a dish that marries over-easy eggs with portobello and cremini mushrooms sautéed in a rich pan sauce of butter, Marsala wine, cream and Parmesan cheese.

Spice It Up …

Students flock to dining facilities when all-day breakfast is offered at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, says Culinary Operations Manager Rob Landolphi.

"Kids who are up early in the morning go for standard items, but as the day progresses, they look for a little more spice, something more exciting," he says.

Mexican Breakfast Strudel fits the bill on both counts. Chorizo sausage, bell peppers and onions are sautéed with precooked cubes of hash-brown potatoes. Eggs whisked with chives are stirred in, and once the eggs have set, soft cream cheese is added. The mixture is spooned down the center of puff-pastry sheets that are braided into long cylinders, brushed with egg wash and baked to a golden brown. Students dip the warm slices in salsa.

Another breakfast selection more apt to sell past noon is a bacon-cheeseburger omelet, stuffed with ground beef, Cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon and onions. Ketchup, mustard and pickles serve as condiments.

"Now that kids are eating later and later into the evening, the next big thing is going to be breakfast all night," Landolphi predicts.

That's certainly true for many 24-hour diners and family-dining restaurants, and breakfast foods aren't restricted to standard meal times on other menus, either.

Huckleberry pancakes with whipped maple butter and an "omelet of the day" are highlights of the late-night menu available from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. at Wolfgang Puck Grille at the MGM Grand Detroit Hotel and Casino. At New York City-based fast-casual chain Starwich, customers often order egg-based breakfast sandwiches for afternoon and evening snacks as well as for meals, says founder and CEO Spiro Baltas.

"New York is a funny place," he says. "People wake up at all different hours and work at different times, so we thought it would be a good idea to run breakfast into lunchtime. Then we found that the later we kept it, the more people would order it."

Rather than being fried in oil or butter, the eggs are baked in individual circular molds and tucked between croissants, baguettes or slices of five-grain bread with customers' choice of ingredients. Those who order the sandwiches later in the day tend to add heartier proteins such as skirt steak or even filet mignon rather than breakfast meats such as ham or turkey sausage, Baltas says.

… Or Keep it Simple

Sometimes, the consistency and comfort inherent in breakfast foods are all it takes to whet diners' appetites.

Morning favorites such as omelets, sausage, pancakes and bacon headline weekly "breakfast for dinner" specials at Nashville, Tenn.-based Shoney's and Madison, Tenn.-based Barnhill's Buffet. At quick-service chains, including San Diego-based Jack in the Box and Oklahoma City-based Sonic, breakfast sandwiches and burritos dominate all-day breakfast menus.

Breakfast accounts for a significant chunk of Bojangles' business, so offering the morning menu all day has always been a key part of the company's strategy. Depending on the location, breakfast can account for up to 40% of total sales, and breakfast items sold after the morning daypart can account for up to 10% more, says Executive Vice President Eric Newman.

"You've got to be focused on what you do," he says. "Breakfast all day is hard to do, and it's harder to do well."

Simple, recognizable breakfast choices fit right in with the retro-meets-modern-themed fare served between noon and 11 p.m. at Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based Lucky Strike Lanes, a 16-unit upscale bowling lounge.

Miniature quiche tartlets are popular with customers as appetizers or light meals, says Nicole Agee, executive chef at the Lombard, Ill., location. The small phyllo tarts are lined with shredded Gouda cheese; filled with eggs, cream and sautéed mushrooms; and baked.

For traditional Toads in a Hole, two holes are cut into French bread brushed lightly with garlic butter. While the bread toasts on a flat-top grill, eggs are cracked into each hole. Once they set, the bread is flipped to let it finish cooking. Balsamic-vinaigrette-dressed salad comes on the side.

"There are a lot more vegetarians on the market these days, so these recipes give them choices with some substance," Agee says. "They also offer broader choices for people who want something lighter."

Breakfast for Dessert?

Diners may prefer eggs and other savory dishes for lunch and dinner, but when it comes to desserts, breakfast's sweeter side entices.

  • Chef Dirk Flanigan of The Gage in Chicago deep-fries planks of brioche French toast coated in Japanese rice crackers and serves them over maple gelée with maple mousse, butter foam and vanilla-accented caramel poured tableside.
  • At her namesake restaurant in Vail, Colo., Chef-owner Kelly Liken bakes caramel-glazed cinnamon buns studded with toasted pecans and pairs them with vanilla-bean ice cream.
  • At Stella! in New Orleans, Chef-owner Scott Boswell serves Bananas Foster French Toast topped with ice cream, candied walnuts, fried green plantains, and sliced bananas tossed in rich sauce flambéed with rum and banana liqueur.

Waking Up Brunch

Straightforward staples always sell at brunch, but standout menus also offer a few recipes with unexpected flair.

  • French toast at Sola in Chicago gains extra zip from orange-liqueur-spiked batter and a sweet garnish of fresh berries and crème anglaise.
  • Bradenton, Fla.-based chain First Watch offers the Chickichanga: whipped eggs with spicy chicken, chorizo, green chiles, Monterey Jack and Cheddar cheeses, onion and avocado rolled in a crisp flour tortilla.
  • At Watts Grocery in Durham, N.C., eggs Benedict is dressed up with andouille sausage, stewed chiles and crawfish-tail beurre rouge. ital
  • New York City neighbourhood restaurant Stella Maris serves buckwheat pancakes with grilled banana, hazelnuts and maple syrup.
  • Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based The Cheesecake Factory enlivens basic hash with sautéed crab, tricolor bell peppers and onions and tops the mix with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce.
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