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Is breakfast the new lunch?

30 November 2006

Businesspeople are increasingly attracted to the American idea of "power breakfasts", allowing them to do a full day's work without the interruption of a business lunch. And as Fiona Griffiths reports, restaurants and hotels are happy to oblige, at up to £30 a time

The large clock on the back wall at the Wolseley has just struck eight. Almost every table is taken, staff are rushing around, plates of food are being fed through from the kitchen in conveyer-belt fashion, and the place is buzzing with conversation.

If you ignored the daylight streaming through the windows and the display of croissants, pain au chocolat and Danish pastries on the table near the entrance, you could be forgiven for thinking it was eight o'clock at night. But no, it's a Wednesday morning and the 150-cover restaurant in London's Piccadilly is doing the same kind of roaring trade it would in the evening.

In fact, Chris Corbin and Jeremy King's three-year-old European-style brasserie regularly does more than 300 covers a day for breakfast and takes bookings weeks in advance. Today, just like every day, it's mainly men - plus a few women - in suits, sitting in groups of up to six, discussing business over plates of eggs Benedict, fresh juice and pots of coffee.

If you ever thought business-people were too busy to breakfast, it seems times have changed. In London at least, for restaurants and their customers, breakfast is fast becoming the new lunch.

When Galvin at Windows opened in May on the top floor of the London Hilton, there was no question for Chris Galvin that the restaurant would open for breakfast - even though the hotel already offered a buffet breakfast on the ground floor. The restaurant's general manager Fred Sirieix explains: "More and more restaurants are doing it now - look at the Wolseley. There are lots of hedge fund and property people around here who like to come in because they know they can talk business without being rushed, and it's a special venue."

The idea of going to an Indian restaurant for breakfast might seem a little alien, but the Cinnamon Club has been serving up spicy scrambled eggs and kedgeree at 7.30am since it opened in 2001, and this year it was named Best Breakfast in London by the Zagat guide.

Managing director Rohit Chugh says: "People in London are so fascinated with good food, breakfast included. I don't think restaurants should look at breakfast commercially because people aren't going to drink so it's not a revenue stream. It's just something where you can be a bit more creative and imaginative and almost entertain."

Brian Mouritzen, manager at Automat in Mayfair, which started doing breakfast three months ago, agrees. "We'll never make much revenue from breakfast because it's eggs and bacon so you can't charge that much for it, and it takes a lot of labour," he says. "But we felt there was a demand, and our concept is American so we want to be open from 7am until 1am."

Of course, the rise of breakfast goes hand in hand with the popularity of the all-day menu. Since the Wolseley launched with an all-day menu in 2003, plenty of others have followed - including The Canteen in Spitalfields, Raoul's in Notting Hill, American fifties-style diner Automat in Dover Street and, most recently, Tom Aikens's new restaurant, Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea.

Given how many new restaurants are opening early to serve breakfast, it seems almost unfashionable not to. Aikens, who promises to add breakfast to his menu shortly, says: "There's obviously more and more of a market for it and, being a bit of a neighbourhood restaurant, if people around here know there's a place where they can get a good breakfast, it makes us attractive."

Peter Harden, co-editor of the Harden's guide, is not surprised by the breakfast boom. "We're working longer hours and getting wealthier, so there's a general trend towards eating more meals outside the home, and that includes breakfast," he says. "A good slap-up breakfast used to be the preserve of the good hotels, but some needed to buck up their act a bit. If the hotels had been doing a better job, places like the Wolseley wouldn't have done so well."

But that's not to say hotels aren't feeling the force of the breakfast buzz too. Overnight guests now account for less than half the customer base at breakfast time for many hotels - including the Jumeirah Carlton Tower, where the cooked breakfast will set you back £30. In the hotel's Rib Room, 75% of diners tend to choose the £30 breakfast against the Continental buffet at £23.50, and of these at least half are usually non-residents.

Food and beverage director Guillaume Marly explains: "Our £30 breakfast is quite special - you get the buffet and a traditional English breakfast cooked to order, which is a very full plate and everything is of extremely high quality. Educated guests understand that quality has a price attached and they don't complain - they just love it. It's easy to go to a café down the road and get breakfast for £4.50, but it's about how well you serve it - the greeting, service, quality of food and presentation. Breakfast is being called the new lunch, and I think that's true to some extent - certainly about 60% of our breakfast diners are businesspeople who use it for meetings."

John Williams, executive head chef at the Ritz - which has a full restaurant every morning, with 60% non-residents - points to America for the origins of the business breakfast. "It all stems from the American ‘power breakfast'. The Americans would prefer to get up early, have their business meetings over breakfast when they have a clear head, and then they're free to do a full day's work rather than splitting up their day for two hours with a business lunch."

At Claridge's about 40% of breakfast diners are non-residents - a growth of 400% in the last six years - and most are businesspeople. Food and beverage manager Renaud Gregoire says: "If you're the CEO or chairman of a major company you start the day with a power breakfast, and if you want to impress, you go somewhere like Claridge's."

Probably the longest breakfast menu in London is available in Claridge's Foyer and Reading Room. Executive head chef Martyn Nail has just added an organic selection, including an organic full English with a £30 price tag - making it, jointly with the Jumeirah Carlton Tower's traditional English, the most expensive breakfast in London.

"About a quarter of people who order an English breakfast choose the organic," says Nail. "As for the increased popularity of breakfast, I think it's a case of ‘done lunch, done dinner'. If you want to entertain someone and make them feel a bit special, perhaps breakfast is the only thing that's left."

The Breakfast Club

The Cinnamon Club
Restaurant covers 50
Breakfast covers 20
Average spend per head £15-£20
What's on the menu Spicy scrambled eggs on layered bread, uttapam (rice pancake) with choice of toppings, kedgeree, full English, Bombay spiced vegetables with cumin "pao".
Style à la carte

The Wolseley
Restaurant covers
150
Breakfast covers 300-plus
Average spend per head up to £30
What's on the menu full English, crumpets, omelette Arnold Bennett, fried duck eggs with porcini and pancetta, crispy bacon roll.
Style à la carte

Automat
Restaurant covers
75
Breakfast covers 40
Average spend per head £18
What's on the menu eggs Norwegian, Bourbon vanilla French toast, steak and eggs, buttermilk pancakes.
Style à la carte

The Canteen
Restaurant covers 130
Breakfast covers 15 (50-plus at weekends)
Average spend per head £10-£15
What's on the menu Welsh rarebit, muesli and yogurt, bacon sandwich, eggs Florentine, hot buttered Arbroath smokie.
Style à la carte

Raoul's
Restaurant covers 80
Breakfast covers 20 (130 at weekends)
Average spend per head £10
What's on the menu full English breakfast, scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, eggs Benedict, kippers, French toast.
Style à la carte

Galvin at Windows
Restaurant covers
106
Breakfast covers 40
Average spend per head £18
What's on the menu traditional English, buckwheat crêpe, duck eggs with cèpes and foie gras, bacon roll, kipper, eggs Benedict.
Style à la carte

Claridge's
Restaurant covers
80
Breakfast covers 100-130
Average spend per head £25
What's on the menu full English (organic and non), organic cereals, healthy bento breakfast, Japanese breakfast, sevruga caviar with scrambled eggs on toasted brioche.
Style à la carte

Jumeirah Carlton Tower
Restaurant covers
84
Breakfast covers 84 (120 at weekends)
Average spend per head £26.50
What's on the menu traditional English breakfast, grilled kippers, omelette, home-made muesli, grilled Wiltshire ham with eggs.
Style buffet and à la carte

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