Breakfast has long been considered the most important meal of the day by doctors and nutritionists for its ability to kick start the metabolism, but it's the meal's potetial to deliver significant additional revenue that is getting hospitality businesses out of bed.
Hotels have always recognised the benefits of the most profitable meal of the day - and an opportunity to make a memorable last impression - but now restaurants, and even pubs, are opening earlier to make the most of the morning. Meanwhile, business and industry operators have seen a rise in interest among time-poor office workers who now grab a bite when they get to work.
And as the market has grown, so has the variety of options available. The full English remains a breakfast and brunch stalwart, but healthier options are increasingly in demand.
"The cooked breakfast is certainly popular still, but more people are starting to demand healthy alternatives such as fresh fruit platters, warming porridge and less-sweet cereals," says Hazel Tunnicliffe, marketing manager at Beacon Purchasing. "Local sourcing is also becoming increasingly widespread, with people wanting to source breakfast staples such as eggs, bacon and honey locally."
Particularly in metropolitan areas, businesses are opening earlier to take advantage of the thirst for coffee and grab-and-go breakfast items as well as the business brunch diners. But with more competition around for the morning pound, firms need to be wide awake to take full advantage.
TOP 10 BREAKFAST FAVOURITES
3. Hot cereal - eg, porridge
5. Full cooked breakfast
6. Yogurt or yogurt drink
8. Hot roll - eg, bacon or sausage roll
9. Sliced bread/bread rolls
10. Breakfast bars - eg, cereal bars
Source: Mintel Breakfast Catering UK, April 2010
PUBS WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE
More than any other market, the pubs sector is where breakfasts represent a real opportunity to refocus your offering and contribute to the bottom line. As breakfast currently represents just 4.6% of the total pub food market, up from 3.5% in 2009, there is still massive growth potential [see graph] and an opportunity to bring customers in earlier.
Guy Fielding, UK food service director at market research firm the NPD Group, says: "Our research shows that despite there being a lot of noise around breakfast as an opportunity, this ‘daypart' has declined in share terms, although only slightly. One channel that is really underdeveloped in the breakfast market is pubs. They are now exploiting breakfast by opening their doors earlier to the public to attract the early-bird traffic."
Make sure managers get behind the idea Barracuda, which owns the Smith & Jones, Cape and Varsity brands, is one of those firms already exploiting breakfast, as well as that other morning staple, coffee.
The firm has now hit breakfast sales of 12,000 per week, up from 5,000 in the previous year. It also sells about 30,000 cups of Costa Coffee per week from 100 of its pubs and announced in November that it would extend the coffee concept to all 217 businesses in its estate. Together, coffee and breakfasts contribute £3m to the company's turnover, although it expects that to increase to more than £5m next year.
The most important factor in the success of breakfasts is making sure individual managers get behind the idea and make the public aware that breakfast and coffee are available. "Barracuda's pubs are mainly on the high street so there are typical potential customers out there, but it has to be clear that we are open and ready to serve them," says a spokeswoman.
JD Wetherspoon raised a few eyebrows earlier this year when it announced that it would take on the likes of McDonald's and Starbucks by opening its pubs from 7am to serve breakfast - which includes dishes like fresh fruit salad and low-fat yogurt, as well as more traditional cooked breakfasts.
The company already offers Lavazza coffee and has launched a promotion for coffee at 49p per cup between 7am and 9am, seven days a week. It has since scaled back the 7am opening to about 300 pubs in an estate of about 1,000 but still generates breakfast sales of 300,000 a week - that's 15 million a year - and coffee sales of 500,000 a week (25 million a year). The company is reluctant to reveal the margins it makes on its breakfasts but indicates that the breakfasts and coffee contribute tens of millions of pounds to its annual turnover.
Top breakfast tips
Open early and make sure customers know with prominent signage.
Make sure coffee is good quality.
Offer healthy options - people are more likely to eat healthily in the morning.
Try offering loyalty points.
CONTRACT CATERERS RISE AND SHINE IN THE CITY
Breakfast is particularly big business for contract caterers with city-based operations. Work start-times can be as early as 6am and with most staff commuting in, there's a strong market to provide fuel-driven breakfasts.
However, there are subtle differences in the type of breakfast people choose to eat on different days of the week. "We find that fruit-based products work well early on and that smaller portion pots can be up-sold with other products," says Paul Bates, group managing director of Talkington Bates. "Mondays are generally the quietest and we've found that offering 10% off tea, coffee and other breakfast items drives footfall."
Carolyn Hails, Aramark's business and industry (B&I) marketing director, agrees: "We know that in general Mondays are not a day for indulgence - however, Fridays often are, driven by our ever changing moods around food."
According to Chris Maddison, sales director at Searcys, the products seeing the biggest growth in demand at its B&I sites are those considered to be the healthy option: smoothies, breakfast drinks, cereal and porridge.
But despite this, the traditional full English breakfast proves to be an irresistible draw by the end of the working week. Unsurprisingly, this pattern of behaviour has not gone unnoticed by caterers, who support their clients by using the breakfast offer to coax staff back in the next morning. Mark Crowe, development chef for Avenance's City business, explains: "It's a matter of dealing with the consequences rather than trying to fix the problem. Offering the fried breakfast is part of the recovery package."
Porridge: the original superfood Contract caterers have found that the traditional breakfast has undergone something of a renaissance in recent years. Talkington Bates and Catermasters have both seen a steady increase in porridge sales over the past two years, particularly in colder months, and in January Catermasters will run a promotion to capture that burgeoning customer base, particularly those hoping to shed some weight after the excesses of Christmas.
But some caterers have found that porridge need not be just a winter warmer. Elior's B&I division, Avenance, has seen sales of what it describes as the "original superfood" increase by about 60% over the past 18 months because it is a low-cholesterol, slow-release energy breakfast item that can be prepared to suit all diets, and sales remain strong throughout the year. "We still sell porridge if it's 90Â°F outside in the middle of August," explains development chef Mark Crowe.
With potential profit margins of 45-50%, depending on the agreed selling price and toppings applied by the customer, it's a product that's well worth promoting.
Top breakfast tips Go for high-margin products such as porridge, which can be up-sold with a broad selection of healthy toppings .
Identify daily best sellers: customers tend to be more virtuous straight after the weekend so offer lots of healthy options.
Offer grab-and-go breakfast items to capture the customers with no time to stop.
Friday is a day of indulgence, so adjust offer accordingly with cooked breakfasts
RESTAURANTS DEDICATE CONSISTENT TEAMS FOR A DISTINCTIVE BREAKFAST OFFERING
With ostentatious budgets and long lunches fuelled with expensive bottles of wine a thing of the past, restaurants have had to adapt their offer to please their business clientele. And in London, at least for many operators, breakfast is fast becoming the new lunch.
While for restaurants such as the Wolseley, Le Pain Quotidien or Automat, breakfast has long been one of the busiest services of the day, other operators are starting to cash in on the trend.
At Lutyens in the City, the breakfast market is continually growing and now accounts for about 15% of daily revenues. "A large majority of our breakfast trade is repeat and regular business. We tend to rota on the same personnel for breakfast so that a good solid customer relationship can be formed," says general manager Graham Williams.
Take money up front for weekend brunch Altitude 360 atop the Millbank Tower overlooking the River Thames launched an American-style brunch service earlier this year to take advantage of the weekend trade. "We launched brunch owing to huge demand from our corporate clients and constant requests from the general public looking to experience the view," says marketing director Peter Kerwood. However, he warns that with weekend brunches, you have to prepare for cancellation. "Weekend brunch service has a huge drop-out rate. Take as much money up front as you can."
Healthy options on the menu
When it comes to demand, one dish seems to dominate orders: Eggs Benedict, which is the top seller on most breakfast menus, even outselling more traditional cooked breakfasts including full English or scrambled eggs and smoked salmon. However, increasingly diners are also after healthier options and a balanced menu must cater for lighter palates, too.
At the forefront of healthy meals is fast food operator Leon, where breakfast accounts for 15% of total sales. Co-founder Henry Dimbleby says: "People's desire to be healthy decreases as the day goes by. So it's really important to offer a healthy breakfast."
Organic porridge, fruit and yogurt, smoothies and muffins dominate the morning menu at Leon, alongside the recently launched New York breakfast, a wheat-free rye bread which comes with a variety of toppings. Dimbleby says the new menu has radically increased sales, which are up 60% since its launch.
Top breakfast tips Consider breakfast as an opportunity both for revenue and attracting new customers
Create a good menu with a varied choice
Offer a speedy service
Foster relationships with clientele by keeping the breakfast team constant
HOW HOTELS CAN PROVIDE A LASTING IMPRESSION
With breakfast being the last meal served to guests before checking out, it is vital that hotels do everything they can to ensure that the service leaves a positive, lasting impression.
From the moment a guest arrives at one of the 12 Malmaison hotels in the UK, staff ensure they are made aware of when and where breakfast is served and then provide a warm, friendly welcome when they actually arrive to take the breakfast. Nice touches include an offer of a newspaper for those who are eating alone, and help with service at the buffet for guests with small children or limited mobility.
At the Malmaison in Birmingham, bottlenecks at peak periods of demand are eased by the setting up of a tea, coffee and pastry station in the bar to provide guests with refreshments or access to the Continental buffet, as an alternative to being seated in the main restaurant where a plated breakfast is served.
"The key to managing a busy breakfast is your preparation, having more than enough relays, speed of service and, more importantly, accuracy in order takings so there are no delays," says Keith Shearer, group executive chef at Malmaison.
Make sure the toast is warm
With 400 bedrooms at two hotels at the Celtic Manor Resort, it is essential that guests see that someone is controlling the service, particularly at the busiest times. As a result, there is always someone controlling the entrance to the restaurant, who does not move from their position and communicates any bottlenecks. If there is a delay, guests are offered smoothies.
In dealing with the bugbear of many a breakfast service - cold toast - Celtic Manor has a member of staff manning the toaster on the buffet, rather than it being left to guests, to ensure an abundant supply of hot toast.
So that guests leave with a memorable impression of Celtic Manor's breakfasts, the hotel puts on a buffet which is akin to a banquet with a huge choice of options. "Presentation is particularly important, so we take a lot of care in how we set and display our buffets," says Glenn Lewis, the hotel's food and beverage director.
Extend hours at weekends
Extended breakfast hours are becoming more popular, especially on Sundays when guests want to take a more leisurely approach. At Thistle Hotels, guests staying at any of the 33 properties can enjoy the Lazy Sundays deal which allows them to check in on Saturday night and stay until 6pm the following day, with breakfast being served as late as noon.
Elsewhere, brunch is the popular option. At the 154-bedroom Wyndham Grand at London's Chelsea Harbour, the Harbour Brunch offers a similar version of the weekday breakfast, with the addition of several main course dishes such as rosemary marinated rib of beef and salmon Wellington with tarragon sauce, an extensive selection of cakes and desserts, and Champagne on arrival. This is particularly well-received by families, as children pay £1 for each year of their age, up to 16, as opposed to the adult price of £45.
Case study - Breakfast at Birmingham Malmaison The 189-bed hotel serves about 3,700 breakfasts per month (150-200 per day from Tuesday to Friday and up to 300 on a Sunday). About 300 of these are served via room service. Apart from the Continental buffet, all items are cooked to order.
The mix of dishes served during October were:
Mal breakfast (bacon, egg, sausage, tomato and black pudding) 1,174
Continental buffet 839
Eggs Benedict 386
Breakfast box (croissant, cereal, yogurt and fruit served to room) 288
Salmon and scrambled eggs 273
Muffin and poached egg 202
Breakfast roll (with sausage or bacon) 197
Eggs on toast 146
Fast breakfast 5
Top breakfast tips
Prevent bottlenecks by setting up a separate tea, coffee and pastry station.
Make sure you serve warm toast.
Extend breakfast hours at weekends to ease the pressure on staff and guests.
Offer as many options as possible.