Savory items help to drive brunch sales
Brunch is gaining sales momentum as more consumers look for savory flavors in the weekend midday meal. According to the market research firm Datassential, “Brunch” as a menu descriptor is up 38 percent over the past four years.
Datassential also reports that half of operators who offer both brunch and breakfast feature a distinct brunch menu. Brunch also tends to be offered more in the late morning and early afternoon, and features more lunch- and dinner-influenced items, often with a more premium feel.
Operators and chefs are attracting new customers by adding new savory selections to this booming daypart — menu items that go beyond the iconic fried chicken and waffles or sunny-side up fried eggs.
Better than homemade
Because many of the innovative menu items focus on fried foods and nontraditional breakfast proteins, brunch has become more than just a late breakfast. “With the emergence of brunch and this whole experience around brunch at noon or later, it lends itself to more savory options,” says Aaron Lyons, founder and chief executive of Dish Society, with three locations in Houston. “People can make eggs and bacon and pancakes at home, so they are looking for something new.”
Lyons says the most popular brunch dishes are all savory. One top seller is Chicken and Biscuits, which includes two buttermilk biscuits with fried cage-free chicken and house gravy. Another popular dish is the Shrimp Tacos, with grilled or fried gulf shrimp, cabbage, house roasted corn pico and Sriracha aioli on flour or corn tortillas.
Lyons says savory dishes are especially appealing to millennials who plan their get-togethers around Sunday brunch instead of Saturday dinner. “Most of our Instagram posts come from brunch,” he says. “The joke is, if you didn’t take a picture, did brunch happen?”
Brunch goes global
On-trend global flavors are also contributing to the rise of savory brunches. At the Asian-themed Departure, one signature item is the Korean Fried Chicken with a ginger-soy glaze, kimchi slaw and pickles. That item is a big hit because it combines familiar and new flavors, says Khamla Vongsakoun, executive chef of the Denver location of Departure.
Other savory brunch selections include Thai Sausage and Egg Fried Rice with crispy shallot and toasted chili; and Thai Sausage Lettuce Cups with cilantro, peanut and makrut lime.
Departure uses a fermented pork sausage. “That’s unique on its own,” Vongsakoun says. “We don’t put ‘fermented’ on the menu, but it’s like a sour sausage.” The lettuce cups are also familiar to people who have eaten at chains such as P.F. Chang’s, but the Departure version features fried sausage served with the lettuce cup and a cucumber herb salad on top.
There is also a dim sum cart with items such as Chicken + Shrimp Spring Roll with cabbage, bean sprout and apricot mustard. The cart provides a great way of motivating customers to order more food at brunch. “Someone stopping by your table and opening the lid of a bamboo basket makes your mouth water,” Vongsakoun says.
Indulge on the weekend
For many, brunch is a way to treat themselves after a long week. “The indulgent aspect of it has come on as a big driver for our guests,” says Brett Jones, culinary and beverage operations manager for The Ruby Slipper Café, with nine locations in New Orleans.
For these guests, fried foods are a must.
The top-selling menu item at The Ruby Slipper is Chicken St. Charles, which is a fried chicken Benedict breast served over a buttermilk biscuit, topped with two poached eggs, finished with a pork tasso cream sauce. “It’s really over the top, but chicken is having a big moment now,” Jones says. Another brunch specialty is Catfish Coubion, which is thin-fried, farm-raised catfish over a French bread crostini, sautéed spinach, tomatoes, artichoke hearts and pork tasso, finished with a creole tomato court bouillon.
Classic dishes also can drive traffic at brunch. Clinton Street Baking Company, with locations in New York and some international cities, serves Fried Chicken & Waffles with cage-free breast with honey-tabasco sauce, a crispy Belgian vanilla buttermilk waffle and warm maple butter. “Keep in mind that brunch is the combination of breakfast and lunch,” says owner DeDe Lahman. “Nobody eats sweet things at lunch.”
Whether it’s morning or early afternoon, consumers are looking for that kick, and for innovative menu items. Brunch can be a great traffic and revenue generator for operators who offer on-trend, fried savory flavors to millennials and other frequent brunch consumers.