Brunch has always been something of a social meal, one reserved for lazy weekends something to do when you have extra time and, more importantly, extra cash. So why at a time when the number of dinners that Americans are eating out is at an all-time low, and the economy has more and more people turning to their kitchens to (gasp!) cook for themselves, is this niche meal on the rise? Brunch traffic was up 8% during the first eight months of this year compared to the same period in 2008, according to market-research firm NPD Group. Brunch traffic was up 15% in the South, and even in the Northeast, the land of the white-collar layoff, traffic was up 10%.
NPD's chief industry analyst Harry Balzer doesn't attribute the meal's increasing popularity to its social aspect, but to its promise of large quantities of food for a startlingly low price. "People are not going out without a deal, and brunch is the No. 1 deal," Balzer says. Nationwide, the average brunch eater's check is $6.48.
One interesting subset of brunchers on the rise: men ages 21 to 34, a demographic associated more with late nights on the town than cheery mid-morning group meals. But even in the current era of Judd Apatow bromance movies, Balzer still believes the increase in bro-brunches (bronches?) stems from the desire to eat cheaply combined with a serious lack of skills in the kitchen.
In many places, however, there's another big incentive to get people stressed out by the economy to go to brunch. It is not unusual for restaurants to include a free mimosa or Bloody Mary as part of the deal, and more and more eateries are offering unlimited cocktails. Referred to as "drunk," "boozy," or "bottomless" brunch, restaurants in many of the country's larger cities are using all-you-can-drink cocktails to entice more people to shell out for eggs Benedict or a Belgian waffle. After all, says Village Voice restaurant critic Robert Sietsema, "Sunday brunch is just a license to continue Saturday's night of drinking."
A search for "bottomless brunch" on yelp.com and other sites will pull up a myriad of restaurants that offer the liquid bargain in places like San Francisco, Washington, and Chicago. Some sites such as washingtonian.com and sheckys.com have even compiled brunch lists based on the alcohol deals. Though restaurants in America's more affluent cities likely won't provide an all-you-can-eat meal for under $7, it seems many of them will let patrons drink a whole lot for somewhere under $20.
In the end, whether people show up to get a cheap meal or to nurse a hangover, restaurant owners' main concern, according to Sietsema, is that people show up. "Restaurateurs love the meal," he says. "It fills the restaurant up at an odd hour of the week when most people are at home making their own French toast and reading the newspaper."