To make things easier, we’ve stripped it back to basics. The Morning Advertiser caught up with operators on how pubs can raise the bar of their brunch offering. Fun is key, but focusing on coffee, atmosphere, and staying loyal to your offering is what really matters.
When Melanie Marriott’s business Darwin & Wallace was first starting up, her suggestion that its bars should serve breakfast was met with “raised eyebrows”.
She’d spent some time in the United States, where brunch had already taken off, and had reasoned it would be a way to adapt her offering to suit customers’ ever-changing behaviours. Now, she says customers see her nine bars as go-to brunch destinations.
The option to choose a bottomless brunch is available at Darwin & Wallace’s sites, which include south London bars No.32 in Clapham and No.29 in Battersea. Marriott believes this suits customers in the cost-of-living crisis, as committing to spending a certain amount in a package deal meant there was less “shock” at the end when they came to pay.
Pancakes are a cornerstone to the business’ brunch. There are savoury versions like smoked salmon & pickled veg, sweet options like blueberry then a third mixture of bacon, maple syrup & fried egg.
"Try not to deviate too much from what you do and what you’re well known for,” she advises bars wanting to elevate their brunch offering. If you were famous for one particular thing, think, ‘how can I fit that into a brunch?’
Jesse Dunford Wood, head chef at Parlour in west London, was also considered a bit of an outlier when he decided to serve brunch at his pub when it opened a decade ago.
At first, the move was regarded as a “bit of a strange concept”, but, for the head chef, it was a way to get away from the masculinity of pubs and broaden its audience.
“People were a bit reluctant,” he says, “but we stuck to it”. It’s important for Dunford Wood that brunch is representative of the gastropub’s overall food offer rather than being a bolt on.
In 10 years, Parlour’s brunch offering has barely changed at all. “It’s pretty amazing that we nailed it straight away,” marvels the chef.
Now, the gastropub in Kensal Green is “really well known” for its brunch. Dunford Wood advises other operators wanting to offer brunch to make sure this is reflected in the environment.
Music choices, lighting and the general energy are all vital in transforming a pub into a brunch destination rather than a “dinner place that’s pretending to do dinner at the same time”. The atmosphere should gradually change throughout the day, counsels the chef.
Moreover, he believes brunch dishes should flow with the rest of the menu. “You’ve got to embrace it with the same vigour you embrace the rest of the menu,” he says. “It can’t be just an afterthought. ‘If we’re going to do this, we do this properly with the same vigour,’ is really important.”
First cup of coffee
What’s for sure is that brunch isn’t complete without a cup of coffee, so we spoke to Lincoln & York Coffee Roasters coffee buyer Chris Tough on how pubs can brew the perfect cup to kick off customers' mornings on the right foot.
The out of home coffee market is now worth £6.13bn, up 22.8% since last year. There are signs that the sector is taking advantage of this, with pubs and bars increasing their share of spend in the last year, now accounting for 3.9% of coffee spend.
“For those operators that can get their coffee right there are ample growth opportunities, including attracting new customers from other sectors,” says Tough.
To maximise these opportunities, it’s key operators keep in step with out of home trends. These include a move towards indulgence, with milk-based rinks like lattes now accounting for more than a third of UK coffee sales.
This is particularly evident in pubs and bars, with spend on lattes, cappuccinos and flat whites up 61% year-on-year to reach £144m.
Tough continues: “This means that utilising a barista set-up or bean to cup machine is a big consideration if you want to make the most of your coffee offering.
“However, businesses that don’t want to invest in a coffee machine can still deliver an appealing coffee option to their customers. For example, using a cafetière to serve coffee can create a fun showpiece as part of a brunch spread, with the coffee produced through this method having a richer and more intense flavour.”
If you had to choose a single house coffee to serve on your brunch menu, Tough recommends a smooth, chocolatey blend that would appeal to a wide range of coffee drinkers.
Finally, Tough adds, offering the chance for customers to trade up with flavoured syrups could also help operators to tap into the consumer trend towards sweeter drinks.
“Blurring the line between hot beverage and dessert, these flavourful coffees can make for the perfect, indulgent companion to brunch, containing sweet ingredients such as vanilla, hazelnut, and Irish cream,” he concludes.
Delicious Disney delight
Alongside standard brunches, which include crumpets, waffles, pancakes and eggs, Almondsbury Creative in Bristol is famed for its entertainment brunches.
Managing director Garth Jackson truly pulls out all the stops. There’s special ‘bottomless’ brunches for kids, where an unlimited flow of non-alcoholic cocktails accompanies fruit and sweet buffets. While they feast, children watch on as performers, generally Disney favourites, take to the stage. Singing, crafts and games are all also commonplace at these “sell-out” brunches.
But adults aren’t forgotten about. The community-centre-turned-pub also puts on an unlimited cream tea and cocktails event, which promises an unending supply of sandwiches, cakes, scones, Prosecco, cocktails, gins and wine for 90 minutes. Then, there’s the Ibiza, Chill and Kisstory event, where guests can enjoy 2-4-1 cocktails to a soundtrack of old school anthems. Jackson has even booked a foam pit to feature at the next instalment of this event.
Jackson doesn’t lose revenue due to the ‘bottomless’ nature of the events. In fact, he says, people tend to overestimate the amount they’ll eat and drink. What’s more, guests will often stay longer at the pub post-brunch, meaning they spend more throughout the day.
Speaking of how operators can improve their brunch offering, Jackson says: “Customers are looking for better experiences. You need to elevate what you’re offering, and that comes through entertainment, decks or music.
He adds: "[You need to] really plan it as a full event rather than just ‘here is the food and drink.’”
However, Brendan Padfield, operator at the Unruly Pig in Bromeswell, Suffolk, operators should exercise caution when venturing into the world of brunch cuisine.
He senses that while brunches would always be a hit in city centres, they’d been on the wane in rural and non-urban areas.
Five years ago, the Unruly team had decided to put on a high-end brunch, that included an English breakfast with premium cuts, cured bacon, the best sausages & local organic eggs. Some of the gastropub’s clientele loved it, says Padfield, but not enough that they were prepared to pay for the price.
What’s more, the offering was also distracting the kitchen on busy Friday, Saturday and Sunday mornings, pulling away valuable resources into preparing and servicing brunch rather than concentrating on the lunch and dinner offering. After Covid, the gastropub did not return to brunch.
“It was not a rip-roaring success,” admits Padfield. He adds that it’s also important to consider local and regional demographics when deciding whether to do brunch.
Other gastropubs have tried their hand at brunch, but some have taken a less regimented weekly approach. The Cadeleigh Arms in Tiverton, Devon, which shut its doors earlier this year, had run a monthly brunch club that proved “very popular”. According to operator Nick Hack, the event was always booked well in advance.
Bloody Marys and all the classic cocktails were on offer, and the brunch menu included local, premium produce like local eggs and fish smoked on site.
Dishes comprised of Chalk Farm trout, for instance, which combined with eggs, was served on sourdough that had been baked in house. Poached eggs Hollandaise and Eggs Benedict were classics on the menu, but there were also options like the Moroccan Shakshuka dish. “We try to push the boat out a bit,” says Hack.
Hosting the brunch once a month meant it became special to the customer. “It’s an occasion,” adds Hack, with 80% of customers returning each time the dining event came around.
His advice for those thinking of planning a brunch club? “Have a bit of fun with it.” He continues: “Be a bit playful and creative with it rather than just sticking to the bog-standard stuff.”
Bottomless brunch or brunch with a bottom? Disney, drag, DJs, arts & crafts, or Ibiza hits? Navigating the ins-and-outs of a brunch offering is no mean feat. But if you stay creative, focused on quality, and in tune with your pub's philosophy, you soon may be providing customers with tasty plates and unforgettable experiences before the clock even strikes 12pm.