Morning Matters: Opportunity in the AM Daypart

Breakfast and brunch foods and beverage on white plates

Expanding into breakfast and/or brunch could mean more sales for your restaurant. Take these operational and culinary factors into consideration if you’re thinking about doing the same.

The Operational Angle

As the costs of food, labor and occupancy continue to rise, operators are looking for new ways to increase revenue and profitability. One possible approach is to add a new daypart. For most full-service restaurants, that means breakfast and brunch.

Full-service restaurants have traditionally relinquished morning business to limited-service restaurants. Breakfast remains a bright spot for this segment, even as lunch and dinner are showing signs of weakness. 

In light of this trend, operators seeking to grow sales are embracing breakfast and/or brunch, evolving them into new forms that fit their business model and capture market share from limited-service restaurants. We witnessed this firsthand during our annual trends tour. Their success indicates that morning may indeed be a growth opportunity for full-service operators who’ve previously steered clear of that daypart. 

How do you decide whether adding breakfast or brunch is right for you? How can you maximize your odds of success? It starts with understanding the approach full-service restaurants on our trends tour took—and adapting the best practices we gleaned from them into your business. 

Focus on your brand

The key to mounting a successful morning challenge to full-service restaurants is to deliver a culinary experience that most limited-service restaurants can't achieve, one which consumers desire. Full-service restaurants can be more sophisticated and adventurous with food—it’s one of the things that distinguishes full-service restaurant brands from limited-service restaurant  brands. Fulfilling this brand promise at breakfast will clearly set you apart from the limited-service restaurants  down the street.

Control costs

Adding a daypart can be expensive, but one approach operators can take to minimize costs is to convert to a mixed-service model—limited-service at breakfast and full-service the rest of the day. This approach offers more control over your front-of-house costs. You can do away with servers at breakfast by taking orders at the front counter and assigning each customer a number. Customers can pick up their orders at the counter when their number is up.

Another cost management strategy we saw was leveraging mobile technology. Such a digital solution can help ease labor needs by empowering guests to handle ordering and paying without staff interaction, especially in a grab-and-go offering. Buzzers placed at tables can alert guests when their orders are ready.

Aim for a narrow menu size of no more than 8-10 items and cross-utilize as many ingredients as possible between dishes—at breakfast and for the rest of the day. This will reduce strain on the kitchen and keep inventory manageable.

Emphasize portability

Always offer a grab-and-go selection for customers who want to take something with them. The offering can be as simple as croissants and pastries, but the items must have a unique and markedly better flavor profile compared to those sold by limited-service restaurants. Additionally, it’s important your to-go items are on-brand. For example, if you are a Latin restaurant, breakfast burritos could be a good fit. Bagels with lox, not so much. 

Customers may also want to take full meals to go, so think about the portability of all your menu items. Develop dishes that will travel well and take care in selecting the proper to-go packaging. 

Execute flawlessly

Successful limited-service restaurants excel at speed and consistency. While consumer expectations will likely be different for a full-service restaurant vs. a limited-service restaurant, speed and accuracy still reign supreme.

Target your message

People have different expectations for weekday mornings and weekend mornings. You should modify your marketing accordingly. 

On weekdays, emphasize speed and grab-and-go selections. Position your restaurant as an ideal meeting space for business colleagues and other groups that want to grab a quick bite before seizing the day.

Weekends are all about brunch and social occasions. Promote your restaurant as a wonderful place to enjoy the company of friends and family while noshing on top-notch food.

Add alcohol

High-margin alcoholic beverages can increase your profitability by driving up check averages and enhancing the guest experience. Especially on weekends, consider offering 4-5 traditional brunch drinks, such as bloody marys and mimosas.

The morning daypart may not be an appropriate add-on for every full-service operator in every market. But there are definitely signs that full-service restaurants can successfully capitalize on the hunger for breakfast—particularly in dense population areas that experience high foot traffic. 

The Culinary Perspective

Gordon Food Service research has revealed a steady increase in the number of restaurants offering all-day menus over the past several years—and an accelerated pace of growth in the first few months of 2018. 

What these all-day operators have in common is a surprisingly high level of creativity in their breakfast offerings. They’re reinventing the morning meal to distinguish themselves from the competition and cater to today’s more sophisticated palates.

Here are seven areas of culinary opportunity on breakfast menus, illustrated by real-world examples from our research.

1. Diverse ingredients and unique combinations

Ingredients typically found in lunch and dinner dishes are making their way to the breakfast menu. 

For example, Chef Jason Vincent at City Mouse Chicago has developed a breakfast grain bowl with roasted Brussels sprouts, cabbage, pickled mango and a spicy coconut vinaigrette. Chef Tom Colicchio at Temple Court in New York City has extended the concept even further creating a veg-centric menu that may just represent the breakfast of the future. His Two Eggs Any Style includes roasted Brussels sprouts hash and candied pork belly, while his Market Vegetables and Poached Egg dish incorporates carrots, cauliflower, sunshine beans, eggplant and spinach tossed in a light salsa verde.

2. Breakfast Sandwiches

There’s a lot of innovation in this category, which fits into any menu type from upscale to grab-and-go. The Purple Pig in Chicago launched a breakfast menu in 2017, and aside from a few pastries, it’s all sandwiches. Standouts include a fried egg English muffin with truffle sausage, quince paste and foie gras butter.

Asian influences take center stage at Los Angeles’ Chimney Coffee House—as in the B.A.E., which features a crisp-on-the-outside Thai fried egg, layered with candied bacon, cheddar cheese crisp, sliced avocado and a sriracha-yuzu mayonnaise.

The breakfast sandwiches at Lalito in New York City may take the prize, however, thanks to such selections as the Eggie Sandwich, made with thick-cut salami, grilled halloumi cheese, mashed plantain, pickled red onion and salsa roja on a toasted brioche bun.

3. Hash Browns

In addition to new ingredients, chefs are using new prep techniques to impart an artisan quality to this breakfast standby. 

4. Pillowcakes

Made in a nonstick egg pan rather than on a griddle, these are thicker and fluffier than garden-variety pancakes. The brunch menu at New York City’s Sunday in Brooklyn offers a prime example—a trio of malted pancakes dressed with hazelnut maple praline syrup and brown butter. Measuring nearly 6” high, it’s a dish that captures the attention of the entire room as it’s delivered to the table.

5. Baked Eggs Beyond Shakshuka

Shakshuka is a Middle Eastern favorite featuring eggs baked in a ceramic dish, in a pool of spicy tomato sauce. Innovative American chefs are now updating this classic with different ingredients.  

For example, Double Take restaurant in Los Angeles bakes eggs in a roasted red pepper cream sauce with fingerling potatoes and roasted onion, while New York City’s Sauvage restaurant prepares them in a raclette cheese cream sauce with hen-of-the-woods mushrooms and fresh herbs. Creative takes like these are definitely trending on brunch menus.

6. Next Wave Avocado Toast

Our research shows that avocado toast remains wildly popular. Chefs are now advancing the category with new toppings that take the dish to the next level.

Avocaderia in Brooklyn offers a number of next-wave toasts, including a Mediterranean version featuring sourdough bread, mashed avocado, olive tapenade, cherry and sun-dried tomatoes, feta cheese and ground toasted pistachios. The Avocado Toast-Ada at L.A.’s Hot Hot Food piles avocado spread, goat cheese, radish, sprouts and coffee salt atop a crispy tostada shell. Diners can add an egg if they like.

7. Spiked Cereal Milk

Operators are also pushing the envelope on brunch beverages, using breakfast cereals as the base for new cocktails. The cereal is oven-toasted and combined with fresh milk, which is then spiked with a spirit flavoring. Cinnamon Toast Crunch milk spiked with fireball whiskey is a popular example.

Take inspiration from the examples cited here to craft a creative morning menu that truly sets you apart from the competition.

The Opportunity

  • The typical consumer uses a restaurant for breakfast five more times annually than they did 10 years ago. (Source: The NPD Group/National Eating Trends 2016)
  • 35% of restaurant breakfasts are eaten inside the restaurant. (Source: The NPD Group/CREST 2016)
  • 40% of consumers eat brunch at least once a week. (Source: Technomic 2017 Breakfast Consumer Trend Report)

Operational Insights and Ideas Driven by Research

The operational best practices and executional suggestions presented in this article stem from research we do, including:

  • Reviewing industry publications and data reports
  • Looking at business and market journals and reports
  • Conducting our own firsthand research