Brunch appeal

The leisurely hybrid meal is a growing favorite among operators and consumers.

eggs benedict

Eggs Benedict, which can be offered in a variety of ways, is always a brunch favorite.

Be it sweet or savory, most people love brunch. According to research and consulting firm Technomic, nearly 30 percent of consumers say eating their favorite brunch foods makes a meal more appealing.

It’s a fact not lost on many operators, such as Richard Curtis, director of food and nutrition services at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center in Thibodaux, La., who offers brunch in several areas throughout the hospital, from catered events to brunch service in the cafe, and even a late night brunch for overnighters.

Curtis says he’s seen a 55 percent increase in morning sales since adding daily brunch items such as omelets and beignets to the menu.

“Brunch is a great way to offer different menu choices to change things up a bit,” Curtis says. “And it can easily be adapted to accommodate almost any budget.”

Control costs and keep satisfaction high

Operators can control costs by implementing a few important practices and mixing reasonably priced items with higher-end options. Start by serving cost-effective dishes such as oatmeal, hash browns and yogurt. This can reduce costs, especially when offered on a self-serve bar with carefully curated toppings such as fruit, nuts, sautéed veggies and granola, Curtis says. Alternately, you can try making your own products, such as granola, to cut costs.

High-end dishes such as  crab cake eggs Benedict, smoked salmon, beef carving stations and fresh squeezed juice bars are always popular, and can enhance a typical brunch menu.

To keep costs in check, Curtis emphasizes portion control. For example, pre-portion salmon on a bagel chip rather than just placing a platter of sliced salmon on the line. Likewise, placing expensive items at the end of the buffet, when guests’ plates are already full, will also help control costs.

Above all, Curtis says it’s important to be able to easily modify recipes to create a healthier counterpart for the most popular brunch items at Thibodaux Regional Medical Center. These include his Mediterranean frittata, bananas Foster, French toast and pecan praline pancakes.

For example, Curtis swaps in Splenda and arrowroot to modify baked goods, and uses a heavy hand with acids such as vinegar or citrus juice, aromatic herbs and spices to reduce the need for salt. “Each of these dishes are lighter and still have great flavor,” he says.

Local ingred

Hospitals aren’t the only operators who are upping their brunch game. Terry Nahavandi, general manager for Sodexo at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, took a hard look at students’ eating habits, and quickly realized that many like to sleep in on the weekends and then have a meal.

“We realized that a weekend brunch service fulfilled the need for healthy and hearty options,” says Nahavandi, who now serves nearly 800 brunches on the weekend, compared to the 500 daily weekday breakfasts at LMU, where 1,800 students have a meal plan.

The ‘all-you-care-to-eat’ brunch service runs from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and includes 10 action stations that offer everything from crepes and Mexican-inspired items to gluten-free options and an omelet bar.

The key is including fresh, local ingredients that are cooked to order, says Nahavandi, who sources 60 percent of his ingredients as local or organic.

Add variety with old favorites

Last fall, after receiving many requests from residents, Steve Plescha, executive chef at Pennswood Village, a senior living community in Newtown, Pa., began offering a flat-fee, sit-down Sunday brunch in all three dining areas on campus, complete with waitstaff.

The menu changes every five weeks, and includes five dedicated entrees that pair lunch and breakfast staples together. For example, chicken and waffles are offered alongside baked ham, or salmon crepes are paired with roasted chicken.

Offering comfort foods such as omelets filled with a variety of cheeses is also important. Other traditional breakfast favorites Plescha offers include pancakes, French toast and scrambled eggs, along with more gourmet offerings such as crab cake eggs Benedict and eggs Florentine.

His strategy has proven to be very popular. He says residents like the variety of entrees, as well as being able to pair their entrees with a soup, salad, multiple sides, desserts and beverages.

“We have doubled the amount of independent residents who dine with us at every Sunday brunch since we started in October 2014,” Plescha says.

Properly staff, then give them a show

While small-batch and made-to-order cooking is very popular, especially for items that need to be served hot off the grill, Plescha cautions that operators must have the proper staff in place to make it work. “The correct amount of servers and production staff are essential to produce a high volume brunch,” Plescha says. 

That’s why some operators are including action stations to help customize the experience and cook for a large number of people.

“People prefer food that’s made just for them, and most folks enjoy watching their item being customized and made fresh,” says Curtis, who adds that his team must have high energy in order to make these action stations truly successful. “Once you’re well prepped, you can finish [cooked-to-order] items allowing guest interaction and choices.” 

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