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Restaurants step up their brunch cocktail game

Lighter day-drinking-friendly drinks brighten the midday meal

For at least the past 20 years, brunch has been considered a big money-maker for many restaurants; hordes of people coming in for low-food-cost pancakes and eggs with Mimosas made with the cheapest sparkling wine you could find watered down with orange juice. The most expensive product was the eggs. But as consumers have gotten more demanding things have begun to shift. While bottomless Mimosas certainly have a place, especially in markets catering to young adults, and Bloody Marys are eternal, operators have to find ways to differentiate their offerings, especially in crowded markets. 

Restaurants have taken creative license with brunch dishes for years, and now we are seeing that creativity extended to brunch beverages. Compelling cocktails provide opportunities to expand the occasion and increase check averages, as well as attract new guests. Bartenders across the country are elevating brunch beverages, including playing with the classics such as offering bottle-service Mimosas with guests’ choice of fresh fruit juices ranging from peach to pink grapefruit, mango and orange; or the classic Bloody Mary garnished with an entire salad and/or two strips of millionaire’s bacon. They’re also creating entirely new cocktails, sometimes incorporating coffee and tea in novel ways that seem particularly appropriate in the morning. Many of these drinks strike a chord by creating a sense of nostalgia or whimsy with alcoholic riffs on familiar breakfast flavors. 

Even though many of these cocktails are significantly boozier than your typical Mimosa, you’ll find most take a lighter hand with the hard spirits than you might find on an evening menu — an important consideration for day drinking. Many of these drinks veer more toward refreshing than spirited, despite their alcohol content, encouraging guests to potentially order a second, or third. From breakfast Martinis to bourbon- and tequila-based drinks, restaurants are stepping up their brunch cocktail game.

Candace MacDonald is co-founder and manager of Carbonate, a brand communications and creative services agency specializing in lifestyle, food, beverage, hospitality and food technology.

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