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Blurring the daypart lines

From breakfast all day to weekday brunch, operators are adapting to consumers’ changing habits.

When it comes to breakfast, the old rules no longer apply.

What, when and where consumers want their breakfasts have evolved over the past few years, as flexible schedules and remote work upended traditional routines, shifting commutes and disrupting long-held habits.

These days it’s not unusual for people to eat breakfast foods all day or enjoy a leisurely brunch in the middle of the workweek or to have breakfast delivered.

To keep up with these changing consumer habits, operators are revamping their menus, expanding breakfast hours, and completely reimagining what breakfast looks like.

“Breakfast has become not a daypart but a food group,” said Joe Adney, chief marketing officer of Farmer Boys. “The category of breakfast foods does work all day long.”

“People are sort of daypart agnostic,” Adney added, noting that younger consumers are especially likely to order breakfast foods at all hours of the day.

‘Speed and accuracy’

As a result, the Riverside, Calif.-based Farmer Boys can accommodate customers who order burgers or salads in the morning, and breakfast burritos in the evening.

But the demand for breakfast flexibility, plus the move to digital ordering, brings sales opportunity, but also operational complexity.

“There has been a real shift in terms of ‘How do you deliver better customer service for this digital age, when you’re not looking everyone in the eye and serving them their food?’” Adney said. “The push for us is speed and accuracy. They want it when they want it and they don’t want to wait for it.”

The kitchen cooks everything to order, and some items take longer to prepare. That’s not easy when the team is cooking a variety of foods all at once.

“The kitchen can get stressed if you get ten breakfast burritos at night when you’re mostly doing burgers and salads,” Adney said. “You have to really understand how to phase and sequence things.”

Breakfast on the go

Where consumers want to eat their food has also evolved. Before the pandemic, Farmer Boys did about 50% dine-in, and now that amount is down to about 25%. Most of the locations of Farmer Boys are in car-centric California, and the drive-thru played a role in the brand’s success during the pandemic.

“There is this feeling of, I’m kind of safe, I want to stay in my car,” Adney said. “We’ll see if that continues to relax or if that is the new normal. For right now we assume the drive-thru, digital ordering, and third party will continue to be strong.”

Even brunch has become an off-premises occasion. Pre-pandemic, only about 2% of orders were for takeout at Another Broken Egg Cafe, mostly from customers calling one of the locations.

“We weren’t working with third-party delivery,” president and CEO Paul Macaluso said. “The thinking was that’s not how people use our brand — not a lot of people want brunch delivered. That has been flipped on its head with the pandemic.”

Now, about 11% of Another Broken Egg Cafe orders are to-go, and in some locations that figure is approaching 20%. The Orlando, Fla.-based brand improved its packaging, moved the to-go order pickup area to the back of the store, and added dedicated parking spaces. There is even a new position, the to-go specialist, who takes and packages the orders.

Brunch on a weekday?

Long-held patterns based on the day of the week — think quick convenient breakfasts Monday to Friday and leisurely weekend brunch —  are changing too, operators say. In fact, weekday brunches are gaining momentum.

“We noticed our business Monday through Thursday has definitely increased,” Macaluso said. “We think that’s related to more people working from home and working remotely.”

The shift hasn’t deterred alcohol sales, either. People are ordering alcoholic beverages with their brunch, too. Another Broken Egg Cafe has had bartenders and a full bar since the concept began outside of New Orleans in 1996, and alcohol sales have increased over the past couple of years. The selection extends beyond the expected brunch cocktails, like the Mimosa or the Bloody Mary, to include a line of margaritas and coffees with liqueur.

There are also several menu items with alcohol as an ingredient, such as Godiva Chocolate Chip Pancakes, which are served with a side of Godiva Chocolate Liqueur to pour over the top.

The servers are trained to make food and beverage pairing recommendations. “That suggests something you see in fine dining,” Macaluso said, “but it’s brunch.”

At DW Bistro in Las Vegas, weekday brunch satisfies a variety of customers. “People will come in on Tuesday because they extended their weekend, they might be off during the week because they work different hours in the casinos, or they work from home,” said owner Bryce Krausman. “Or they just got their kids to school and they’re having a mimosa.”

A neighborhood, off-the-Strip restaurant, DW Bistro is also attracting customers with flexible work schedules.

“If people can manage to do their work in four days, they are having breakfast and brunch on Fridays,” Krausman said.

The breakfast menu ranges from breakfast pastries to French Toast Soufflé, Manageable Breakfast Burritos, and Mini Corn Tortillas.

“People think of breakfast as big plates,” Krausman said. “We do a manageable size, so they’re not so full they can’t come back to us for other meals.”

Growth in weekday visits hasn’t put a damper on weekend brunch though. DW Bistro still has themed weekend brunches such as the ‘80s in July and the 90s in August. There is also the popular Diva Drag Brunch.

Later mornings

Consumers’ shifting morning habits reflect a larger trend in how they prioritize their days.

“People are rearranging their work schedule around their life schedule, not the other way around,” said Aaron Lyons, founder and CEO of Dish Society. “People are waking up, working out, and they come in for breakfast. They don’t have to be dressed up and in the office at 8:30.”

People are also ordering breakfast items after 11 a.m., so the Houston-based Dish Society made the most popular morning items available for afternoon and evening. “We looked at our top sellers and picked about five,” Lyons said. “We chose them by popularity, and they’re easy to execute and operationally friendly.”

Newer locations of Dish Society have a kitchen layout with a larger grill and hood, to better accommodate post-morning breakfasts. “You need more space on the flat top if you are cooking ten chicken breasts and then somebody orders pancakes,” Lyons said. “Also you need batter on the line.”

In Henderson, Nev., Sonia El-Nawal recently opened Bodega Bagel, which previously had been a pop-up in Las Vegas. The eatery serves bagels and other breakfast items such as brisket and eggs and French toast until 3 pm, and the chef hopes to extend the hours soon.

“I always said I want to do a restaurant that is breakfast all day,” she said. “I think it’s fun, plus for the price point it’s very attractive. You don’t have to think of spending $45 on an entrée.”

The other ongoing trend is snacking instead of meals, and there are few breakfast items more adaptable to snacking than bagels. “You can eat a bagel any time of day,” El-Nawal said.

Beyond bacon and eggs

It’s not just the timing of breakfast that has changed in recent years, it’s the breakfast food itself. Bolder flavors and savory combinations previously more associated with lunch or dinner are gaining popularity, particularly among younger consumers.

We’re seeing much more globalization such as Indian breakfasts, Latin menu items, also even plant-based items,” said Garett DiStefano, director of dining, University of Massachusetts Amherst. “It is not unheard of to have kimchee for breakfast.”

Popular breakfast dishes incorporate elements such as tofu scramble, coconut chutney, chickpea pancakes, congee, and others.

“Those things are appearing on the menu much more frequently because of our diverse student population,” DiStefano said. “Students are more aware and have more exposure to different foods.”

Social media is also a factor, he added, as Gen Z watch TikTok videos on different types of foods being prepared, and view Instagram photos of the latest trending foods.

UMass Amherst’s dining services is increasing the number of these global flavors on the menu, and is using tactics such as menu engineering, dedicating certain areas in the dining areas to global breakfasts, and hiring staff who are subject matter experts.

The preference for global flavors is not a trend, but a lasting phenomenon, DiStefano said.

“We survey students, and they will continue the dining trends they had in college,” he said. “They will go out in the world, and they are going to be looking for these foods.”

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