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Who's doing a la carte brunch successfully?

post #1 of 20
Thread Starter 

We're considering doing a la carte brunch on Sundays with good execution and quality with minimal waste. There is another restaurant a few towns over who have been killing an a la carte brunch for a number of years. A much different set up than us (they're a much busier stand alone restaurant in a great location, we're an inn in the boondocks but both of us have good reputations and talented kitchens) but we feel as though if someone else in the area is doing it successfully so can we.

 

We've done a Sunday buffet brunch for 21 years with mostly break-even results. Guests were accepted by walk-ins or reservation, but most were walk-ins. Inconsistency was the biggest issue. Some Sundays 8 guests would show up, another Sunday we'd do over 90. Of course with a buffet we need to prep, staff and order expecting a busy brunch everytime when obviously this was not the  case more often than not. When we'd staff/prep/order low expecting another slow brunch we would get hammered and a sh*t show ensued, EVERY time. The owners would of course tear kitchen management a new one on Monday meetings when things didn't go smoothly. It was a constant catch 22.

 

Because of these reasons, brunch buffets were cancelled altogether 2 years ago with the exception of functions and this has worked out much better. Some Sundays we have one small function, some Sundays none at all and others a sizeable function for 40+. Staffing, preparing and ordering are much more accurate when we know exactly what we're looking at with a BEO as opposed to the previous buffet brunch. Everyone is happy at this point.

 

Now, new management wants to attract more customers in greater numbers, they suggested a buffet and we told them why it was a problem and shockingly, they listened. We've settled on a la carte brunch were the quality and creativity will reflect the same product we put out for dinner service (the previous buffet brunch didn't reflect our standards at all, but what buffet does anyways?). We're actually excited about the concept since a flat top has been added, menu items are being tested (ricotta pancakes with poached figs, truffled omelette with local eggs, carbonara with sous-vide egg and house cured pork belly among other tasty things) and everything seems positive so far. Marketing will be new and heavy for the the brunch which we're thinking of launching around Christmas time.

 

We are hoping when word gets around coupled with the increased quality we can get reliable numbers every Sunday and execute the way we need to just as if it were dinner service. Does anyone have some thoughts or similar experiences?

post #2 of 20

You don't present a specific question so I'll respond with a few general thoughts. As a veteran of a la carte brunch for many years I can offer the following observations in no particular order. Some or all may be obvious. 

 

The same rules apply for brunch as for dinner. Good service, excellent coffee, proper mise en place, quality ingredients, getting orders correct, making sure every plate is spot on. 

Sounds like your brunch will have lots of options not egg related so much of this may not be a problem for you but I"ll offer it anyway. 

       There is no such thing as "perfect" scrambled eggs despite what America's Test Kitchen and Gordon Ramsey may say. I had a customer who wanted the eggs barely cooked, virtually raw, another who wanted them darkly browned and everything in between. For the most part, a nice creamy scramble but not wet. Most people are skeeved out by any hint of raw egg.

     Get the egg orders right. Break some eggs learning how to do over easy, over medium and over well. Using well seasoned or teflon egg pans and learning to flip is in the long run a better method than cooking on the grill. Whatever method you use, do not send out an egg order that is not correct. If an egg breaks or over cooks, do it again. The customers will not care about all the fancy ingredients if their eggs are not cooked to their liking. For all egg orders, the whites should remain white, not crispy or browned on the bottom. If the whites are browning, the pan is too hot. Don't rush it. 

      It sounds like you have some good ideas for the menu. Brunch (perhaps just buffets) has the reputation of being an opportunity for the chef to use up leftovers. Don't go there. The same care that goes in to the ingredients and preparation for dinner should go into every brunch item. 

     General order of operation during service; drop toast, prepare everything else, do eggs/omelets last. Make sure the plates are warm. Plate everything, add eggs last, serve.  With multiple cooks this is easier but the eggs cool off quickest so they can't sit in the pass waiting for anything else. 

     You'll get some returns just like dinner service. People are just as finicky about egg orders as they are about steak temps. Fortunately eggs are quicker to re fire. Despite the cooks excellence at distinguishing between over easy and over medium, the guy at table 12 wants his over easy cooked just a bit more, but not too much more. Poached eggs have a firm white, runny yolk every time unless requested otherwise. 

     Omelets French style are nicest, omelets made separately then folded over ingredients are good too. Omelets with ingredients mixed into the eggs are not omelets, just stiff scrambled eggs and the sign of lazy cooks. Prepare filling, make omelet, fill omelet, fold onto plate, sauce if appropriate.  Omelets should be only light gold at most, never browned. If an omelet is not up to standard, don't serve it. Start over. Every time. 

      No one can afford to re fire numerous steaks so the prevailing thought is to get it right the first time. A good practice in general certainly but a bad mental habit to have during breakfast. Eggs are not as expensive as steaks and serving a correct order or omelet is just as important as serving a correct steak so be very quick to do it over, preferably before it gets served.  

     Make sure great care is given to proper preparation of home fries. As a New Englander, home fries are a very important part of breakfast. Onion, salt and White pepper,(black pepper gets bitter on the grill) a little garlic. Never deep fried, always on the grill, lots of crispy but not dried out, don't be stingy.  

     That's about it. Brunch is a great opportunity to be creative and as you already appear to be aware, there are lots of options. But over all the years I cooked breakfast (and we were known for being creative), the most common reason people said they came back is because we always got their egg orders correct or were willing to do them the way they wanted. 

post #3 of 20

This is a very timely thread!  I'm moving us away from a semi-successful brunch buffet to a plated brunch menu, too.  In my mind you need to do 100-125 covers minimum for a buffet to viable, and you need to have reasonably consistent traffic.  I've only been here for a couple months and I'm inheriting a buffet that's only doing 50 covers on the low side and maybe 85-100 if it's super busy.  My options as I saw them were to improve the quality of the offerings for the same price, expand the buffet and raise the price or scrap the buffet and go to a plated brunch with omelettes and eggs cooked to order and a smattering of our more popular lunch entrees.  There are advantages and disadvantages to every approach but I've opted to go with a plated brunch.

 

I think chefwriter is spot-on with many suggestions.  You do have to put some care into egg dishes.  I'm not 100% in agreement about the omelettes; it may be regional but a lot of people around here expect the fillings to be incorporated into the egg itself, with just cheese or salsa inside the folded omelette.  Ultimately it's less about what's "right" and more about what customers want to eat.

 

There's a tradeoff to be sure.  A buffet will run higher food cost due to the waste and the way buffets work, but one or two cooks can bang out 300+ covers pretty easily.  A plated brunch will run much better food cost but of course labor will be higher.  Ultimately they will draw different kinds of crowds, too.  A plated service will allow you to put out higher quality food overall since nothing sits around in chafers.

 

IMO the OP is on the right track.  I am taking a similar approach.  It will be interesting to compare notes in a few months!

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #4 of 20

Well Phaedrus, I won't disagree that it's all about what the customer wants. Perhaps my omelet beliefs are nothing more than my personal opinion but I'm sticking to it. :chef: 

post #5 of 20

Phaedrus....how do you figure that labor will be higher for a plated brunch over a buffet?

 

You still need cooks in the back to keep up with the flow of food with the buffet...(and on slow buffets, the kitchen is quite and the cooks usually clean.

And you still need wait staff to serve, rather then clean up after buffet plates.

 

To me it seems that the amount of work itself being done in the same time slot is all that changes.

 

chefwriter......your comment made me remember a buffet brunch I once went to that had an omelette station.

 

Non of the vegetables were cooked and sat in bowls around the 2 propane stoves.

The cook proceeded to make the omelette THEN add the raw ingredients and cheese just before he folded it over and handed it to me.

When asked why he didn't cook the vegetables first, the reply was that the ingredients would cook inside on the way back to my table to eat it

post #6 of 20

This omelet issue got me to thinking and I realized that I have 2 different standards for omelets when I go out to eat.  If I'm at a buffet, I am perfectly fine with an omelet that has the ingredients mixed right into the egg and then wrapped around the cheese, but when I order an omelet, a la carte, my expectation is that all the ingredients will be cooked separately and the egg wrapped around all of them.

 

While I agree that breakfast/brunch shouldn't be a home for leftovers I am a big fan of hashes and have done a lot of "high end" hashes at places.  Hashes get a bad rap from that canned corned beef hash, but a well put together and well cooked has is one of my favorite breakfast dishes.

post #7 of 20

Pete, Funny you mention hash. We used to do our own hash both corned beef and vegetable. Very popular. Made lots of it and even ended up corning our own beef for it. And yet, we still had several people who ordered and then complained saying "You should warn people it is not the canned stuff." even though it said home made on the menu. They were actually upset it wasn't canned.  As I have always found the canned stuff reminds me of dog food that really floored me. 

post #8 of 20

Everyone's idea of hash is different. I went to a local place a while back and had what was on the board as prime rib hash. What I got was 1" cubes of leftover prime rib and  baked potato with a crap load of julienne peppers & onions and garnished with chopped tomatoes & green onion. It was more like fajitas than hash. I sent it back.

post #9 of 20

We do our own corned beef in house, so hash would be a good idea.

 

 

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chefross View Post
 

Phaedrus....how do you figure that labor will be higher for a plated brunch over a buffet?

 

You still need cooks in the back to keep up with the flow of food with the buffet...(and on slow buffets, the kitchen is quite and the cooks usually clean.

And you still need wait staff to serve, rather then clean up after buffet plates.

 

To me it seems that the amount of work itself being done in the same time slot is all that changes.

 

Right now we have our brunch buffet being done by one guy.   He comes in at 8:00 and does all the food.  Since we're not doing a lot of covers it's fairly simple for him to keep a batch up on stuff.  Occasionally the owner will give him a hand if he's really busy.  By contrast I expect we'll need three cooks to do it plated; one on the omelette station, one on salad station doing wraps, salads, toast & waffles plus on on fry/flattop doing breakfast potatoes and grilled sammiches.  I think that three cooks working 9-2 will be needed, so about 21 hours of labor vs the 8 hours we need right now.  Often it will be me and my Sous doing two of the stations but hours are hours in the long run.

 

Note that I'm just talking kitchen labor.  We will need the same amount of FOH and dish, just the cook labor will be a bit more.  Hopefully it will be offset by higher volume and less food waste.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #10 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phaedrus View Post
 

Right now we have our brunch buffet being done by one guy.   He comes in at 8:00 and does all the food.  Since we're not doing a lot of covers it's fairly simple for him to keep a batch up on stuff.  Occasionally the owner will give him a hand if he's really busy.  By contrast I expect we'll need three cooks to do it plated; one on the omelette station, one on salad station doing wraps, salads, toast & waffles plus on on fry/flattop doing breakfast potatoes and grilled sammiches.  I think that three cooks working 9-2 will be needed, so about 21 hours of labor vs the 8 hours we need right now.  Often it will be me and my Sous doing two of the stations but hours are hours in the long run.

 

Note that I'm just talking kitchen labor.  We will need the same amount of FOH and dish, just the cook labor will be a bit more.  Hopefully it will be offset by higher volume and less food waste.

Thanks.

In my experiences with Sunday brunch, I mostly worked in high volume.

The kitchen needed at least 12 people to prep all the food. 

Pantry, Bakery, and hot food.

We would start prepping on Thursdays and finish by late Saturday night.

And all of this was being done WHILE service was going on in the restaurant.

 

So come Sunday these cooks then worked the stations of the brunch, omelettes, stir-fry, pasta, waffles, etc...

In this instance the BOH needed the hands no matter what.

post #11 of 20

McDonald's is serving breakfast all day now.  Is that a successful brunch?

 

:ducks:

post #12 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phaedrus View Post
 

Right now we have our brunch buffet being done by one guy.   He comes in at 8:00 and does all the food.  Since we're not doing a lot of covers it's fairly simple for him to keep a batch up on stuff.  Occasionally the owner will give him a hand if he's really busy.  By contrast I expect we'll need three cooks to do it plated; one on the omelette station, one on salad station doing wraps, salads, toast & waffles plus on on fry/flattop doing breakfast potatoes and grilled sammiches.  I think that three cooks working 9-2 will be needed, so about 21 hours of labor vs the 8 hours we need right now.  Often it will be me and my Sous doing two of the stations but hours are hours in the long run.

 

Note that I'm just talking kitchen labor.  We will need the same amount of FOH and dish, just the cook labor will be a bit more.  Hopefully it will be offset by higher volume and less food waste.


I own a small breakfast and lunch 40 seater. We do breakfast and lunch all day. 300 covers on a Sunday from 8a until 1p. It takes 3 on the line, one to prep and run, and one to expedite. Our omelets are folded over cooked ingredients. We rarely get asked to mix the ingredients in. Believe it or not, the toast is the bottleneck on the line, even with a conveyor toaster. Different breads take a different number of passes through the toaster to get them right, once for raisin bread, 3 times for an English for instance. All eggs are done in a pan. And the advice that eggs MUST be right every time is true. Nothing worse than a hard cooked poached on a benedict, or uncooked white on an over easy.

 

A good hash should be your number one item. Our Corned Beef is by a large margin. We also do seasonal local veggie hashes, a summer quash, zucchini, red bell pepper, onion and Yukon gold in the summer with fresh herbs from our garden, and a root veggie with local red and gold beets, sweet potato, carrot, apple, onion, a local white rutabega in the fall/winter. I'm playing around with a duck confit hash I'll introduce during the holidays. Our hashes come as sides, as a main with choice of eggs anystyle on top, as benedicts, omelets, and in some cases as a skillet scramble., so we get LOTS of mileage from them.

 

Because of the high labor cost of alacarte breakfast or brunch, you should price your menu at 4x food cost, not the usual 3x as in fine dining. At least that's what we do and we're quite competitive and more profitable than industry norm by quite a bit.

post #13 of 20
Thread Starter 

Thanks everyone for the valuable input.

 

I would like to say that our particular brunch will not be along the lines of a more standard brunch as in we'll have far fewer egg dishes and almost no DIY menu (IE omelettes with pick your own fillings, an entree of pick your eggs and sides will NOT be happening). We feel as though there is no way to keep quality and execution up with a menu done like most brunches. Instead we'll offer "large" plates as is (ricotta pancakes, a burger, omelettes, steak and egg, carbonara, croque madame, brown-butter waffles, house gravlax and bagel) and a section of "small" plates (duck confit hash, home fries, fruit salad, house pastries, glazed pork belly bacon, caesar salad, ham, yogurt and granola). These are menu items are not complete and will vary a bit but that's the jist of things. As for omelettes we'll have 3 maximum, one vegetarian, one truffle, and one with ham and pork belly probably.

 

For execution we'll have 3 stations:

Saute (omelettes, carbonara, duck confit hash, sous vide poached eggs which are simply just opened as the circulator is on a table next to saute)

Flat Top (ricotta pancakes, burger, steak and eggs, home fries, croque madam)

Garde Manger and Oven (all cold things, house pastries warmed in the oven, the waffles as the iron is here, glazed pork belly in the oven)

 

The busiest station will be flat top so some components will cross over like the egg on the steak and eggs will be sous vide and off saute station etc. The hash will come off saute because it's just better in a pan than slinging it on the flat top. We're thinking the menu will be very evenly distrubted so execution will be good.

 

As you can see we're not bothering with sides of toast, scrambled eggs etc. etc. We'll do them if requested certainly (toast and such will just go in the oven) but we won't be putting them on the menu so we can streamline things.

post #14 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by CapeCodChef View Post
 


 

 

A good hash should be your number one item. Our Corned Beef is by a large margin. We also do seasonal local veggie hashes, a summer quash, zucchini, red bell pepper, onion and Yukon gold in the summer with fresh herbs from our garden, and a root veggie with local red and gold beets, sweet potato, carrot, apple, onion, a local white rutabega in the fall/winter. I'm playing around with a duck confit hash I'll introduce during the holidays. Our hashes come as sides, as a main with choice of eggs anystyle on top, as benedicts, omelets, and in some cases as a skillet scramble., so we get LOTS of mileage from them.

 

 

That's the great thing about hash, it can be made with almost any ingredients to suit the seasons, your tastes, your whims, or using last night's leftovers.  As long as you keep a few things in mind, like keeping the potatoes or other starch crispy and finding the right ratio. I usually keep mine at about 2:2:1 meat to starch to add ins.  I say starch (as opposed to potatoes, as I often use other root vegetables in place of the potato or in addition to.

post #15 of 20

In my own case I can say easily that toast will be the bottleneck.  We're shopping for a conveyor toaster.  I might have to [gasp!] use the salamander to supplement the shitty toaster I have now.  I hope to be able to do sous vide eggs but MN requires a course from the state before using a circulator or vacuum sealer.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #16 of 20
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phaedrus View Post
 

In my own case I can say easily that toast will be the bottleneck.  We're shopping for a conveyor toaster.  I might have to [gasp!] use the salamander to supplement the shitty toaster I have now.  I hope to be able to do sous vide eggs but MN requires a course from the state before using a circulator or vacuum sealer.


It sounds like your setup and volume are quite different from mine. However, I do know the combi-oven makes perfectly toasted bread quickly after working a few large breakfast functions. When we needed large amounts of toast at once we'd "par-toast" the bread in the combi until lightly golden at a decent humidity then as we needed them we'd pop the bread back in the oven at 0% humidity just til the color we wanted.

post #17 of 20

Yeah, probably very different. My place is less than a year old in a  town of just 5,000 or so.  At first (before I got there) they did around 200 every Sunday but it dropped off pretty quickly when the new wore off.  The original chef left and things fell apart a little.  The current brunch frankly isn't all that great, and I wouldn't pay our asking price for it.  When faced with rebuilding the "brand" for the brunch it felt like ditching the buffet and doing it plated would be a good idea.

"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
"Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit." - Aristotle
Reply
post #18 of 20
Quote:
Originally Posted by linecook854 View Post
 

Thanks everyone for the valuable input.

 

I would like to say that our particular brunch will not be along the lines of a more standard brunch as in we'll have far fewer egg dishes and almost no DIY menu (IE omelettes with pick your own fillings, an entree of pick your eggs and sides will NOT be happening). We feel as though there is no way to keep quality and execution up with a menu done like most brunches. Instead we'll offer "large" plates as is (ricotta pancakes, a burger, omelettes, steak and egg, carbonara, croque madame, brown-butter waffles, house gravlax and bagel) and a section of "small" plates (duck confit hash, home fries, fruit salad, house pastries, glazed pork belly bacon, caesar salad, ham, yogurt and granola). These are menu items are not complete and will vary a bit but that's the jist of things. As for omelettes we'll have 3 maximum, one vegetarian, one truffle, and one with ham and pork belly probably.

 

For execution we'll have 3 stations:

Saute (omelettes, carbonara, duck confit hash, sous vide poached eggs which are simply just opened as the circulator is on a table next to saute)

Flat Top (ricotta pancakes, burger, steak and eggs, home fries, croque madam)

Garde Manger and Oven (all cold things, house pastries warmed in the oven, the waffles as the iron is here, glazed pork belly in the oven)

 

The busiest station will be flat top so some components will cross over like the egg on the steak and eggs will be sous vide and off saute station etc. The hash will come off saute because it's just better in a pan than slinging it on the flat top. We're thinking the menu will be very evenly distrubted so execution will be good.

 

As you can see we're not bothering with sides of toast, scrambled eggs etc. etc. We'll do them if requested certainly (toast and such will just go in the oven) but we won't be putting them on the menu so we can streamline things.


Our menu has much of what you describe except we do offer build your own omelets and eggs to order. I honestly can't imagine a successful brunch without them. I don't get your point that it's hard to maintain quality by doing them, and I believe people expect to order eggs at a brunch and they want them how they want them. We experimented with sous vide poached eggs and honestly, it was a PIA when it comes to opening them in the shell. A simple poach in a simmering water bath is far easier to me. We do 300 covers in 40 seats in 5 hours just about every Sunday.

 

Your line set up seems reasonable and mirrors mine except we do our hash on the flat top as saute has their hands full with omelets and eggs and such and it's more consistent on the constant even heat on the flat top instead of a pan.. People rave about our hash.

post #19 of 20
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by CapeCodChef View Post
 


Our menu has much of what you describe except we do offer build your own omelets and eggs to order. I honestly can't imagine a successful brunch without them. I don't get your point that it's hard to maintain quality by doing them, and I believe people expect to order eggs at a brunch and they want them how they want them. We experimented with sous vide poached eggs and honestly, it was a PIA when it comes to opening them in the shell. A simple poach in a simmering water bath is far easier to me. We do 300 covers in 40 seats in 5 hours just about every Sunday.

 

Your line set up seems reasonable and mirrors mine except we do our hash on the flat top as saute has their hands full with omelets and eggs and such and it's more consistent on the constant even heat on the flat top instead of a pan.. People rave about our hash.


Thanks for the input. Are you doing brunch exclusively on Sunday or do you do a dinner service as well?

 

As far as keeping quality up for "DIY style" omelette/egg orders I mean execution on saute than anything, we're not doing them on the flat top. I can imagine it would be hard to keep up a bunch of different types of egg temperatures and styles going at once on a saute station and actually get them right, especially for one person when it gets busy. The egg will be well represented in various different forms (omelettes, carbonara, croque monseiur, sous-vide, perhaps a frittata etc.) so I think that fits in well in our approach to brunch. I understand completely we WILL get some people who will want 2 eggs, toast and aside of sausage instead of our "large" and "small" plate concept. We will accommodate the people wanting a build your own brunch as long as there aren't too many of these requests. If that's the case I think our concept would need some revisiting!

post #20 of 20

We do brunch only 7 days per week, our hours are 7a-2p. No dinner service as much as our customers beg me to do so. All of our eggs to order and omelets, except over hards for breakfast sandwiches, are done at saute by one cook on an 8 burner stove. 5 Saute pans plus the poaching pan is usually what's require when things get busy.

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