For most of us, brunch means mid-morning bliss, full of fun-in-the-sun day drinking, shared plates of French toast, and a few slabs of crispy, hangover-curing bacon. But working brunch? That's another story entirely. While you're tipped back in your chair, sipping Bloodies and taking it sleazy, a group of hungover cooks is sweating it out. And for a place that specializes in dinner service, brunch can be a costly, annoying chore, and the temptation to phone it in is very, very real.
So what does that mean to you? It means brunch is overrated, folks. Ask any cook and they’ll tell you, paying $15 for pancakes and shitty mimosas cranked out by the culinary B-team isn't exactly a steal. From a restaurant's perspective, brunch is just an opportunity to make a quick buck until there's bigger fish to fry -- sometimes quite literally.
I chatted up two chefs, each with years of experience manning the omelet station, to get their firsthand -- albeit anonymous -- perspectives on why your favorite weekend ritual is, in fact, a total joke.
Your market omelet is last night's dinner special
Here's the thing: Restaurants rarely, if ever, get food deliveries over the weekend, so your Sunday feast is probably not the freshest. Remember Bourdain's whole bit about not ordering the fish on the weekend? That 'ish has been sitting around getting smellier and slimier since Thursday or Friday. But, regardless of stock, a restaurant's gotta pay the bills, and that means repurposing the week's leftovers into a fancy-sounding brunch menu.
"Brunch is a means of making more money and obviously, if you have extra product on hand, you want to sell it," says a New York City chef we'll call Pete. "Say you got some nice baby turnips at the market and they didn't sell all week. Do you throw them away and take a loss, or do you make something new with them and try to sell them?"
I highly doubt the average hard-working bruncher would knowingly pay for last Tuesday's broccoli rabe folded inside their scrambled eggs or Italian baked eggs featuring Thursday's deconstructed lasagna leftovers.
The best cooks are sleeping off Saturday night
"Labor is costly, most places can't afford to have more than a skeleton staff on," Pete explains. "You want the better staff on the busier shifts, so that leaves the newer staff to pick up brunch."
Nine times out of 10, the kitchen staff is far from the restaurant's best and brightest. Much of the culinary world runs on a military-like hierarchy, and chain-of-command allows the folks at the top, with their crisply buttoned whites and goofy hats, to spend Sundays at home with the kids or hitting the snooze button in a booze-fueled haze.
"The head chef usually takes off on Sunday because it's the only day he can actually stay home," a Chicago pastry chef named, um, "Carla" explains. "So the quality of the food is nowhere near what it is on weeknights, and it's definitely not being overseen by the same chefs that oversee dinner."
Your bottomless mimosa or Bloody Mary is a cheap money ploy
Bottomless mimosas and Bloody Mary bars might sound too good to be true -- and that's because they are. If a restaurant's going to run any sort of all-you-can-drink promotion, it's sure as hell going to stick to swill.
"Don't expect the drinks to be high or even middling quality," Pete tells me. "When I ran a bar, my average well liquor cost around $6 a bottle, and I could get 25 pours out of that. You can do the math there."
There's never a good reason for losing money in the restaurant business, especially not over something as frivolous as a made-up mid-morning bingefest.
They're all totally judging you
"Brunch, in a nutshell, is just two words mashed together into a shapeless meal," says Pete. "So, you want to wait in line and overpay for a plate of eggs and toast? That's great, we'll seat you shortly. Some smug twit with an overweening sense of self-importance must have come up with brunch. Or, more likely, some cunning restaurant owner who saw an opportunity to take advantage of hungover people."
The people making your meal, the people serving your meal, the people cleaning up afterwards -- they all think you're a gluttonous sucker. I mean, they're happy to take your cash, but they're not going to respect you for forking it over. Do you really think these folks would be caught dead wasting an off-day blowing their tips on cheap Champagne and even cheaper orange juice?
"Friends shouldn't ask friends to do anything that starts before 3pm," Carla says. "But now I have to go to an 11am bachelorette brunch? And we have to get there at 10am so we can stand in line? What kind of boring-ass person invented going out to brunch?"
When it comes to brunch, the markup on food is especially insane
"If you pay for brunch, you're paying, like, 20 times the cost for eggs, flour, and butter, and that's basically all breakfast food is," Carla tells me. "And if you're ordering a tiny box of granola or something, I don't even know what to tell you besides STAY HOME."
Unless you’re dining at the Jean-Georges of brunch spots, every brunch menu basically looks the same. Why? Because the ingredients are straightforward, the costs are low, and they're a cinch to cook. It's a numbers game, man. Don't let yourself get played.
Your service might not be on point
If your server's coming off as a little on the cranky side, it's not just her hangover -- it's her aching wallet.
"For servers, brunch food takes a lot of running, especially when you're slammed," Carla says. "And because even though the food is overpriced, it's still cheaper than dinner, and that means all that work for 60% of the money."
And the general malaise doesn't end with the front of house. The guys on the line are feeling the heat, too, and they aren't exactly inspired by frying up your precious French toast. Nobody's happy to be there except you and your pals, pal.
"Brunch food isn't particularly fun to make -- I mean, it's just eggs a billion different ways," Carla continues. "And as a pastry cook, I don't get to develop skills or be creative because I have 50 billion biscuits to make."
You're much better off hitting up a breakfast joint
"When I worked at a diner, I didn't mind working weekend brunch because it's when we made the most money," explains Carla. "But now I work at a fancy-ish restaurant, like $30 to $40 an entree, so the owner, who is literally never there for brunch, just sees it as a bonus cash grab. So much shit we would never serve at night comes out at brunch time, and to me, it besmirches the quality of our dinner service."
At an upscale restaurant, for instance, the dinner menu will give you options -- an 8oz filet mignon with pepper-flecked mashed potatoes and an olive oil bearnaise or a 12oz rib-eye with roasted Brussels topped with hazelnuts and dressed in balsamic vinegar. But for brunch? It's hanger steak. Always with the hanger steak, underseasoned, pre-sliced into bite-sized chunks, and served with a single room-temperature egg and an obligatory ramekin of chimichurri sauce.
Any way you slice it, brunch will never, ever be as great as breakfast. You might as well save yourself a few bucks and an hour's wait by heading over to the local greasy spoon. If you're trying to brunch at a restaurant known for its dinners, it's probably best to take its lead and make a nighttime reservation.
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