The most important meal of the day: why restaurants should upsell breakfast

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Whether it’s an eggs benedict, a freshly-baked croissant or a trendy smoothie bowl, there’s no better way to start the day than with a special breakfast. When we spend the majority of our days grabbing a quick coffee and porridge whilst running our daily errands, taking the time to enjoy a wholesome meal is considered by most of us as a rare treat.

Today, however, almost 50 per cent of people eat breakfast out of home on a regular basis – in fact, according to Mintel, 28 per cent do so at least once a week. No longer are diners simply grabbing a pastry from their local chain café during their commute and going out for brunch once in a blue moon, and this is feeding a boom in the industry. As Your Business explains, the low cost of popular menu ingredients and high turnover of tables mean that breakfast services can be a recipe for success even in high-end restaurants. The old adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day no longer applies to the diner, but to the restaurant, too.

The breakfast boom

Caroline Potter, the chief dining officer for OpenTable, tells Restaurant Hospitality that the popularity of brunch outings were the foundations of the breakfasting consumer trend among the general public. She says, “Whether it’s folks seeking to kick-start Saturday dining adventures or gather with loved ones over a sumptuous meal on a Sunday afternoon, brunch is a national pastime for foodies, friends and families.”

But although brunch is a pastime, out-of-home breakfast purchases are also a common way for consumers to save time. The Telegraph claims that busier lifestyles and longer days are the driving forces behind the ‘breakfast boom’, with 26 per cent of people saying they eat breakfast out for convenience, 15 per cent of them on the way to work.

Emma Read, from the foodservice consultancy Horizons, also points out that eating breakfast out is a more affordable alternative to dinner as a social occasion. However, although cost and convenience are key motivators in consumers’ choice to go out for breakfast, the main association they have with doing so is still luxury. According to findings from market research group NPD, 47 per cent of people say they view having breakfast out as a weekend treat to be shared with family and friends.

Compellingly, NPD claim that the number of people eating out for breakfast rose by almost 5 per cent last year, compared to a less significant rise of 2 per for lunches and 3.5 per cent for dinners. Be it busy office workers hosting breakfast meetings or girlfriends catching up over mimosas, the influence of the breakfast market is undeniable, and it’s time that restaurants took note.

Early morning indulgence

Couple eating breakfast out

As food journalist Jessie Cole comments, “A term originally coined for Saturday night carousers who couldn’t wake up for breakfast, brunch has evolved into a sunny, social meal beloved the world over.” When we think of breakfasting out, this association is rife, regardless of the time of day. The moment breakfast is consumed in a nice café or restaurant, it is instantly a social occasion, whether it’s a leisurely mid-morning event or a brisk 8am occasion.

Jessie continues, “The key to the magic of brunch is in that word, of course: indulgence. It’s eating for the simple joy of it; with friends, with family, sometimes with a paper, always with coffee… It could be a zingy breakfast taco, fiery shakshuka or creamy Eggs Benedict – it matters not; the beauty’s in the detail.”

Whilst the evening meal – formerly the ‘bread and butter’ as it were of the foodservice industry – typically holds the strongest connotations of opulence and occasion, breakfast holds an entirely different appeal. Eating the first meal of the day out of the house immediately sets one’s day up in good stead, eating great quality food with good company. Smelling and tasting the flavours of freshly-ground coffee, freshly-squeezed juice and freshly-cooked dishes, it’s impossible not to feel invigorated.

What’s more, breakfast is a thoroughly down-to-earth occasion. There is no risk, as there can be in high-end dinner joints – of stuffiness in the more premium offerings. Whilst breakfast is becoming increasingly luxurious, it remains a hearty mealtime that focuses on full flavours, simple ingredients and comfort. The gastronomical sceptic need not worry about obscure cooking methods overwhelming their dish, or serving sizes that necessitate a pre-emptive snack – breakfast fills the stomach and soul in equal measure.

Breakfast out is aspirational. It makes us feel like the productive, stylish person we seek to be every day of the week. It is indulgence, it is entertainment, and it is home, but delightfully removed from home (and the washing up breakfast it entails).

Creative breakfast options

Special indulgent breakfast

This growth in demand for delicious breakfasts at reasonable rates has not gone unnoticed by top dining establishments. Today, millions of restaurants offer breakfast specials, cafes serve all-day menus and countless venues have even opened offering nothing but breakfast foods. As such, competition is fierce – it is not so much a matter of whether food venues should provide a breakfast offering as much as how can they do more to score guests for that all-important first meal of the day?

According to Big Hospitality, 2017 is the year where we will see the breakfast market reach whole new levels, moving from brunch as a de-facto provision to the all-day dining preference. We are becoming more specific in our breakfast preferences – the meal is not merely a matter of refuelling – diners have specific ideas of the experience they desire during breakfast, from the dishes they wish to eat to the manner in which they want to enjoy them. Guests expect to be able to choose exactly how their eggs are cooked, to add extra servings of particular items, to pick the exact combination of fruits that make up their morning smoothie.

However, the options that customers desire are also evolving. Mintel notes, “From all-day breakfast to third wave coffee to breakfast bowls, consumers are open to a wide range of new breakfast offerings.” This is mirrored in Big Hospitality’s assertion that breakfast fishes are shifting from “a ‘smooth foods’ option along the lines of scrambled eggs, to a dish focusing on crunchy textures, such as fried chicken, crispy chorizo and coarse cereal”. Breakfasts are now set to feature “strong flavours such as cheddar cheese, carnitas, pica de gallo and chorizo – often in the form of international influences such as tacos”.

Whereas once breakfasts out provided two choices: cereals and toast or a full English breakfast, today countless choices of international cuisine appear on menus before the lunchtime rush. As consumers become increasingly accustomed to having a choice of options and customisation possibilities at their disposal, opportunities for innovation in the breakfast menu are to be found in the most unexpected of ingredients. Yes, for many, a hearty breakfast means a bacon sandwich, but research by market insight groups such as Technomic find that items such as vegetables show room for growth on breakfast menus, as do other healthy options including seasonal fruit, grains and cereals.

Making breakfast appeal to all

Healthy vegetarian breakfast

Catering to dietary requirements is also key during a breakfast service. Whilst customisation is paramount, restaurants should be sufficiently prepared to offer gluten-free, dairy-free and low-calorie options as standard so as to avoid alienating key demographics. As Megan, blogger at Skinny Fitalicious says:

“Why I don’t like going out for breakfast comes down to the mere fact that few restaurants offer healthy, low calorie breakfast much less one that’s gluten free. Truthfully, it’s not fun for me if I have to design my own meal, rearrange a menu and worry I’m going to get sick.”

This concern is one shared across the board by hungry breakfast diners. Writing for The Independent, Alice Jones says:

“There is one risk in eating breakfast out: cafés catch you at your most vulnerable – befuddled, empty stomached and dangerously caffeine starved. One must be more than usually vigilant to fads and rip-offs. Booking a table for huevos rancheros is fine; queuing for an hour to make one’s own toast is not.”

Whilst experimentation and flexibility is to be encouraged – demanded, even – in the early-morning kitchen, chefs must exercise caution. As Mintel advises, “Restaurant operators must first understand who their core consumer is before launching new breakfast items.”

Simplicity is also important in terms of transparency. As Mintel emphasises, sugar content is a key concern for breakfast diners, as is health in general. We want options that feel indulgent, but we don’t want the calorie count that is associated with a ‘greasy spoon’ fry-up. Paul explains that customers are willing to pay a premium for breakfast, but only if the menu is effectively up-sold. Consumers perceive the value of the offering to be in local and organic ingredients such as organic free-range eggs from a nearby farm, freshly-squeezed orange juice and wholegrain breads as the base to their meal.

Choice is key, but it is important not to overload customers. Make your offering clear, concise yet flexible, and ensure your front of house staff are versed in the alterations your kitchen can make to accommodate specific diets. Failing to offer at least a gesture towards the basics may lose you valued footfall. Because, remember, no matter how experimental we have become, the nation's favourite breakfast still remains the one the British public is most familiar with: the full English of bacon, eggs, beans and toast. At least, for now.