Brunch is a pretty powerful word. For those outside of the industry, it conjures up images of sun-soaked urban patios, crisp, sparkling mimosas, stunningly blonde omelettes, glistening with butter, dressed simply with chives, and a crack of pepper. Your cup of coffee will never be empty, and your friends will always be near. It is family at your side, across the table, over a mason-jar vase of delicate wild flowers.
The ritualistic late-morning meal has become as much a part of the American identity as apple pie and football on Sunday. It’s significance is rooted in a break from routine; the end of the work-week. Brunch is hitting snooze an extra two, or seven times. It’s gathering with friends over a meal, as opposed to over our smartphones or email correspondence. Brunch encourages lingering; relaxing, breaking from the schedule. It is the start of a lazy Saturday, a relaxing Sunday; a chance to recharge before the upcoming week.
Restaurants, especially of the higher-end variety, get flower deliveries for brunch. Servers and hosts get an amateur lesson in floral arrangement, in between brewing gallons of coffee, and polishing limitless flatware. Quarts upon quarts of orange slices are prepared by bartenders with sub-par knives, on tiny cutting boards. Glassware is shined to near invisibility, so that when guests are being sat, the dining room looks like a palace.
“It’s not quite breakfast, not quite lunch, but you get a slice of cantaloupe at the end.”
-Jacques (The Simpsons)
Even the most seasoned fry-cooks can be brought to their knees by a trying brunch service. Cooks often arrive around 5am, sometimes shooing out last night’s closing team. As many eggs are cracked and blended for omelettes, it will not be enough. Some restaurants need to thaw their English muffins, others have one person dedicated to cooking muffins from the moment they get there, up until service begins.
In the front of house, servers move with lightening speed; frenzied yet controlled, maintaining the relaxed atmosphere for the guests. Bussers turn tables at twice the speed they would for dinner. Guests are sat along with their napkins and their plates. The bartenders recycling bin will be filled with empty Cava bottles before the day is anywhere close to finished. And there will always be a pot of coffee brewing, along with a reassuring smile to every guest.
Pans get hotter throughout the morning, eggs cook faster, and every cold cup of coffee seems to do less and less to help focus. Once the brunch service begins, it’s end can seem miles and years away. Tickets start entering the kitchen at 9am, and chances are good the benedict being sent out at 3:15pm is topped with a very thinned out hollandaise. The end of brunch for the cook, usually means breaking down and cleaning your station as fast as you can, so the dinner line-cook can get themselves set up for a certainly busy night.
To most in the industry, brunch is the anti-service. It is the service where chaos reigns supreme; where quantity outpaces quality. During dinner, the dining room is dark, mysterious, romantic. Blemishes hide under dim-lighting, soft music, and the lull of controlled conversation. Food moves slower, wine pairings cater differently to each guest. Each dish is composed, thoughtful, and given an extra eye before leaving the kitchen to be certain it’s perfect.
Brunch lets all the natural light in, be it in the dining room or on the patio. Every nick and scratch the restaurant has to offer is on full display. Enthusiastic conversation peppers the room, with spikes of laughter, and delighted howls punctuated by folk-rock, or bluegrass music. Plates leave the kitchen faster than servers can move to-and-from tables, with exceptions made in the preference of timeliness. A slightly unset omelette, or a waffle with marginally less fruit, will make it out to the guest, who waited an extra two minutes because of a fumble on the table before them.
And most of the guests who come for brunch will have a very memorable experience. Because the break from the routine, the time spent with family and friends, and that slightly unset omelette are all part of it. They’re all part of the ability to let time slow down around you for a minute; caught in the flurry of the wait-staff refilling your coffee, and bussing the table next to you. It’s a tradition, a ritual, and for all of the chaos surrounding brunch, it is inexplicably perfect.