Rise of the brunch bunch: upping your brunch liquid offering

08 January 2018

Once the preserve of the terminally hungover, brunch is now an elegant lifestyle choice for Gen-Yers all over the country. Make mine a skinny Bellini on rye with prosecco easy over, says Isabella Sullivan

Brunch,’ said writer Guy Beringer in 1895, ‘is cheerful, sociable and enticing. It puts you in a good temper. It sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.’

Fast-forward 120 years and brunch has never been more cheerful, sociable, enticing, or, indeed, boozy. People are skipping cereal and toast in favour of later meals of creamy avocado dishes and rich eggs Benedict. Thanks to social media platforms such as Instagram, consumers are surrounded by pictures of oozing eggs, gooey pancakes and striking, garnish-laden Bloody Marys. Brunches are booking out weeks in advance across the UK.

Cashing in
According to a survey by purchasing agency Beacon, Brits are spending £76m a day on brunch, and restaurants, cafes and bars are finally tapping into the trend. But with all this focus on food, what about the beverages that sit alongside them?

Certainly, a bog-standard cappuccino or ‘freshly squeezed’ orange juice are no longer enough; instead we are now seeing a full morning drinking renaissance, full of intricate craft cocktails, health-packed juices and bottomless fizz.

Brunch seems to be taking over as the weekend treat or occasion, often replacing the big Saturday night out

Beth Dennis

But why the growth? ‘It ties in to brunch replacing a night out,’ says Beth Dennis of The Lost and Found in Leeds. ‘People often feel they are participating in a more “grown-up” activity. It seems to be taking over as the weekend treat or occasion, often replacing the big Saturday night out.’

Tara Donelon, sales manager at The Refinery Spinningfields, one of Manchester’s most popular brunch spots, agrees. ‘There are many reasons behind brunch’s recent rise in popularity; mainly it allows people to get more out of their weekend,’ she says. ‘We are all living busy lives, and it lets people meet friends and family earlier in the day – the perfect alternative to a late lunch or dinner.’
But with cocktail menus packed to the brim, how do you know which beverages appeal to brunchers? And how can a venue turn a seemingly cheap sitting of avocado on toast into an upsell opportunity, and even perhaps outperform dinner?

Getting spritzy
‘People relate to fresh juices and fruits…’

When curating your brunch drinks menu, you need to take several things into account: the most important being that customers probably want to go about their day afterwards, meaning stirred down, 100% booze drinks are a no-no.

‘Brunch has become the new lunch,’ says Andy Downton, senior general manager for D&D London. ‘It’s acceptable to drink, but the drinks have to be relatively light. You need to be able to still go out for the rest of the day and evening, they can’t be too heavy.’

Bloody Marys, Bellinis and prosecco have long been brunch staples, but Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings in Clerkenwell is taking these light, spritzy serves to a new level.
‘When it comes to alcohol, I tend to use lower-abv drinks, perhaps wine- or vermouth-based. Lightly aromatised options go amazingly with rich and buttery dishes like pancakes,’ reveals bar manager Nick Jackson. ‘We do serve our entire cocktail list all day, but our Libretto – Picpoul de Pinet, Campari and crème de mure – is a Negroni-style drink perfect for midday weekend drinking, it’s really simple and really popular.’

Its Eton’s a Mess – a ‘pud in a glass’ blend of vanilla liqueur, raspberry purée, fresh strawberries and sparkling wine’ is another big hit. ‘We haven’t been able to take it off the menu because of the demand,’ says Jackson. ‘This epitomises brunch drinking for me.’

Also recognising the power of the spritz is Soho House hotel The Ned’s head of bars, Dan Berger. He collaborated with Grey Goose vodka earlier in the year to create Le Grande Fizz, a brunch programme that consisted of five different spritz cocktails focusing on the flavour groups of sweet, bitter, sour, salty and umami. These included the Bitter, with Grey Goose Orange, Martini Bitter, grapefruit, lemon, raspberry and tonic and Salty – an adventurous combination of Grey Goose Original, Rinquinquin Peche, lemon, turmeric, smoked salt and soda.

‘The thing is getting customers to know how nice it is to have a low-abv drink which won’t write off your day,’ says Berger. ‘People like to relate to the fresh juices and fruits they’d have at breakfast – orange, apple and peach are perfect flavours. Other than that, [go for] light, dry carbonated and lower abv.‘

Beefed-up Bloody Marys
‘They never go out of fashion…’

It’s not just spritzy cocktails that are taking over the menus of many a brunch haunt: the original pre-noon cocktail The Bloody Mary is being explored and jazzed up too. Focusing on current and future trends, Diageo explored the Bloody Mary in this year’s World Class Bartender of the Year global final, using Ketel One vodka.

Twists in the final included The Australian Mary – Ketel One, tomato juice, hot sauce, balsamic vinegar and pale ale – and a bright orange Carrot Mary with carrot, apple and pear juice, freshly squeezed orange, tamarind and ginger paste. This same creative approach is apparent on brunch menus all across the UK.

‘Bloody Marys never go out of fashion,’ says The Refinery’s Donelon, backing up the prevalence of the drink on menus. ‘The tomatoes and Tabasco stand up to the vodka, and offer a savoury alternative which works really well with brunch dishes.’

It could be that simplicity wins at this time of day, with people looking for flavours that don’t overpower their indulgent meals. ‘We find that brunchers are looking for something that isn’t too strong or complex in flavour, complementing our brunch dishes.’

Championing the Bloody Mary is Leeds restaurant and cocktail bar, The Lost and Found. Along with a bottomless prosecco brunch, it has a menu of four strong brunch cocktails, three of which are Bloody Mary variants. Along with a classic and virgin, its Mediterranean Mary reinvents the classic cocktail, with rosemary-infused Martin Miller’s gin, tomato juice, tapenade, cherry tomatoes, basil, Tabasco and rosemary.

‘People are familiar with brunch classics such as the Bloody Mary,’ adds Berger, ‘they are guaranteed to move really well.’

‘Bottomless’ and punch
‘Punch is naturally free-flowing…’

Despite the growing interest in craft cocktails, many brunch venues are opting to just go bottomless instead. Simple serves like prosecco, Mimosas and Bellinis prove popular with the bottomless-loving crowd, but are they a useful and viable tool to boost your brunch offering?

One venue going bottomless at brunch is D&D’s Skylon. Having previously offered bottomless Bloody Mary and G&T options, it now focuses on ever-trendy prosecco. ‘The thing with bottomless is it does affect our GP on the beverage side, however it gives us visibility, people come because of it,’ says D&D’s Downton. ‘It’s a good opportunity for people to see our offering, and they might come back for lunch or dinner from it.’

‘Bottomless is a really interesting and contentious point,’ B&H’s Jackson says. ‘For us, bottomless is the most consistently popular demand we have. It’s something guests value and we have to treat it with respect and make it as valuable to us as it is to them.’

Shunning prosecco in favour of bottomless punch is south London’s Florentine. Based near the Beefeater Gin distillery, the restaurant launched a Beefeater bottomless punch brunch. ‘We wanted something different, and punch is seen as something that is free-flowing,’ says bar team leader, Riccardo Pala.

Served from vintage jugs at the table, the punch is made with Beefeater Gin, manzana verde liqueur, orgeat, apple juice and ginger ale. ‘Fruity, light, zesty flavours work well with some of the well-known egg dishes. dishes with a heavy lingering taste. It provides the perfect palate cleanser,’ adds Pala.

Manchester’s recently relaunched The Bay Horse Pub is also cottoning onto the appeal of punch, serving The Brunch Punch on its menu. ‘The Brunch Punch has palate-cleansing abilities and vitamin C to help with the hangover guilt,’ divulges head of menu development and drinks training, Adam Wilson. ‘Earl Grey brings floral bergamot, [you get] bitter orange from marmalade and a splash of Campari, along with lemon and lime juices, I’m going to start bottling it for tables.’ Could we be seeing the emergence of punch as a midday go-to?…

A softer approach
‘People don’t want three meals at the weekend…’

Though a belovedly boozy meal to many, it’s hard to ignore the shifting drinking trends. Not only are people drinking less but better, they’re taking more interest in wellness than ever before. Many customers treat brunch as part of a healthy lifestyle, and your drinks offering needs to stand up to the growing demand.

‘Brunch has taken off as people want to eat less,’ says Downton. ‘Nowadays, on a weekend, people don’t want to eat three set meals.’

This focus on wellness has forced the on-trade to adapt, focusing on healthier, non-alcoholic options. It’s being taken into account at The Ned hotel, where its new brunch menus will have healthier drinks, working with its House Press range to create fresh, cold-pressed juices – a trend that’s gracing many of the capital’s brunch hotspots.

‘We have a range of cold-pressed juices, incredible coconut water and sparkling teas for those wanting something more wholesome,’ adds Jackson. As part of the initiative, Bourne and Hollingsworth Buildings collaborates with juice start up Luhv Drinks to offer serves such as green tea, coconut water, grape, lemon, kale and linseed to customers.

Getting word out
‘Trendsetters push guests our way…’

With endless opportunities for enhancing your brunch beverage offering, there are also endless opportunities for promotion. No other meal is hotter on social media than brunch, with consumers enamoured by glossy images of avocado on toast and quirky cocktails. Using the right hashtags and taking promotion into your own hands by boosting Facebook and Instagram is proven to gain more traction.

‘We promote our brunch through social media, and dedicated social campaigns,’ reveals Florentine’s Palo, with Bourne and Hollingsworth’s Jackson agreeing. ‘We have a great social media presence,’ he says. ‘We also have “trendsetters” pushing guests our way.’

So pimp out a Bloody Mary, sort out your spritz selection, set yourself up an Instagram page and watch the bookings flood in.


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