At Founding Farmers—the farmer-owned concept with locations in Washington D.C., Montgomery County, MD, and Tysons, VA—brunch is a family-friendly, all-American event focused on quality ingredients, sustainability, and community. The menu is full of familiar favorites and comfort foods, drawing crowds of happy diners week after week. It’s a case study in successful brunch service.
Every restaurant with a winning brunch formula is different, but they all share one important characteristic: it becomes a staple of the restaurant’s brand. Here, we get the inside scoop from Meaghan O’Shea, Marketing Director at Founding Farmers, to learn her top tips for creating a brunch experience guests will come back for again and again.
1. Make it comfortable
Brunch attracts many different types of guests, especially in a city like Washington D.C., O’Shea says. You’ll get people who just finished a marathon and the post-church crowd, plus young professionals and grandparents. A great brunch can accommodate everyone, no matter where they came from or what they’re wearing.
And the same goes for the food: “We have a large menu and a multitude of options,” she says. “We want to make it that place with a hip, fresh feel, that’s comfortable and not stuffy. We’re going to have something for everyone in your party; that takes out the work on the guests’ part when they’re planning for a group,” says O’Shea.
2. Be prepared
The key to increasing efficiency is preparation. According to O’Shea, the back-of-house team at Founding Farmers preps as much as they possibly can the night before brunch service to make the shift that much easier.
On Friday nights they bake bread, make jam, and portion out enough for the first couple of turns so that’s one less thing they have to do in the morning. The service team assembles extra rollups for the tables and brings extra coffee mugs out of storage, along with spoons and creamers. They do weekly inventory on those items to make sure they’re not caught off-guard during service. “There are little things you can control to make it less stressful,” says O’Shea.
And it’s not just about having all the ingredients and tools you need ready to go. There’s mental preparation needed, too: when shifts are 10 hours long, your staff needs to be physically and mentally prepared to give every customer the same amazing experience.
3. Get smart about time management
While there are plenty of things you can do ahead for brunch, there are just as many that you can’t: filling coffee, rushing plates and sides back and forth to the kitchen, and marking tables with the right silverware. Those steps take time.
“Servers have to really be on their game to get tables turned quickly,” O’Shea says. “We try and have our A team, our aces in places, on the brunch shift—it’s usually our more senior team because you have to be able to really work smart.”
4. Change up your staffing
Many restaurants really staff up for brunch service, adding about 25% to the usual number of servers. For example, if you usually schedule nine waiters for lunch, for brunch consider scheduling 12.
Because the labor is more intensive, Founding Fathers may do more three-table stations instead of four-table stations so servers are able to turn tables more quickly and give better service. O’Shea says they also have more server assistants on the floor to help with water and coffee refills and run the food.
Another way O’Shea says her team has evolved over the years is through its leadership and training. “People have grown up and developed with us, or we’ve been able to attract great talent who support what we’re doing, and now we have a stable, core management team,” she says. “Our ability to execute more consistently has gotten better as we’ve gotten older in our restaurant years—we’re learning what works and what doesn’t work.”
5. Set prices fairly
O’Shea is adamant that brunch should be priced fairly to be appropriate and approachable. “If it’s too expensive, and you will cut off your business at the ankles,” she says.
The sweet spot is where quality meets affordability. Founding Farmers bakes bread and makes jam in-house, and guests notice these scratch-made items. Given the high quality, $9 for two eggs, bacon, and toast is an affordable way for diners to splurge and the restaurant still makes money.
6. Don’t underestimate routine
Guests tend to be less adventurous at breakfast and brunch than they are at dinner. At Founding Farmers’ D.C. and Potomac locations, the menus are nearly identical, besides a couple of nods to local cuisine (a crab cake benedict in Maryland, for example). That’s because people know and love their breakfast menu, says O’Shea.
“It’s that routine factor—if you have eggs every morning, you want eggs, if you have pancakes on Sunday, you want pancakes. You get attached to routine more at breakfast and brunch than at dinner. We’re fortunate that we don’t have to recreate the menu a lot.”
On a similar note, brunch is probably not the best time to experiment with fleeting trends. Instead, O’Shea advises to stick with what you know, to understand what your guests like through a mix of reports and talking to them, and zero in and grow those areas.
Brunch can be a major revenue generator for your restaurant as well as a weekly event prized by your guests that builds brand awareness and loyalty. Follow these tips to make your weekend as successful and stress-free as it can be.
Photo Credit: Second image courtesy of Michael Grimm for Balthazar; all other images from Founding Farmers.