How Restaurant Owners Can Cash in on the Breakfast Boom

More Americans are starting their mornings with a restaurant meal. Here's how you can make breakfast work for you.
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Creating a signature breakfast menu item will keep customers coming back. (Photo: Puckett's Grocery)

Breakfast is booming. According to market research firm NPD Group, breakfast visits to quick service restaurants increased by 5 percent in 2015 (for the year ending in February 2016), on top of a 3 percent increase during the same period the year before.

Looking forward, NPD Group estimates that “total breakfast occasions, in- and away-from-home, are forecast to grow by 5 percent through 2019, ahead of the expected population growth of 4 percent.”

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(Photo: Puckett’s Grocery)

At restaurants like Puckett’s Grocery, with three locations in Nashville, Tennessee, and one in Chattanooga, breakfast has been big business lately. In July, the meal accounted for 20 percent of sales according to Claire Crowell, the chief operating officer of A. Marshall Family Foods Inc., which owns the restaurant.

“A busy breakfast shift has become the new norm in Nashville, especially as folks fly in for the weekend,” said Autumn Friese, general manager of the downtown location. “Puckett’s is a busy place in the mornings.”

Friese said Puckett’s always had a breakfast menu, but after analyzing local trends, the company added a buffet option to make it easier for the hurried business community to enjoy a morning meal there.

If your restaurant doesn’t serve breakfast, it might be time to start. In making the decision, consider this advice.

Evaluate your staffing needs

Breakfast requires extending hours and additional labor costs, so before adding a morning service to the rotation, assess your staff, advised Linda Duke, chief executive officer and founder of Duke Marketing, a San Rafael, California-based firm that has worked on marketing campaigns with national food companies such as Moe’s Southwest Grill and Starbucks.

Duke recommends asking these questions: “Who will be the ‘early bird’ who gets to the restaurant early enough to prep for the new day? What time will you open and serve breakfast until? Will your staff need additional training? How many staff will be needed?”

Research the competition

Check out what other restaurants are serving in the morning and research whether the costs associated with adding a breakfast menu will be recovered, Duke said.

Try your competitors’ eggs and bacon to see what your restaurant could do differently or better. Research other restaurants’ prices and whether they are hosting sit-down meals, grab-and-go dishes or both.

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(Photo: Threepenny Cafe)

Create signature items

Duke recommended creating dishes that will draw customers in. “A signature menu item will identify your [restaurant] from the competition and allow your brand personality to be defined through your food,” she said.

For example, working with the Michigan-based Grand Traverse Pie Company, Duke’s firm helped create a profitable and easy-to-execute menu item for the company’s first foray into breakfast. Every morning, leftover pie crusts were brushed with cinnamon sugar and stuffed with fruit, then baked to create “Pie Twirls” that were sold as grab-and-go snacks. Pie Twirls cut down on food waste and offered something distinct.

Merope Pavlides, owner of Threepenny Cafe in Charlottesville, Virginia, said, “The first question a restaurant should ask itself is whether a menu can be created that accurately reflects what the restaurant does at other services.” For Pavlides, serving brunch meant sticking to the restaurant’s mission of sourcing locally and responsibly. Threepenny Cafe makes all of its bacon and sausage in-house from local pork and uses baked goods from a local bakery.

She said her restaurant’s Sunday brunches were so popular since opening in 2014 that the restaurant added the same service on Saturday.

Duke recommended getting feedback from family, friends and employees on the breakfast items you’re contemplating. “If nobody seems enthralled with the signature menu item, this is a clear indicator to either change it or rework the dish,” she said.

Research ingredient and equipment costs

Before you set a menu in stone, research ingredients costs. To cut down on waste, Pavlides looked for ways to use the same ingredients across meals. “One or two morning meals per week can become quite costly if the menu relies on product not used at other services,“ she said.

Also look at what new or extra equipment you might need. You might rely more heavily on a sauté station at breakfast than at other services, for instance, or need to invest in tools such as waffle irons and flat-top grills, as well as more exhaust fans.

Collaborate with other business owners

If there are beloved local coffee shops and bakeries in your area, talk about partnerships for beverage stations and pastries in your restaurant, Duke suggested. Often, working with other brands can be a win-win for both parties.

“These on-the-go products are very important to breakfast sales,” Duke said. “Also, coffee can be the deciding factor for many guests before even looking at the food offerings, [so] choose wisely.”

Get the word out

Once you’re ready to launch breakfast or brunch, you need to attract customers. Duke recommended decorating the restaurant with window displays, outdoor banners and table displays. Host tasting events and a kick-off with local media and restaurant regulars to promote the meal. And if you’re serving to-go options, include your logo on coffee cups and bags for free advertising.

Keep it interesting

Customers like variety and can grow tired of seeing the same options at breakfast, so once you’ve established a groove, consider adding new dishes or specials.

“Don’t ever get stale,” Friese said. “Make sure you’re offering something unique that people will want to get out of bed for.”

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