What's so bad about french toast & mimosas?
May 8, 2013 5:33 AM   Subscribe

Are you someone who has worked in a restaurant? Can you tell me why Sunday brunch is apparently the meal people hate to make and/or serve? I have no experience in the food service industry, but as a big fan of brunch, I'm curious for first hand opinions. (Or feel free to tell me that the two examples inside are totally bunk.)

Earlier this week we saw Anthony Bourdain speak, and he riffed quite a bit about how at his lowest, no matter the open wounds and meth-head eyes, he knew he'd be able to pick up a brunch shift. "Every day I made brunch I betrayed myself deeply and fundamentally" is a quote being attributed to him from that evening. A recent article in our local paper also mentions that "Brunch is like that bad relationship where the sex is great but you really don't like the person anymore." That article mentions in passing that it's a longer shift, and an early morning, but offers no real details otherwise as to why people hate to serve brunch. Can you offer me your professional opinion?
posted by librarianamy to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Well for two reasons. One, it puts a serious damper on your Saturday nights, where you either worked a late dinner shift and have to get up, or didn't work but can't really go out because you have to get up. Two, it's a really social and leisurely meal with a low tab per head (compared to dinner) so you end up with like the six top that pitches a tent for two hours and tips $10 on their $100 tab (or whatever the match looks like for your area.)
posted by DarlingBri at 5:39 AM on May 8, 2013 [12 favorites]

In college, I worked for a hotel (waiting, busing, bar-back, whatever) that served a fairly extensive brunch on Sundays and it totally sucked for a couple of reasons. First, it's basically one long shift with very little break in the traffic, so there's no lull at all to catch your breath.

Second, it's all you can eat and the tips were mediocre at best. But most of all, for me it was an early Sunday open after a late Saturday close, which meant I could hope for (at most) about 4 hours of sleep before turning right around and heading back to work to help out with the prep work. It was a ton of work for not very much money. Food is made in large quantities and designed to sit out for awhile, which may be why the chefs aren't particularly enthusiastic.

The customers were super-demanding and very cheap. I hated working brunch, and I've never gone out for brunch since.
posted by jquinby at 5:41 AM on May 8, 2013

When a good friend of mine served in San Francisco back in the day, the problem with brunch was two-fold. The first was that a lot of servers would go big on Saturday night, after they wrapped up and everyone else was out.

The second was the lingering. When people would go to brunch, they tended to sit and chat for hours. This meant low turnover and low numbers. She said that the math didn't really work out for her. She had a packed house, and was turning away customers, but the ticket size was comparatively low. On Saturdays, people came in for brunch, ordered, ate, and left. High turnover, lots of tips. On Sundays, people lingered, ordering random coffees and mimosas. Tables ebbed and flowed with friends. The consequence being lots of low-value sales, and comparatively fewer tips.
posted by nickrussell at 5:42 AM on May 8, 2013

I used to work breakfast 7 AM - 2PM , many years ago, as a busboy and dishwasher. It's horrible. People are really fussy about their eggs, for the first part. Make them just like their Mom did, or they are unhappy.

They generally linger forever, making a huge mess and talking and laughing loudly and expecting you to pamper them for 2 or 3 hours. Then they tip 15%.

After a while of this, come the church people. They are hands down the worst customers I have ever helped, anywhere.
posted by thelonius at 5:42 AM on May 8, 2013 [31 favorites]

My mother was a waitress over 30 years ago, and she still hates brunch with a firey passion. I believe her main issue was the amazingly crappy tips.

If you read Bourdain's first book, he gets into the brunch issue in more detail. I believe his main issue was the terrible food -- he mentions the use of brunch as a dumping ground for crappy leftovers and unused food from the rest of the week.
posted by pie ninja at 5:46 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

thelonius: "After a while of this, come the church people. They are hands down the worst customers I have ever helped, anywhere."

Yeah, a lot of this as well. It's going to sound pretentious as hell, but brunch is basically amateur hour in terms of diners. Folks who go out once or twice a year are the ones who roll into brunch, squat at an 8-top for an hour and a half and run you ragged.
posted by jquinby at 5:47 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

And it it's a brunch buffet, it's a lot of hard work to keep the food looking and tasting good all day as it sits out.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:52 AM on May 8, 2013

As a waitron in a previous life, brunch was the most hated shift:

* customers linger so little turnover (when you saw couples come in with the Sunday Times, you'd cry)
* it's a very hands-on shift...lots of coffee refilling, free mimosa refilling
* it's a "partytime get-together" meal for young couples and their screaming toddlers who run crazily throughout the restaurant while their parents sipped Bloody Marys and ignored them
* it's a lot of immediate work per customer...unlike other services, you have to run those eggs out the second they're done or they get nasty
* people are very particular about their eggs and you end up sending a fair amount of food back to the kitchen to be refired
* toast. ugh, toast. we had to make our own toast, many waiters would line up to use the toaster, you had to ensure your toast coincided with your egg order, and there was always one waiter who just stole everyone else's toast
* many customers are feeling the effects of over-indulging Saturday night and can be incredibly rude
* it's possible that you and the cooks are also feeling the effects of Saturday night and are also short-tempered
* brunches at a high-scale place cost about $25 per person, so you're looking at maybe a $4 tip per customer for a table that can sit for up to three hours
* you never stop making coffee
* people who order cappuccinos and espressos. You just want to kill them.
* There's really no opportunity to upsell or link food at brunch. So, you can't suggest a $90 bottle of wine, appetizers or desserts...all the things that can up the bill (and your tip)
* it's a special occasion meal for many people (Mother's Day, graduations, etc.) and for some reason, there is always the self-appointed know-it-all-asshole at every table who just likes to make the servers run their asses off.

Oh and also...NEVER eat the Hollandaise sauce unless you want to risk serious cramping at best. That stuff is never safe to eat.

When I deejayed in nightclubs, we referred to New Year's Eve as "Amateur Night," in restaurants, brunch is considered a meal out for people who don't understand how to eat out. Same thing.
posted by kinetic at 5:52 AM on May 8, 2013 [24 favorites]

From the dish room point of view, breakfast in general is awful, since the foods are so disgusting in residue form (eggs, grits, syrup, all run together)
posted by thelonius at 6:04 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

From the customer point of view, I almost always go Saturdays because on Sundays the wait staff is hung over and service is noticeably worse. Plus it's busier. So I can corroborate from the other side.
posted by selfnoise at 6:07 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Note - little of this applies to places geared specifically for brunches. The local O-Club on the Navy base only opens for special occasions... and sunday brunch. Tips are rolled into the check for any table larger than four (which is all of them), and folks generally leave some cash on the table as well.

If the place normally serves breakfast, it's no bigs, apart from the larger selection and crowds on the weekends. If it's a dinner-and-lunch spot who dabbles in breakfast on weekends, troubles brew alongside the bad coffee.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:08 AM on May 8, 2013

From a back-of-the-house POV, you are suddenly making stuff that you ONLY MAKE FOR BRUNCH. That's a pain in the ass. A few different ingredients/parts is always going to throw a kitchen...an entire menu of different ingredients/parts is pure hell.
posted by kuanes at 6:10 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, brunch shift is no joy for a server. In addition to what been mentioned. Many people tip a lower percentage at breakfast/lunch. That's compounded by the fact that breakfast tickets tend to be less overall since less people are consuming alcohol. So it's hard, immediate work for a difficult customer set that tend to be lower tippers.

For the kitchen - especially a artist chef like Bourdain - brunch is pretty boring to cook. People want safe, reliable food at breakfast/brunch. There's less room to be creative.
posted by 26.2 at 6:11 AM on May 8, 2013

When I waited tables, we would say "Jesus doesn't tip." People coming to brunch after church are terrible customers.
posted by freshwater at 6:25 AM on May 8, 2013 [14 favorites]

Yeah, as a church lady myself (who has had a LOT of experience in restaurant work in the past) I regret to say the church rep is pretty much true. To the point I have heard pastors in pulpits literally tell us to TIP WHEN WE GO OUT. (Thankfully there are exceptions, but yep, I just want to shake some people over that one.)

My main hatred of brunch back when I worked at a country club back when dinosaurs roamed the earth stemmed from the fact it totally ruined my Saturday night.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:38 AM on May 8, 2013 [7 favorites]

I live in a city where offering "bottomless mimosas" or other drinks is a huge thing at brunch. So, you have customers paying $25, getting really drunk over the course of 3 hours, and then leaving a $5 tip. The restaurants are nearly always crowded and excruciatingly loud, people spill stuff and make messes, and they just sit there. If I were a server, I'd hate it.
posted by decathecting at 6:42 AM on May 8, 2013

My only experience is at McDonald's, but there is some relevance, I think. There is something about breakfast food that makes a slowdown turn into a royal clusterfuck of a backup. All the foods are more hands-on than other foods. You have to watch bacon and eggs more closely than a sandwich or a steak. It's harder to pre-stage.

Also, people are assholes in the morning generally. There will be the ones waiting in the parking lot for the restaurant to open and get all shitty if you aren't ready to serve at 5:00:01, and then there will be the ones that show up 5 seconds before breakfast is over and get equally shitty because you can't solve their lateness problem.

The church thing is the worst, because every hour or half hour, there will be carloads of people all showing up all at once. It's not steady.

Finally, even if the worse tipping was taken out of the picture, the prices on breakfast food always seem to be cheaper than lunch and dinner, so 15% of a lower average check is less. And it's not like there is any less work to do.
posted by gjc at 6:43 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

From my friends who work at local restaurants, most of which (if they're open for brunch) do the bottomless-mimosas thing (because I guess there's been sort of an arms race between restaurants and now you have to do that if you want to remain competitive) ... a lot of people apparently don't tip on their bottomless drinks. This seemed to be a huge point of pain, or at least cause for a lot of complaint. I.e. if it's $10 for bottomless mimosas some customers will tip a measly two bucks at the end of the meal, even if they had 8 of the things. That drives the servers nuts, because it's no less work for them to serve you 8 mimosa refills for $10 than it would be to serve you 8 of them at $5/ea during regular meal service, for which you'd presumably tip at least $8 if you're not a total dick.

So yeah, if you don't want your servers to totally hate you, keep track of the number of refills you're ordering and be sure to tip as though you were ordering regular drinks at that restaurant, which is probably $1-2 per drink at the kind of places that typically do mimosa brunch (in the DC area, anyway).

That made the brunch hate a lot more understandable.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:55 AM on May 8, 2013

When I briefly worked at a restaurant years ago brunch always attracted a bunch of little old ladies, who were for the most part perfectly nice but didn't understand inflation & tipping at all.

They would linger in groups for a minimum of 90 minutes and sometimes up to 6 hours (no exaggeration) and then think that 25 cents was a perfectly good tip (again, no exaggeration). The more "with it" ones would probably tip $2 to $3.

They also paid for an all-you-can-eat brunch and then ate and drank next to nothing. The amount of food wasted was truly staggering.
posted by NoAccount at 7:06 AM on May 8, 2013

It's not just the tipping, it's the whole attitude. It's hard to describe. Kind of a weirdly hostile vibe, like the whole situation isn't good enough for them. Not everyone coming after church was like this, of course, but there are enough to be a big factor in making your tough day that much worse.
posted by thelonius at 7:08 AM on May 8, 2013

Don't underestimate the power of kidlets on a Sunday morning.

Their parents don't get to go out for dinner very often. They often make a huge mess, make their parents snappish, frequently cry and otherwise make a ton of noise, come with giant strollers and high chairs and bags of stuff. Extended family members are moving around to try and hang out or see the kids, which makes for a chaotic table area. Parents are either hypervigilant and making more of a fuss, or trying to mentally check out a bit and letting things escalate to an even messier and louder table.

Then they hang out, together, making a loud mess with demanding orders, and leave a shade under 15% "because the service wasn't all that great."

Then they leave a bad Yelp review about how the coffee took forEVER and the eggs were a little overcooked.
posted by barnone at 7:09 AM on May 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

I watched Kitchen Confidential (a show based on Bourdain's book Kitchen Confidential) when it was on TV 8 (christ, seriously?) years ago. I don't really remember it except that I do recall there being a one or two episode arc about the restaurant doing a Sunday brunch which highlighted ALL OF THE HORRIBLE THINGS about brunch.

The series is short and is on hulu, and either way it looks like episode 9 was the one about brunch. Might be worth the 22 minutes to check it out.
posted by phunniemee at 7:10 AM on May 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

And it's not only the little kids, of course. Don't underestimate the ridiculous attitudes of 20-something kids who want to show off with their group of friends, the 30-somethings who are know how to be snide and demanding, and so on. But the kid factor increases the chaos by a degree that isn't as evident at other times of day.
posted by barnone at 7:12 AM on May 8, 2013

This is kind of a special case, but I worked the brunch shift at a restaurant around the corner from Ralph Wilson Stadium. RWS is in the suburbs, so eight sundays out of the year we'd get people filling their stomachs before a football game along with the regular church crowd. The church folks would complain about the noise/cussing from the already drunk football fans, and the football fans would complain about the church people hogging all the booths. We kept a running tally in the back of which group was worse, in both complaints and tips (if I recall correctly, it was about even).
posted by troika at 7:14 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's not just the tipping, it's the whole attitude. It's hard to describe. Kind of a weirdly hostile vibe

And that's just the servers. To avoid a derail: could there conceivably be a kind of confirmation bias / negative feedback loop going on here, where the expectation that Sunday brunch crowds are going to be cheapskate lingerers magnifies every example of that behaviour? (Non-waitron, but I did work behind a bar, so I know about heading into certain evenings expecting the worst.)
posted by holgate at 7:22 AM on May 8, 2013

Same as most of the above, another former server.

There are so many plates and little accompaniments. You are probably bringing at least 2 plates, but usually 3, to each person sitting at a table. One for their main dish, one for toast, and maybe one for extras like more bacon or pancakes. There's also the coffee cup and a dish of creamers. If the person is truly evil they order hot tea and then you have to bring a cup, little tea pot and a dish of creamers- maybe even honey! Don't forget the syrup, jam and all that jazz.

It is messy! Syrup and jam are sticky. People are pigs when it comes to those mini creamer containers, they end up everywhere. Egg leftovers get caked onto plates.

Endless coffee refills.

Church people, tip horribly and all come at once so you get slammed right after mass.

And for the work you put in, breakfast is relatively cheap so the tips are awful.

The only time I ever cried at work during the 3 years I was a server full time was while serving Breakfast.
posted by ridiculous at 7:29 AM on May 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I worked a lot of weekend brunch shifts at a diner back in the day. I didn't hate them and I didn't experience undertipping (and we didn't serve cocktails so I can't speak to the mimosas, thank God), but they were the busiest part of the week. A couple things off the top of my head:

- Our morning shifts started as early as 5:30 am. By the time brunch rolled around, we'd already been working for three or four hours.
- The brunch rush was busier and longer than the dinner rush. We filled up around 10 am and stayed full until 2, maybe 3.
- Breakfast and brunch dishes are often large and come on multiple plates. More to cook, more to carry, more chance of mixing things up and putting the wrong eggs with the wrong pancakes, more little side plates to bus as your customers finished them. Not to mention the syrup, hot sauce, milk, extra butter and jam, ketchup for that one weirdo who likes ketchup on his eggs, etc.
- Babies! Know what babies often have for brunch? Cheerios. Know where babies like to put Cheerios? Everywhere besides their mouths.
- Larger parties showed up more often for brunch than for dinner. Parties of six or more are hard: they're louder, they stick around for longer, they frequently have more special requests, and they often don't tip as well (not because of some inherent stinginess, but usually because tips are harder to figure out when there are a bunch of people contributing).
- Not only are brunch dishes often cheaper, brunch doesn't involve appetizers or dessert. Yet brunch-goers stay just as long as dinner customers.

Whenever I had stress dreams about work, it usually involved forgetting someone's bacon.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:02 AM on May 8, 2013

Mod note: Folks, I know there's a lot of opinion/anecdote angles on this but please try to keep this a little more focused on specifically answering the question asked vs. chatting about brunch experiences/regrets/wishes/etc.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:13 AM on May 8, 2013

Former small-town waitress: the Sunday after church crowd, definitely. Large groups. People tended to bring more small children in the groups. Small children mean messier table/floor and more picky/special orders. People bring in food for their small children, so you're cleaning up their food mess, bringing a high chair, etc. without getting tipped on any food they ordered. People hang around forever and you keep having to check their drinks 50 times otherwise you'll get a bad tip. Large groups of college kids means that you have a table of 10 and everyone wants to pay separately (and split appetizer costs 3-4 ways), which eats up your time, which means you're not as attentive to your tables, which means worse tips.

(Yes, I know all of this is "part of the job", but everyone is allowed to kvetch about their job).
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:15 AM on May 8, 2013

Similarly to the sit-down brunch crowd, the Sunday morning coffee customer is a different beast than the weekday, or even the Saturday. More likely to be unfamiliar with the shop/menu and hold up the line of daily regulars, more likely to bring unruly kids or spread out personal belongings across a 4-top, more likely to ask for some blended coffee thing and complicated food subs.

To answer your question, it's more frustrating work for lower tips.
posted by a halcyon day at 9:10 AM on May 8, 2013

I love the brunch shift! But I think it's probably because I live/work in Brooklyn. The city in general has a huge brunch culture and very little in the way of crowds of church-goers. Also (most) people understand the concept of turnover here (unless they are tourists but I work in Brooklyn so there aren't as many tourists to worry about) and there's usually something fun to do after brunch in the city anyway so people actually leave. And I make bank on brunch. So, yay brunch!
posted by greta simone at 9:17 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Interesting read on tips. Hopefully, it will stay up. May have relevance to your query.
posted by FauxScot at 10:05 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

> Interesting read on tips. Hopefully, it will stay up.

In case it's no longer accessible, or just for tl;dr: the conclusion is that you shouldn't use tips to judge the performance of servers because different people tip differently. Also, tips should be pooled (otherwise someone who's not your server will not have an incentive to get you your ketchup and your satisfaction will be impaired).
posted by languagehat at 10:34 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I hated brunch shifts for the reasons mentioned upfront and emphatically seconding the unfavorable ratio of attention:tips. Brunch tables require constant fussing, coffee refills, cream refills, whatever, they order fussy drinks (cappuccino, espresso, which at my restaurant the servers had to go back and make) and they linger forever. Whereas with dinner, even multiple courses are paced properly and move along, and people LEAVE afterwards.
posted by Aubergine at 11:33 AM on May 8, 2013

could there conceivably be a kind of confirmation bias / negative feedback loop going on here, where the expectation that Sunday brunch crowds are going to be cheapskate lingerers magnifies every example of that behaviour?

Speaking only for myself, I am not and have never been a waitperson. My post was merely observational, considered from my perspective as a patron.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2013

I dunno. I'm going to go against the flow here. As a waiter for 10 years or so I found brunch to be the lowest-attention meal of all, and I always crushed it because I could do higher volumes. I regularly made $250-$300 on a brunch shift.

It helps that I don't really drink (no Sunday hangovers!) and that I never worked all-you-can-eat. But I liked brunch.
posted by downing street memo at 2:38 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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