by Amanda McDougall
rench toast, pancakes, waffles, eggs in all their glorious forms – from poached to scrambled to whisked into an buttery Hollandaise sauce… The staples of brunch were not too long ago relatively low cost and high profit items, and brunch was once a clear cut revenue booster for many restaurants.
But with the swelling of prices for nearly all the basic components for brunch – eggs, bread, flour, and milk products – the margins have become a bit anemic. In the last year, the cost of wheat and thus flour has tripled in commodities markets (now reflected in wholesale and retail prices); milk prices have gone up over 25 percent; wholesale egg prices shot up a whopping 60 percent.
Chef Kevin Hickey of Seasons in Chicago serves a full breakfast and brunch menu at the Four Seasons Hotel restaurant, and the price hikes in products are making an impact. Increasing product costs always put a pinch on profitability, but it doesn’t mean chefs have to cut corners (of course, reducing portions is always an option – and for a country with sky rocketing obesity rates, it’s not a bad idea). Hickey and Lane rely on expert execution and high-quality ingredients to keep their customers satisfied and willing to throw down more cash for that pile of hotcakes and those lobster scrambled eggs.
However, Hickey’s hotcakes aren’t the typical flour-based griddled flapjacks either – they’re lemon ricotta hotcakes with lemon curd and sour cherry preserves, and he charges $17. It’s certainly not your corner diner’s prices, but it’s not your corner diner’s ingredients, either. Hickey and Lane also round out their brunch menu with high profit items, like small salads. “We have these beautiful little salads that we offer,” tells Lane, “they cost us very little to produce, but they make a major impact on our brunch.”
Despite the soaring brunch staples’ prices, there are ways to make this service make good business sense: keeping an eye on how products are used, minimizing waste, and creating value-added dishes (like those lemon-ricotta hotcakes or lobster in scrambled eggs) are a few tips for these inflationary times. Hickey’s edge lies in applying the same exacting standards that he devotes to his dinner menu to his breakfast/brunch menu. This care and attention to detail, in turn, translates into being able to charge more for certain items without customers balking at the sticker price – they know they’ll get the best French toast or lobster scrambled eggs in the city. For Hickey, the proof is in the persistent purchase of his $17 hotcakes.