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The Economics of Brunch


Louise Yun

By

January 10th, 2016


Louise Yun examines the reasons for Melbourne’s exploding ‘brunch’ culture and the future of dining in the city.


In recent years, the Melbourne food phenomenon has undoubtedly skyrocketed. Leading the way in this food spectacle is the notion of ‘brunch’. Evolving far beyond the ordinary meaning of “a meal between breakfast and lunch”, the popular trend now encompasses features such as a quaintly decorated café interior, lively young wait staff, lavishly presented dishes and an array of coffee, milkshakes, cakes, muffins and the like.

So what is the big deal with brunch? Whilst it seems like a harmless weekend activity, can this trend cause negative economic effects?

Stepping into any brunch café, you will see that the demographic of those whom brunch may vary, but most often it comprises of young females, ranging from late teens to twenties – the typical ‘bruncher’ – standing up to capture an image of the array of food ordered.

Why exactly do these brunchers opt for a bowl of avocado, bread and eggs instead of a cheaper, heartier bowl of spaghetti and meatballs? The reality is that the concept of brunch comes along with it a myriad of positive effects for the bruncher, presenting itself as the highest reward option of any type of meal. Such reward largely stems from another prominent, new age trend – social media. Unfortunately, spaghetti’s downfall is that it ultimately fails to satisfy the eyes, the camera, and thus the Instagram, to the same extent as a plate of salmon and smashed avocado.

Evidently, a driving incentive behind the brunch phenomenon is the ability of brunchers to parade their meals over social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and the like. The rising success of Instagram, now hosting 400 million monthly users posting 80 million photos to the social platform every day, seems to correlate with the exponential demand for brunch over the past years[i]. Even with steep prices, this meal often gives brunchers the highest satisfaction for price – not only can they enjoy a well-prepared meal in a comfortable setting, but they can also add to their aesthetically pleasing Instagram feed, gain personal satisfaction of an influx of ‘likes’, and potentially gather new followers. Even if the food itself fails expectations, the Internet provides other lasting gratifications actively sought by younger generations. Rather than being considered a meal, social media has turned brunch into a picture-perfect event, complete with colours, lighting, cameras and heavy editing.

Moreover, it seems that the demand for brunch has the potential to maintain astoundingly high levels over a prolonged period of time. Whilst one may believe that diminishing returns will surely arise from frequent brunch activity, with subsequent meals affording fading satisfaction for brunchers, this notion is hardly evident. Brunch cafés successfully embody two features humans inherently adore – food and variety. Diversity in menu items, and the increasing array of café options, means that brunchers have countless incentives to continue brunching, with each occasion able to provide a unique return. This diversity filters through to social media. In a society where younger demographics are constantly searching for ‘Insta-fame’ and online stardom, a regular stream of new food photos can attract a stream of ‘foodie’ followers or build an online food blog. For these reasons, it is common for the average bruncher to have religious weekly brunch plans. It is no wonder brunch cafes are often bursting with customers every weekend, with Saturday and Sunday queues an expected sight by 11am, evidencing the steady and rising brunch demand all across Melbourne.

Inevitably, as brunch cafés begin to crowd the restaurant market, the demand for local eateries fall, particularly in areas concentrated with the typical brunch demographic. This trend may also see more and more traditional restaurants convert to serving ‘all day breakfasts’, whilst other cafes and diners who fail to adapt may face dwindling customers and falling profits. In the game of risk and return, such traditional sandwich bars and cafes may evaluate that the cost of revamping, including hiring new staff, redecorating, updating the menu and creating an online presence, will not yield a much more significant return in sacrifice of the convenience of remaining unchanged.

Trends indicate that, aside from expenditure, there seems to be low risks of failure and high prospective returns, not only in profits but also in publicity, driven by brunchers’ main marketing tools – social media and word of mouth. Even if owners decide that brunch is not their cup of tea, the temporary ‘brunch place’ label alone may be a valuable tool to propel any eatery to new successes. Nonetheless, those least likely and least able to jump on the brunch bandwagon are those local eateries specialising in one type of cuisine, whether it be an Italian place down the road or a salad bar on the corner. Unfortunately, these restaurants suffer the strongest negative effects of brunch and may ultimately have to wait it out until market preferences and demands shift back in their direction.

Evidently, whilst the brunch phenomenon brings newfound excitement to the food industry, its solid demand has created concerning dilemmas for traditional restaurants and cafes, producing negative externalities for various players in the hospitality industry. The force of social media has inevitably seen younger generations turn this simple meal into a weekly parade, keeping the hype for brunch cafés high and the regard for other eateries dejectedly low. Is the brunch craze here to stay, or will social media trends refuel the demand for brunch over and over again? In this case, how long will brunch competitors last before they are either driven to change or driven to the ground?

So next time you head out to your midday meal, consider bringing some demand to the local Italian or salad bar. In the long run, brunchers’ balanced restaurant choices may bring greater utility to the Melbournian society as a whole.

 

[i] Heine, C. (2015, September 23). Here is an Hour-By-Hour Breakdown of When People Post on Instagram. Adweek. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/news/technology

Image: Herald Sun, (2013). Retrieved from http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/victoria/melbourne8217s-25-best-breakfasts-to-tantalise-your-tastebuds

The views expressed within this article are those of the author and do not represent the views of the ESSA Committee or the Society's sponsors. Use of any content from this article should clearly attribute the work to the author and not to ESSA or its sponsors.

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