Is Brunch the New Dinner?

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In terms of value, a fancy $100 dinner at a restaurant just can’t compete with a good $30 brunch.

Think about it: With both a swank dinner or a nice brunch, you generally get tons of hearty food and a drink (or three) of refreshing alcoholic beverage. But one of these meals easily costs three times as much as the other.

It’s no surprise then that, as the effects of the economic collapse spread throughout the country, restaurants welcomed fewer steak-and-red-wine diners in the evening and more omelet-and-mimosa customers for brunch.

In a story about brunch in the Windy City, the Chicago Tribune cites data showing that in 2008 and 2009, brunches served at restaurants increased while overall restaurant visits declined. (In 2010, the trend leveled, with all restaurant visits—for brunch or otherwise—declining 1%.)

While the main explanation for the rise of brunch is its value when compared to other meals, there are other pluses for brunch—namely, that it’s acceptable to bring the kids. (On second thought, many diners—those with and without kids—might call this point a negative.) Parents who bring their children to the meal obviously don’t have to find (or pay for) a sitter.

One restaurant owner quoted in the Chicago Trib story describes the reasons brunch is hot right now, particularly among families:

“Before maybe it wasn’t as popular, but people’s pocketbooks have changed in the last few years and they don’t want to spend as much money, so I think brunch is a good alternative,” he said. “A lot of families like to dine out at brunch that wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

A meal with two squirmy toddlers or a pair of grumpy teenagers isn’t quite the experience most parents look for in “date night.” But still, as with plain old breakfast (which I’ve argued makes for a cheaper Valentine’s date), the tab for that first meal of the day at a restaurant is a fraction of the one we eat last.

So if you’re considering restaurant meals as a value proposition—good food on an occasion when you don’t have to cook or clean—there’s no contest. Head out to breakfast or brunch, and cook your steaks on the grill at home.

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