Coming off of Mother’s Day brunch I am left pondering so many things; was the day staffed properly, what dishes could have been improved, did we do everything the best we absolutely could have to inspire these brunch diners to become regular guests at dinner? The answers to all of these and more I will most likely never satisfy, but the thing that really got me scratching my head was the moment I was looking at our reservations three weeks before and noticed a prominent trend.
We had just started planning the menu and were getting ready to write the schedule when I took a quick peek at the reservations. All the team members at Heirloom know I am a stickler for reservation knowledge. I like to know how and when they come in, if the guests have dined with us before, and whether we have notes about their likes and dislikes so as to better serve them. We have our system set up to take 10 guests every 15 minutes, so I was surprised to see 10 guests booked exactly at 11:45AM, and a spattering of reservations spread out over the rest of the shift. We open at 10:30AM and serve brunch until 2:30PM, so it wasn’t that odd to see reservations right in the middle of that spread. However, it was bizarre to see an entire time slot booked up to three weeks in advance, even give the holiday. After thinking about it for a couple days I felt ready to make a hypothesis.
11:45AM is the most coveted brunch time slot in the South. I am making a broad generalization right off the top, but after over a decade in the industry I feel at least slightly qualified to be making that statement. Now, this exclusively applies to counties that have seemingly antiquated liquor laws, only allowing the sale of alcohol after noon on Sundays, these counties and states are almost entirely located south of the Mason-Dixon Line, where no booze before noon is the reality.
The logic is simple- get to the restaurant before the church crowd come out in force, receive less hectic service, food, and by the time you have been seated and made your drink selection you are legally allowed to place it. I don’t know why it had never occurred to me that this was a desirable time for brunch. Most likely it is because I rarely, if ever, eat brunch, and when I do I am rising far too late in the day to be concerned about being served before noon. Nevertheless, I was certainly intrigued. As a chef and restaurant owner, I am by nature inquisitive about people and their dining habits, this was one that obviously pertained to the business.
I recalled a former manager telling me stories of his start in the Industry at rural NC country clubs. “You would see older women coming in to brunch early and ordering Collins glasses of tomato juice on ice, and think to yourself, is this really a thing? Later, I realized as I spied them removing flasks from their purses, these ladies were no amateurs. They knew the laws as well as their preferences, so to satisfy them both, a little ingenuity was required.”
I have never seen that practice put in to play at Heirloom, and I would be the first one to stop it, with our liquor license hanging in the balance, but it did lend credence to my theory. “ 11:45AM is the most coveted brunch time slot in the South”; I just couldn’t get that thought out of my head. After some calls to fellow chefs and restaurant owners, my theory gained traction. These owners were seeing the same bookings 11:45AM full and the rest of the slots filling as usual.
Should I increase the number of seats available during that seating? Should we staff our bar anticipating this rush of orders? I don’t know if or how this information will allow me to run Heirloom in a more efficient manner moving forward, but at the very least I find it interesting. It’s also a thought-provoking look into our political culture, that laws are created in an attempt to restrict and govern, but are not necessarily the will of the people, and as such are not always followed. Not to say that all brunch diners in the South make their brunch reservations based on how quickly they can get their first drink, but I can say that some most likely do. So the next time you are making a brunch reservation in a county that starts alcohol sales at noon on Sundays perhaps that should factor that in to your reservation request as well. Happy dining, and as always, it has got to be NC!