Much like bottled water and St Valentine’s Day, the common brunch deserves a place among business’ greatest swindles.
Not only is it a superfluous ‘meal’ distinct from breakfast only in its ability to somehow make drinking before 11am an acceptable social convention, it’s a costly endeavour, with those grifted into this decadent con-job cumulatively forking out $7.3 billion on brunches in 2017 alone.
As a reference, that’s already more than the Morrison government’s promised $7.1 billion budget surplus (without factoring in two years of inflation), and works out to approximately $300 per year per person, assuming every Australian contributed equally to the brunch economy (which, for the record, they don’t).
Perhaps even more surprisingly, that same report showed Australians spent more on their brunches than on buying lunch at work ($6.4 billion), buying coffee out ($5.9 billion), and even sinking drinks at the pub ($5.8 billion).
Google searches for ‘brunch’ have grown rapidly since 2004, peaking in April 2019, and research from market analysis company NPD Group found this midmorning fare to be the fastest growing daypart in Australia’s foodservice industry in 2017, with a 12 per cent increase in visits.
So how did we get here?
This multi-billion dollar meal grew from humble origins.
The word first appeared in an 1895 article by US writer Guy Beringer, who described the meal as a hangover cure for ‘Saturday night carousers’ intended to ease the pain by offering a later, heavier alternative to breakfast.
Mr Beringer pleaded for the meal to become a normal part of people’s dietary habits out of “selfish motives” – ultimately begging the American people to change their practices so he could wake later and drink earlier.
Judging by modern brunches’ peculiar tendency to offer both coffee and wine, much of that history remains, but now marketed as a luxury experience.
It’s crafty business owners repackaging consumers’ hangovers and selling it back to them – for a price.
And, given Australians’ well-documented penchant for carousing, this made-up meal has now become a normalised part of our nation’s culture.
Somehow, despite all the healthy scepticism Australians exude when it comes to financial matters, we’ve been conned into splurging on foods that, for the most part, can be readily prepared at home.
And for those more attracted to the promise of a wine before lunch than those $22 smashed avocados that put demographer Bernard Salt’s knickers in a twist, that too can be consumed at home more cheaply than at a cafe (some might suggest this is less socially acceptable; they may have a point).
Will calling time on brunch put a dent in the housing affordability issue or fix the nation’s ailing economy? Not in the least, but a dollar saved is a dollar earned, especially when that dollar would otherwise be wasted on something you can cook yourself.
But, if you can’t admit when you’re wrong it never mattered whether or not you were right – maybe one day I’ll be a convert, but for now my brunch pennies are earmarked for more productive spending.
Perhaps I’ll even visit a record store today.
Killian Plastow is deputy money editor at The New Daily, but his views do not reflect those of the business – most of which is very very much in favour of brunch.