It’s impossible to look at the Louisville restaurant scene and not see that breakfast is booming. Nationally, too. Loads of research I’ve read over the past year points to sales logged during the breakfast-brunch daypart as the industry’s most significant growth opportunity.
Baby Boomers who are tired of cooking, have the expendable income to eat out and want to see their grandchildren around the table are leading this trend. Assisting it are Millennials, who continue to find fulfillment in food someone else prepared.
Chad Coulter, co-owner of LouVino, believes consumers eat out for reasons of convenience as much as entertainment. But he says Sunday brunch at his Highlands hotspot seems to attract people who just want to relax on their day off with a leisurely meal.
“It’s become very popular for us and a lot of other people,” Coulter said. “You use to have Lynn’s and Wild Eggs and the Bristol as the only big players. But I think (other restaurateurs) saw how well that one meal was doing for them, and now everyone’s trying to capitalize on it.”
Yep, you can get eggs cooked dozens of ways, breakfast burritos and dishes doused in chili-mac at a steakhouse that serves a $235 Wagyu filet mignon at dinner.
“We’re serving really good food people want at that time of the day,” Grangier said. “Brunch has become a big deal in Louisville.”
And as brunch gains more attention, Coulter said it draws more restaurants into the fray and begets more business for everyone.
“We’ve only gotten busier,” he said. “In a place that can seat 75 people, I think we had 220 guests last Sunday. That’s three turns on every table.”
But when competition grows, prices on some items tend to fall as operators look for an edge on their competitors. And in this city’s brunch scene, it’s the mimosa.
There’s hardly a simpler cocktail to make, and from a cost perspective, it’s relatively inexpensive if the operator uses orange juice concentrate and bargain bubbly.
Historically it’s also been a high-margin drink, but just how high depends on whether the restaurant fresh-squeezes its juice and pours bubbly from bottles bearing punts and actual corks. Perhaps the mimosa price slide at Roux over the past few months will give you some idea of a mimosa’s price flexibility.
In January, it advertised $2.50 mimosas on its Facebook page, but in February the message changed to “bottomless mimosas.” In April, the price plummeted to 50 cents per mimosa, one-fifth the already low starting price.
Laissez les bons temps rouler, indeed!
I reached out to Roux owner Dustin Staggers to see if his decision to drop the price to 50 cents followed Le Moo’s advertisement of near-equally inexpensive $1 mimosas, but he didn’t respond to a call or text. (FWIW, Staggers spends a good deal of time in Myrtle Beach, S.C., an outpost for a tax lien business he operates with his brother, Kyle. So he likely was tending to other matters.)
At LouVino, mimosas also are bottomless, but they cost $10. And at Blu Italian Grille in the downtown Marriott, a bottomless mimosa is one drink item included in the $29 per-person buffet cost. And not to be caught with its competitive pants down during the bottomless drink trend, Artesano Tapas Vino Y Mas serves a bottomless brunch sangria for $15.
Coulter said the move to go bottomless at brunch lifted sales noticeably last year. Beyond great food, he said Sunday service’s original hook was live jazz, which attracted a steady crowd, “but not to the extent the bottomless mimosas have.”
Grangier was equally candid about what I say should be called “moo-mosas”: “People don’t hate a $1 mimosa. I’ll say that. … And why would they? Ours is really good. We don’t go cheap.”
But is the offer of super-inexpensive drinks risky to a business that serves legal intoxicants?
Not if your staff is trained to monitor consumption, spot insobriety and bold enough to cut off guests, Coulter said.
“We haven’t really had an issue with it, though we’ve had a couple of instances where we had to cut people off,” he said. And just to be prudent, LouVino will incorporate a two-hour limit on bottomless mimosa consumption starting April 16. “We just feel that for the safety of the consumer and the community, it’s the best idea to have some limit.”
Curious as to what Louisville’s ABC Enforcement folks thought about bottomless and inexpensive drinks, I called to ask some questions … and waited on hold … and waited … and nearly went insane listening to the bad hold music … and eventually hung up.
Its website, however, is informative. Its FAQ page makes clear that operators cannot offer “All-You-Can Drink” specials because they risk the operator selling alcohol “below cost” since, in theory, they would be giving it away if guests are real guzzlers. Of course, this is not out of concern for public safety; it’s designed to eliminate lost tax revenue. Interestingly, though, giving away food or selling it as a loss leader is not a problem.
So that begs the question of whether an operator can make a profit off an incredibly inexpensive mimosa. Though Staggers didn’t return calls for comment, one would assume he’d not sell anything at a loss, especially something so easily consumed in multiples as mimosas.
Grangier said simply and confidently, “Our numbers work.”
The ABC also says any “All-You-Can Drink” special “runs afoul of KRS 244.080(2) which prohibits a licensee from selling alcoholic beverages to an intoxicated patron. An ‘all you can drink,’ promotion means that patrons have the right to order as many alcoholic beverage drinks as they desire and that the Licensee cannot refuse the patron’s orders.” Translation: Cut off the drunken patron and you’ve engaged in “illegal advertising by making a ‘statement that is false or misleading.’”
So does using the word “bottomless” or charging half-dollar prices skirt the law? Judging by the ABC’s rules, I don’t think so, but you can review the statutes yourself if you’re curious.
Coulter said his use of “bottomless” implies only a “bargain for the customer,” not an invitation to get liquored up at LouVino.
“We have to abide by Kentucky regulations that say you can’t overserve a guest — whether it’s a bottomless mimosa, a $5 beer or a $15 glass of wine,” he said. “Most other places charge 6 or 7 bucks per mimosa. So if our guests know they can have two or three for $10, they see that as a better value.”