The closing of brunch restaurants in recent years is a familiar story.
But the phenomenon is not a new one.
In fact, the restaurant industry is changing rapidly, and a shift toward serving small, intimate dining is taking hold.
With the rise of small plates and a trend toward a casual dining environment, brunch restaurants are increasingly finding themselves in a bind.
But how do they go about making that change?
The answer, according to the owners of a handful of Houston-area eateries, is to rethink the menu.
They say it’s not a difficult transition to make, but it does take a bit of finesse and a bit more imagination.
“It’s kind of a weird thing to go through,” said Denny Rees, the owner of a family-owned restaurant, The Pockets, that has a “fast-casual” menu, featuring small plates, salads, sandwiches and a variety of small-plate options.
“I’ve had people ask me if they can just make this their own, and it’s kind the opposite.
You need to take a page out of the book, because the menu is the menu.”
While brunch has been a tradition for generations in Houston, the number of dining venues in the city has been declining in recent decades.
Rees says his restaurant, which opened in 2013, is currently in the process of remodeling and adding more seating and options to its menu.
“At the end of the day, the more you change the menu, the better it is for us,” he said.
“The more you add more things, the healthier it is.”
The Pounds’ menu, which features salads, breadsticks and sandwiches, is a nod to the past.
In recent years, the Houston-based restaurant has become one of the top small-plates restaurants in the area.
But Rees said the new menu has to be adapted to reflect the changing dining culture of Houston.
“You can’t go back to the basics and just change the name,” he explained.
“If you do, you’re going to ruin the concept.”
The idea of a casual restaurant menu is not new.
But in recent memory, it has been more prevalent in the Midwest.
According to the Food Network, the average size of a small-table restaurant has gone up from just over 1,500 square feet in 2001 to 2,200 square feet today.
That trend has been largely driven by trends toward vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
“We’re seeing an increase in restaurants that are vegan or vegetarian-friendly,” said John Tressell, a consultant for the non-profit food security organization Food Not Bombs.
“What you’re seeing is a big shift from a casual menu to a more modern one, which is an interesting shift, especially when you look at the number one menu item in America right now is a steak sandwich.”
A lot of diners are also starting to order larger plates, like burgers and hot dogs.
But that shift isn’t sustainable.
“Small plates are expensive, you need more seats, you want a more casual atmosphere,” said Rees.
“And if you go too far in the direction of the casual dining option, you end up with a restaurant that’s just kind of the same, except it’s a big plate of food.”
The restaurant’s menu changes are designed to help cater to both of those needs.
“Our goal is to keep the casual menu as small as possible,” said Tresell.
“In order to do that, we have to have a good balance between the classic and the modern.
The classic menu is pretty much what we have now.
It’s not just sandwiches and salads. “
Then we add in the more modern dishes.
It’s not just sandwiches and salads.
It has to have something to it.”
The menu is designed to be simple and approachable.
“All of the items we have are designed with one goal in mind: the experience,” said Thomas H. Tressel, a partner at the consulting firm Cressey & Kline, who has been involved in the restaurant menu and dining business for the last 15 years.
“That means they are not designed for a person with a specific taste in food, for a busy day, for someone who wants to have that same experience at the end.
For example, the restaurants are offering a variety menu that includes salads, meat-free sandwiches, sandwiches, and sides. “
But there is also a lot of innovation going on.”
For example, the restaurants are offering a variety menu that includes salads, meat-free sandwiches, sandwiches, and sides.
The most popular dishes on the menu include fried chicken, a salad with grilled chicken breast, a sandwich with baked beans, a hamburger and a side of rice.
Reys and Tressels said the menu changes can be as simple as adding ingredients and changing up the menu or as complex as adding an additional dish or toppings to the menu and adjusting the seating.