In Washington DC, at another brunch hot spot, Masa 14 offers a unique alternative to the traditional buffet. The Richard Sandoval Restaurant featuring Latin-Asian small plates offers a $35 “Bottomless Brunch” from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It includes unlimited ordering from the brunch menu of small plates and six specialty drinks (a Mimosa, Masa Mimosa with mango puree and blood orange, Bloody Mary, Bacon Bloody Mary, Lychee Bellini and Lemon Lager with Dos Equis, lemon-basil simple syrup and St. Germaine liqueur).

“Everyone was doing endless mimosas and all-you-can-eat buffet-style brunches, but the appeal of our idea was groups could try a wide assortment of menu items, while maintaining the full-service atmosphere Masa 14 is known for,” says Noah Loudenback, an operations director for Richard Sandoval Restaurants. Six months after starting the Bottomless Brunch two years ago, Masa 14 was booking Sunday brunches a month in advance. The same concept has now been extended to other Sandoval restaurants in DC, El Centro D.F. and Zengo.

“Rethink the wheel,” Loudenback suggests. “Don’t automatically replicate the same service you offer during dinners and lunches. Brunch is a different time of day, which affects the expectations and mood of your guests. Don’t be scared to make it less reserved and more of a party atmosphere.”

Loudenback concedes the unlimited ordering means operating with a higher food and beverage cost, but the overall volume and “magnificent level of public interest” makes it worthwhile. Plus, many guests order drinks off the regular, full-priced menu and stick around at the bar after the brunch ends, driving up the per-check average.

The challenge for many operators is staffing a popular and successful brunch service, which comes bright and early after the busiest and latest nights of the week.

Loudenback avoids scheduling any “close-open” shifts to ensure the staff is fresh and rested, and most of Fehribach’s brunch staff works only mornings. He says because of his restaurant’s reputation, it’s possible to recruit talent to work the early shift.

If staffing is a challenge, maybe the buffet is the right option. Or promote brunch only for special occasions like graduation, start of summer, Father’s Day or after local events, like a big church service or marathon.

The bottom line, according to Technomic? Brunch is a daypart with extremely broad consumer appeal, and a cost-effective one at that because of potentially lower food and operational costs. But you better go all in.

“Many do brunch to bring in some extra money,” Fehribach says. “If you staff it sparsely to protect margins in the early stages of a brunch promotion, you’ll shoot yourself in the foot because people want efficient, quick service. If you don’t deliver from the get-go, it won’t work for the long haul.

“The other key is menu—people love lots of choices, but you have to be careful not to look like everyone else, yet you can’t do food that’s too strange because people aren’t super adventurous at brunch. You need a menu that is large enough to convey abundance and a staff large enough to execute it.”