The Difference between Breakfast and Brunch

A friend recently posed a question which required a serious answer: what’s the difference between breakfast and brunch?

Traditionally, the key differentiator has been time of day. One has breakfast in the morning, and brunch slightly later in the day, when it could reasonably overlap with lunch. So, anything before, say, 10:00 would necessarily be breakfast, and post 10:00 would be brunch.

Practically, this definition leaves is lacking in a few important features. For one, breakfasts can make the best dinners, as anyone who’s fried up some evening pancakes can tell you. Furthermore, the consequences of confusing the two, in terms of false marketing can be disastrous.

Take, for example, the recent experience of my friend: She had been invited by one of her other friends (not me, or else I could have prepared her) to “brunch” at one of my favorite Ypsilanti food spots. Unfortunately, this restaurant does not serve brunch. It serves breakfast.

Accordingly, her experience was disappointing and underwhelming. Instead of reveling in an incredible breakfast joint with the most amazing chorizo scrambled eggs, oatmeal, and bacon, she struggled through, bereft of a civilized mimosa.

It would be tempting, based on this experience, to define brunch by the presence of alcohol, but that would be off the mark. You don’t have to be an absolute lush to enjoy a good brunch, and in any case, I’m not sure I could live with myself if I established champagne as the defining criteria of possibly the best meal in life.

Instead, I think, brunch comes down to something much more simple: prep time.

Breakfasts are a thing you eat when you’re in a bit of a rush. Maybe you’re up early, and you’re hungry. Or perhaps you have to fit it in before work. I can meet friends for breakfast on a weekday, and still get in to work by 9:00. (Not that I do, but in theory.)

Accordingly, you must be able to have breakfast on the table and ready to eat within 30 minutes of your alarm going off.

This makes breakfast a meal uniquely adapted to the frying-pan, griddle, or toaster: eggs, bacon, sausage, hash browns, pancakes, toast, french toast, bagels, etc. A few stand-outs would be oatmeal, yogurt, and fresh fruit. All served with an unending vat of coffee, or you’re doing it wrong. Damn, now I want some. Breakfast: how glorious.

Brunch, on the other hand, is served late enough in the day to allow for some preparation. Hollandaise sauce belongs with brunch. As do fancy cakes, cocktails, and anything with a multi-stage recipe. You have to be awake to make brunch. For breakfast, you can basically dump raw ingredients onto a griddle and call it good. Brunch? Care. Attention. Craft.

So that’s my PSA. Want to meet someone at 11am on a Saturday at your favorite local place with the best-ever omelettes? Have at it. But if there aren’t any mixed drinks and nothing on the menu takes more than fifteen minutes to prepare, don’t call it brunch.

We all love breakfast. We just need to set our expectations.

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