There’s no denying the appeal of a Sunday spent basking in the sun, sipping Mimosas, and munching on breakfast dishes past noon. In New York City, brunch is more a movement than a meal — it’s a weekly scramble to find the perfect location, restaurant, time slot, and bottomless beverage options that often results in a series of group texts gone crazy. But when did the obsession begin, and more importantly, why?
As with many traditions, the origins of brunch are a bit fuzzy. Many food historians believe the meal is derived from England’s smorgasbord-style hunt breakfasts, while others link its genesis to Catholics who enjoyed large meals midday after fasting pre-mass.
However, despite these theories, its creation is widely credited to English author Guy Beringer, who proposed the idea in his essay, “Brunch: A Plea.” Written in 1895, the essay conceptualized the combined meal to be a relief for those whose Sundays were spent tending to hangovers from the night before.
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The idea of a later meal beginning at noon would not only allow for a less stressful Sunday morning but also allow for Saturday’s activities to be extended late into the night. A true visionary, Beringer writes, “Contrary to breakfast, brunch is cheerful, sociable and inciting,” and goes on to define it as a talk-compelling event meant to put you in a good mood. As if to cement the future success of his creation, Beringer even has the foresight to swap out beverages traditionally associated with breakfast for alcoholic drinks instead.
Trailblazing as Beringer’s idea may have been, brunch didn’t make its way to the United States until the 1930s, when it was first introduced in Chicago, which was the halfway point on the transcontinental train journeys taken by celebrities and the wealthy. Upon arriving in the city, passengers sought a late-morning meal that was both sophisticated and satiating. It was a meal of luxury promoted mostly by hotels since many restaurants were closed on Sundays.
As church attendance declined after World War II, Americans looked for a new social outlet on Sunday, and brunch easily filled the void. It continued to trend throughout the ’50s and ’60s and became a meal cooked and enjoyed at home. One hundred years after it was invented, in 1980, brunch essentially replaced the classic American Sunday dinner and made its way back to restaurants. Later, during the ’90s, it was cemented in pop culture as the social outing we know today through hit shows such as “Sex and the City.”
The mass popularization of brunch may have made the meal more stressful today than Beringer originally imagined, but his clear-cut vision for a meal that “sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week” remains intact.