Many people have weekly routines for worship. New Yorkers have brunch. This sacred weekend tradition has long meant spending Saturdays or Sundays — or both, because why not? — breaking bread over delicious dishes and drinking hangovers away with some cocktails.
Brunch can be a spiritual experience for many reasons, but whether you’re indulging in a single hair of the dog or going completely feral with bottomless Mimosas, you have the brunch gods to thank for the good time — and by brunch gods, we mean some of the best bartenders in the game. From wholesome family moments to rich kids trying to split the bill eight ways with their Chase Sapphire cards, bartenders who work brunch shifts have pretty much seen it all. Below, we talked to four pros to get the inside scoop on how they prep for a shift and what really goes on during one of the most hedonistic rituals in New York City from the other side of the bar.
Location: A buzzy and family-friendly pub in Red Hook, Brooklyn
Shift: Brunch — or really lunch for us, because I think you technically have to have an egg on the menu for it to be called brunch — starts at noon. I get there around 10:30 a.m. to set up. I’m lucky on Fridays because I get to work with my girlfriend, and it’s super cute. I like to put “busy energy” out into the world, so we set up 12 bar seats in case we get crushed. Hopefully, we can make some money, because Friday [brunch] is usually the least money-making shift. We prep the orange juice, as we usually get more kids during this time, and we like to get them their fresh little OJs. I grab ice, hoping that the closing bartender from last night has all the batches from last night, and check on the beers. I stock up on wines for the floor and for behind the bar just to have backups, especially any chilled reds, whites, or sparkling. I’ll help the other servers set up the floor, and then I’ll usually just do inventory for a tiny bit just so we can see what we’re low on.
Don't Miss A DropGet the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.
Lunch is a big beer day here —I normally wear Budweiser earrings because I don’t want to make drinks during service — and Fridays are our most local-heavy days. A lot of other bars in the area open at 4 p.m., so we end up getting most of the traffic and lots of sweet, cute little babies. I’m in my uncle phase right now, and seeing so many beautiful moments with these babies. It’s a lot of families and the clientele is just really sweet. A lot of folks on this day stay until 4:30 p.m. or almost until opening for the night — we have lunch until 3 p.m. and reopen at 5 p.m. — because they’re just having nice chats. They’re not even drinking at that point; we’re just shooting the shit at the bar. [That’s why] I love working in Red Hook; it’s just such a sweet place.
Location: A neighborhood bar and restaurant in the East Village, Manhattan
Shift: A normal brunch shift is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and all of our bartenders are told to be there 15 minutes early, so I get there at 8:45 a.m. I set up the bar and get all my stuff ready, and the barback will set up his station with all the juice and fruit. Everything is fresh at our bar, and if it’s not used that day it gets thrown out.
We get ready until the doors open at 10 a.m. Food is served until 4:30, when the kitchen is closed for 30 minutes, and then we’re back open at 5 p.m. for our night shift. Our most popular drink for brunch by far is this Margarita picante drink. We have a two-for-one cocktail deal — it’s madness for what we’re giving away in Espresso Martinis. Other popular drinks include our sangria flights and our brunch punch. For the summer, it’ll be all Aperol Spritzes. I don’t get many weird drink requests, but someone once asked me for a M&M: It’s 1 ounce mezcal and 1 ounce montenegro. I knew what it was, but I had to double check if she really wanted that for brunch. In my head it’s a nightcap drink, but whatever floats her boat.
For food, people really like the breakfast burrito and we have a new mix of pancakes that’s been killing it. Also the avocado toast. The brunch crowd is usually beautiful and it never gets too rowdy; we get the rowdy crowd more at night. But the brunch shift is madness and we like how busy it is. Everyone’s in a good mood, everyone’s smiling, and everyone’s just happy.
Location: A trendy brunch spot in the heart of SoHo, Manhattan
Shift: Prep starts the evening before. I’ll prepare a little Bloody Mary mix and some of the specialty cocktails that you know can be batched and quickly poured. I’ll make sure to have two dozen bottles of Prosecco for Mimosas, Bellinis, and all those fun things. But it doesn’t really matter how prepared you are — a lot of brunches just don’t go smoothly.
Most people working brunch shifts went out last night, and have to be at work at 7 a.m. or 8 a.m. to start setting up. Customers or staff — people are just tired and hungry. I truly don’t know anybody in the industry who loves working brunch. But I kind of lead with a very dark sense of humor when things get really bad, whether it’s a brunch shift, day shift, or a cocktail event. In the back of my head, if I get a little too flustered, I go, “Is someone dying right now? If they’re not, it’s just food and drinks at the end of the day.”
Saturday is our most lucrative day. Because it is a brunch-to-dinner set-up, the majority of staff does double shifts through that day. Brunch is very about churn and burn. You can get a lot of bodies. Whereas a dinner service tends to be more controlled and they’re sitting for two and a half hours, they can be in and out in 45 minutes to an hour at brunch. As much as brunch is not the funnest thing to do, it can be worth it at my establishment.
The Soho crowd is the most interesting crowd I’ve had in my time in New York City. We get a lot of tourists. We’re in a hotel, too, so we get big groups. Dinner gets a little crazier: I’ve literally had a night where it’s like, “Oh, that’s Morena Baccarin from ‘Deadpool’” to nights where I have to ID everybody because they’re trying to get into the rooftop bar and none of them are 21. But brunch is more the younger mix of NYU students, or we get a lot of the bachelorette parties. We had a book reading club. We’ll have young guys come with all their friends before they go out on the town or come in right at 3 because they’ve been drinking at four other bars.
No one is asking for weird variations of the Sbagliato with Prosecco (thank you, “House of the Dragon”) [but I have] had people ask for it with gin. When a weird cocktail order does come in, I ask the server first to clarify. Sometimes it’s inexperience and that’s fine; that’s a teaching moment. But when it’s the table being weird, I go to them and say, “Hey guys, I’m the head bartender. I’ve been doing this for almost 15 years, nine of them in the city. What kind of drink did you want? I want to understand this better.” I make it so that, in a very subtle way, I’m explaining to them they have no idea what they’re talking about.
The one thing I do not like about brunch is you’ll get these groups of eight, nine, or 12 people, and we will only split a check four ways. You’ll have 12 NYU students with their brand-new Chase Sapphires asking, “Can we split it?” We’re like, “No.”
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned how to just be like, “This really doesn’t matter. Do not let this upset you.” You address things appropriately, but a lot of times you just have to look at it, roll your eyes, and keep moving. There’s a rooftop club that opens just as we’re closing to prep for dinner. Drunk bros try to come in to pregame or when they get turned away at the door, but we tell them we’re closing.
Location: A chill hangout in Dumbo, Brooklyn
Shift: We open at 11 a.m. and then close at 3 p.m. to reset for 5 p.m. dinner. We try to prep everything beforehand: Get the garnishes, juices, wine, soda, tomato juice for the Blood Mary’s, etc. Once we open doors, people come in with families, dogs, and kids. We have a patio so everyone and their furry friends are welcome.
Because it’s the start of summer, I see a lot of people ordering Margaritas — especially the cucumber one. It’s refreshing and crisp. Other than that, people love the sangria. We had one brunch on Mother’s Day where a lot of people were ordering Old Fashioneds and getting lit.
Saturdays are mostly young people whereas Sundays are more families. It’s more chill [on Sundays], but people still drink a lot. Before working brunch again, I was at Up & Up and Bathtub Gin. I never got to enjoy mornings to take a walk or anything. It was always waking up at 1 or 2 o’clock, getting some late breakfast, getting ready, and going to work again. Then when you get out of work, you want to grab a drink with your coworkers. I enjoy brunch because I get to wake up early and feel the breeze. Doing a brunch shift is so easy and so enjoyable. Once I start grabbing that shaker, it’s non-stop til 3 o’clock.