Indian food was indicative of the situation. When this exotic cuisine began to hit the mainstream in the UK it was seen as post-pub food, and nobody would really venture into these typically flock-wallpapered establishments before 9.30pm. This slowly changed but I can recall that even in the 1990s, it remained a meal solely for dinner time. When I formed a curry club at a company I worked at, which involved a group of us enjoying an Indian lunch once a month, it was an unusual activity.
Fast-forward to today and you have Indian chain Dishoom, which has made its name with a breakfast offer that includes its iconic bacon naan roll. The creation of this dish arguably smashed the mould for Indian food and paved the way for it to be served from morning until night. Queues outside Dishoom sites on weekend mornings are a regular sight.
The breakfast market has been recognised as particularly powerful as it is a great way to highlight that a venue has an all-day offer. It has been extended in recent times to include brunch, which is arguably the new all-day breakfast, and in some venues there is now the bottomless brunch, which for a fixed cost might include unlimited prosecco.
These propositions get people through the door first thing and potentially keep them there. This has certainly been the case at JD Wetherspoon, where the breakfast offer has become a serious revenue driver and can seamlessly take people on to their first pint and perhaps a spot of lunch!
Such flexibility in the way we eat is being driven by the willingness of consumers to be much more experimental in their eating patterns as well as an important economic driver – the necessity for operators to sweat their property assets. Having a seriously expensive site empty except for a couple of hours at lunchtime and during evening service is a killer for many businesses – especially as they are now operating in a high-cost environment.
Coffee shops have, to some extent, set the scene for the all-day type of dining. By becoming the “third place” – beyond the home and office – and setting themselves up as venues where people can eat and drink throughout the day, formal meal times disappear. Dishes such as burritos, bagels and toasted sandwiches with varying fillings are sufficiently flexible to be served at any point of the day or night.
The rest of the market doesn’t have it quite as easy as coffee shops when it comes to menus, with their lighter-dish menus not usually pinned to a specific cuisine or country. But if Dishoom can be massively successful with Indian food at breakfast then it can arguably be done with any cuisine. It is noticeable in recent weeks Patty & Bun has acquired two sites in London and has stated it will introduce a breakfast menu for the first time. Clearly McDonald’s has managed to do quite well with its breakfast offering over the years too.
Also in the capital we have the tasty prospect of Andrew Wong (chef proprietor of Michelin-starred restaurant A Wong) opening a new site, Kym’s at Bloomberg Arcade, which he says will enable him to realise an ambition he has had for some time – to operate a Chinese restaurant that is open all day.
It is unlikely Wong will introduce the Chinese equivalent of the all-day breakfast but the ubiquity of being able to eat a “full English” at any time of the day highlights how we have experienced a revolution in the flexibility of dining and with it the gradual dismantling of formal eating times.