Brunch-shaming: Why the backlash against brunch is dumb and needs to stop
There's nothing like a horribly wrong New York Times opinion piece to get the blood flowing at the end of a long week. Today's entry in the Grey Lady's ever-expanding thinkpiece imaginarium is a screed against that most indulgent of weekend meals: Brunch.
"Brunch is for jerks," writes Times contributor David Shaftel:
It’s gone way too far. Saturday and Sunday mornings in New York’s West Village, where I have lived for nearly 20 years, used to bring an almost pastoral calm. Now they’re characterized by the brunch-industrial complex rumbling to life. By late morning, crowds of brunchers — often hung over and proudly bedraggled — begin to assemble, eager to order from rote menus featuring some variation of mimosas and eggs Benedict.Shaftel then goes on for nearly 1000 more words of self-satisfied brunch-shaming, calling the meal a "virus," and "the most visible symptom of a demographic shift that has taken place in our neighborhood and others like it." In a weird bit of irony, Shaftel places much of his argument on a quote from Strokes lead singer Julian Casablancas, who says, “I don’t know how many, like, white people having brunch I can deal with on a Saturday afternoon.” Well I don't know many, like, rock star sons of business moguls I can deal with lecturing me on white privilege, but okay.
That said, I get why, to some, brunch is a symbol of the rapidly-changing fabric of many New York neighborhoods. I'm hardly an authority, having only lived here as early as 2010, but I will admit that in Bushwick, the rising rent prices and influx of young, single professionals and students over the past few years has indeed corresponded with an increase in brunch offerings.
But to single out brunch as some insidious symbol of gentrification is a false flag. It's indicative of the worst kinds of urban commentary: Old privilege attacking new privilege, which does nothing to help the underprivileged. It isolates blame for the changing neighborhood on the new businesses and residents that move in. And while there are without a doubt some newly-arrived businesses and tenants that treat the traditions and long-time residents of a community with disrespect, the forces most responsible for the negative effects of gentrification are landlords, outdated zoning laws, and politicians and voters who don't see the value of affordable housing or community land trusts. You can't stop the rising tide of hipsters running deeper and deeper into Brooklyn -- but you can take steps to help preserve the culture and community that's already there.
Shaftel also comments on how every restaurant in his neighborhood, even the local Thai joint, now offers brunch options to capitalize on "a revenue stream that also exposes restaurants to diners who might become regular customers." While that may offend Shaftel's gastronomical sensibilities, it's an admission that brunch can be a significant moneymaker, not just for upscale bistros but for family-operated businesses that have been in the neighborhood for years. Since when is helping local businesses bad for a community?
Then the writer brings in some brunch academic to say, with little to support it, that “Brunchers treat servers uncharitably and servers, in turn, view them with contempt.” Maybe there's some national Pew brunch survey I'm unaware of, but in my experience, the bill after a brunch meal, usually affixed with an obscene number of high-priced beverages, comes out to a substantial sum leading to bigger tips than a modest workday breakfast of bagels and coffee would. And having worked as a server, I can say that contempt for customers is a meal-agnostic emotion.
Oh and I almost forgot the most important reason Shaftel is wrong: Brunch is delicious and fun, dummy.
Recounting the previous night's revelries over a pile of saucy eggs and a triple-fisted hangover cure of booze, coffee, and water is a perfectly pleasant way to spend the early afternoon. Is it an adolescent dalliance as Shaftel suggests? Sure. But it's the weekend. The shackles of our corporate masters have been cast off for a few precious hours, and we're going to make the most of it.
So this weekend, don't let the brunch trolls and brunchsplainers tell you how to spend your time off. As long as treat your servers with respect, leave a healthy tip, and don't act like a drunken lout, you're good. And if a Times writer or a rock star tries to make you feel like you're ruining the city, just smile and buy that person a mimosa. Haters gonna hate, brunchers gonna... yeah you know the rest.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]