The thought of drinking an unlimited supply of cheap prosecco makes me feel hungover without even taking a sip.
No good will come from an “all you can drink in 90 minutes”, “bottomless brunch” deal sponsored by cheap, sugary prosecco, trust me. It sits neatly alongside my other disliked drinking promotion: “Buy two large glasses and get the rest of the bottle free!” Both, in my opinion, should be banished – or, at least, relegated to that part of your brain which sits in darkness, storing all those cringe-inducing memories of a bad night out...
But before you call me miserable, let me tell you one thing: I absolutely love brunch. In fact, it’s my favourite meal. The relaxed ambience of a lazy Sunday morning; not having to leap out of bed and with none of the pressure of making breakfast or lunch? Halcyon days. A glass of champagne and a splash of Chet Baker? Perfection.
My idea of what constitutes the ideal Sunday brunch, though (a delicious croissant from a local bakery, soft scrambled eggs, some fresh fruit, a glass of English sparkling wine) has been ruined by the insidious creep of the so-called “bottomless brunch” fad (which isn’t “bottomless” at all, but we’ll get to that). To put it succinctly: this fixed-price “experience” comprises drinking as much low-quality prosecco as you can, while being served up your standard smashed avo and eggs. It’s a bit like a night out at a student union, except the cheap booze is served in flutes, and you find yourself doing the “walk of shame” at... two in the afternoon.
Anyway: anything that is remotely reminiscent of a drinking challenge doesn’t belong anywhere near a grown-up weekend – let alone a Sunday morning – and fills me with horror. They should be banned – along with those unsightly 250ml servings of wine. It’s just not necessary. No wine benefits from being drunk in such quantity in one go.
Last week, researchers at the University of Cambridge found that removing 250ml pour sizes of wine from menus at pubs and bars actually leads to a reduction in the amount of wine sold of just under eight per cent. This could provide one way of nudging customers to drink less alcohol and have a positive impact on health, the researchers said – without impacting the venue. Amen to that.
The study’s lead author, Prof Dame Theresa Marteau, summarised what I’ve believed for a long time about serving sizes – that when a large (or oversized) glass is unavailable, people shift towards the smaller options – but still don’t drink the equivalent amount of wine. That means we don’t actually want to drink such a large volume of liquid. We only do it because it’s promoted to us.
When I owned a wine bar, we only served 125ml glasses of wine – whether it was our house wine or a fine barolo. Drinking a third of a bottle in one go adds nothing to the enjoyment of a good glass of wine. As Marteau says: the steady rise in the size of a glass of wine has been quite stark over the last 25 years, and none of this is to the benefit of the drinker.”
And this is why we should be scrutinising the “bottomless brunch”. We’ve completely lost touch with what we’re actually drinking – and why. The idea of trying to drink as much as you can so you somehow achieve “value for money” is a truly sad indictment of our relationship with alcohol. Not least, the simple fact that you’re not getting an unlimited amount of booze: you’re getting a carefully planned amount that ties in with what the average adult can consume. There’s nothing “bottomless” about it. Most people – simply, physically – won’t be able to hold any more than a bottle. And at retail cost, that can be as little as a fiver.
Still, it’s not surprising, perhaps, that we are as a nation so captivated by getting what we see as a “good deal” on one of our favourite meals of the day. After all, brunch has been a hit since it came to us, via the US, in the 19th century. We invented the word!
I still remember my introduction to “brunch”: by way of Kramers in Washington DC in 2008. It was the stuff of dreams to a Brit like me... a bookshop that combined a cosy and welcoming restaurant with mismatched furniture and capacious coffee mugs (I’d watched a lot of Friends). I ordered a smoked salmon benedict with a glass of champagne on the side – and it was perfect. Truly.
It wasn’t rowdy and heaving with people trying to kick through a devilish hangover; it wasn’t loud and full of screeching hen parties; it was calm, relaxing and quintessentially Sunday. And it highlights, for me, everything we’re getting wrong by pushing the idea of “bottomless” access to... well, anything.
By promoting excess and focusing on quantity over quality, you accidentally create a completely different atmosphere; a space that actively encourages binge drinking – an ambience marked by time restrictions on how long you can be at the table. Venues, naturally, select the lowest quality product to serve, as it has the highest margin. Get the customers in and out. Keep them coming. Charge an extra fee for vomit.
And, as ever, I’m left wondering: why, if we care about what we eat, don’t we care about what we drink?
Our obsession with supersizing everything – including servings of wine – just highlights our unsavoury tendency towards excess in all areas. It’s time we all took a breath, stopped booking these infernal brunches and avoided cheap, industrially produced wine. We can enjoy ourselves just as much – more, even – with a little bit less.
Rosamund Hall (DipWSET) is a wine merchant and consultant