10 Rules for a Brilliant Brunch

updated May 1, 2019
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Let’s talk about brunch. The word brings to mind leisurely late-morning repasts, glorious sweet and savory spreads, and boozy beverages. Now let’s talk about hosting brunch. That can feel like a juggling act crossed with a relay race combined with a high-wire feat. It takes work to make sure the hot food is hot and the cold food is cold, not to mention you have to clean your house and strike just the right upbeat (but not disco) mood with music and lighting.

For even the most organized host, that’s a lot of pressure. Who hasn’t stood in the middle of the kitchen with powdered sugar on your nose and bacon grease on your apron and wondered why you even agreed to host this meal in the first place?

But brunch at home is one of life’s great pleasures. Remember that, and these 10 rules, and you’ll be just fine. More than just fine — you’ll be brilliant.

1. Keep the menu simple.

Your kitchen isn’t the Four Seasons Hotel. You do not have a full staff of paid workers to peel, chop, and serve the food. Most of us only have ourselves and maybe a few friends or a significant other we’ve roped into helping out.

That means you should nix made-to-order omelets, intricate egg Benedicts, or custom pancakes from the menu. You will drive yourself crazy trying to make complicated dishes. Aim to cover your bases with something savory, something sweet, and a few popular sides. Think of it like a Bruce Springsteen concert: People just want the hits! Give ’em to them.

Get the menu: A December Brunch with Savory Bread Pudding and Citrus French Toast

2. Accept help.

If you can avoid taking on the expense and energy of procuring and preparing everything yourself, do it. If you have friends who love arranging flowers, let them have at it. If your best friend asks if she can come a little early to help set up, agree. And when guests ask what to bring, tell them what you need. We suggest light desserts, sparkling wine, and orange juice.

You can also accept help from the supermarket. You don’t have to knock out perfect almond croissants; you can snag them from the bakery. Your guests won’t mind if you don’t make them from scratch yourself — we promise.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

3. Set the table the night before.

This is an easy thing to get out of the way before you tie on your apron and Google “how to make crepes.” There’s no worse feeling than being knee-deep in blueberry muffin batter, hearing the doorbell ring, and realizing you haven’t put the pitchers, plates, and silverware out yet. This one step will streamline your morning immensely.

4. Make as much in advance as possible.

The great thing about brunch is that so much of the food can actually be made in advance, so you can spend your morning defrosting and warming baked goods leisurely. Bread pudding, muffins, and coffee cakes are all able to be made a few days before and thawed or re-heated before guests arrive. Fruit salads can be knocked out a day in advance, as can potato pancakes.

Save foods like biscuits, rolls, sausage, and bacon for the day of. They taste best when freshly prepared and will also make your home smell amazing when people walk inside.

5. Make bacon in the oven.

If you believe that brunch is not brunch without bacon, we are with you. But managing bacon on the griddle is a recipe for a hot, greasy mess. Do yourself a favor and make the bacon in the oven.

6. Embrace the buffet.

There’s no getting around it — when feeding a large group of people, a buffet is the best way to go. It just doesn’t make sense to try to serve individual plates like you’re at a sit-down affair at Downton Abbey.

Set up mains first on the buffet table, followed by side dishes, then breads, fruit, and beverages. Keep backup platters in the kitchen for easy refills when supplies get low.

7. Make it mini!

Smaller bites make the line go quicker, which allows the food to be served faster, which will make your guests happier. (They’re hungry!) If you can’t make the portions mini-sized, cut food in advance so guests won’t need to awkwardly fiddle with knives.

8. Be mindful of those with food allergies.

It is true that you cannot please all of the people all of the time, but that doesn’t mean you can’t accommodate guests with food allergies. Ask ahead of time if anyone has a severe allergy — say to nuts or gluten — and be sure to alert other guests bringing food. If you want to go the extra mile, label your food and include any potential allergens. Your guests with sensitivities will thank you for your thoughtfulness!

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

9. Make mimosas.

Cocktails are part of brunch, but that doesn’t mean you have to make something complicated. In fact, you should definitely not make something complicated. Mimosas are basically the perfect brunch cocktail because they (1) include two ingredients and (2) are relatively low-alcohol.

10. Enjoy yourself.

Yes, warm croissants, fluffy eggs, and bubbly mimosas make brunch one of the best-loved meals of the week, but remember that people are coming to spend time with you — not chow down on a five-star meal. They won’t care if your house is slightly messy or the flower arrangement isn’t just so.

When you catch yourself fretting over the smallest details — is the coffee too bitter? Do people like the herbal teas I put out? — take a step back, look around at the room full of people engaging in lively conversation, and savor the moment.

What are your best tips for hosting brunch?