‘You’re looking like a real New Yorker now,’ the chipper waiter tells my friend, giving her a knowing nod as he pours her fourth mimosa of the day. It’s barely past midday, but we’re glassy-eyed and swaying in our seats at a new restaurant-slash-bar-slash-club in north London, Destiny’s Child pounding in the background. And yes, we’re drunk.
It’s a scene we all know well. You’ve just sunk as many bloody marys you can humanly fit in your stomach, stumbling out onto the street at 2pm. The afternoon has barely just begun, but already your day is over. I’m talking about bottomless brunch, the day-drinking phenomenon that has the nation in a chokehold.
A decade or so ago, brunch simply meant pancakes, eggs, coffee and maybe a mimosa – or its rather less exotic counterpart, buck’s fizz – if you were feeling sparky. Nowadays, the word ‘brunch’ is a synonym for something entirely different. It’s become an umbrella term for an event with a bit of (sometimes nice) food, unlimited booze refills and probably some sort of entertainment like bingo or a drag show. Bottomless brunch is like a children’s birthday party for adults: an excuse to get royally pissed with your mates in the middle of the day.
You can go to bottomless events themed around Britney Spears, Coachella, Shrek and Barbie – and the phenomenon is only growing
They often come with themes, and the weirder the better. There’s jazz brunch, hip hop brunch, drum ‘n’ bass brunch. Bunga Bunga in London’s Covent Garden is famous for its Buff Brunch which features a male strip show, with pancakes on the side. There are axe-throwing bottomless brunches (because plastered people lobbing heavy weapons is definitely a good idea). You can go to bottomless events themed around Britney Spears, Coachella, Shrek and Barbie. And the phenomenon is only growing. London, for example, has literally hundreds of bottomless brunches on offer, with more pubs and restaurants jumping on the bandwagon all the time: even Gordon Ramsay has started one at Street Pizza.
It’s not just breakfast foods either. Alongside your unlimited booze, you can get mac and cheese, pizza, roti and more. One friend recalls attending a drum ‘n’ bass brunch that served chicken wings. It was all fine until they parted the long trough-like banquet tables to make way for dancing and the floor was scattered with the poultry carcasses. Slipping on a chicken bone at a rave is certainly one way to go.
But what is it about drinking in the daytime that makes us Brits go feral for a bottomless jug of booze? Aside from the obvious – that it’s a right laugh and a jolly good excuse to get crunk with your mates – at the best of times it can be a one-way ticket to a horrendous hangover, and at the worst it can be a public nuisance. So why has bottomless brunch become so ubiquitous? And is it going anywhere soon?
From brunch girlie to brunch tourist
More than most drinking occasions, bottomless brunch has earned itself a dedicated fanbase. We all know a brunch girlie – women who simply adore getting dressed up with their pals to eat sweet things while they sip on endless glasses of prosecco. Of course, it’s not just these huns who are responsible for holding up the bottomless-brunch industry (although one brunch boss tells me their core demographic is steadfastly 18- to 30-year-old women). Bottomless fans of all demographics are notoriously devoted to getting their fix of unlimited prosecco and shakshuka.
Cory, 26, from Wales, would class himself as a bottomless-brunch megafan. He goes to limitless drinks events monthly, and it’s his friendship group’s go-to activity for any birthday or special occasion.
‘I prefer bottomless brunch to a night out,’ says Cory. ‘It’s great vibes. Who wouldn’t want to get drunk in the day? You can go to bed early and you’re not so hungover the next day.’
To get around the rules, Scots often travel across the border for a couple of hours of boundless boozing
However, it’s not always as PG as being tucked up in bed by 9pm. ‘After bottomless brunch, anything goes,’ Cory says, recalling a time when he went for a particularly raucous breakfast, travelled half an hour to throw a garden party at his house, and then cajoled his friends to travel the 30 minutes all the way back to Cardiff for a night out until ‘a ridiculous hour in the morning’.
Then there are the brunchers so hellbent on getting unlimited alcohol they’re willing to travel great distances to get their hands on it. Let me take you to the far north of the UK: in Scotland, bottomless brunch is technically illegal. While venues are allowed to promote ‘boozy brunch’, Scottish alcohol laws prohibit advertising ‘unlimited’ intoxicants and venues must stick to a strict, typically four-drink maximum.
That’s why it’s not unusual for Scots who are thirsty for a couple of hours of boundless boozing to travel across the border to cities like Newcastle. ‘The manager in our Newcastle branch often says on a weekend they’ll have groups that have come down from Scotland,’ says Ben Hibbard, marketing director at Turtle Bay, one of the UK’s most popular bottomless-brunch chains.
The seven-drink standard
Lots of people are feeling the pinch at the moment. With the price of a pint rising to an eye-watering £8 in some places, it’s no wonder that punters want to get their money’s worth while knowing exactly what a day of drinking is going to cost them. As Cory says: ‘It's good value for money because you can get unlimited drinks within your time slot.’
‘To make it value for money you’ve got to drink,’ says Phil Inzani, owner of Polo Bar, a 24-hour diner in east London that also does bottomless brunch. Inzani has been running the family-owned Polo for 15 years, adding boozy brunch to the menu during the Covid pandemic. ‘There are no surprises, and with all the rising costs today people are more careful with spending.’
But how much of the hard stuff do you actually need to consume? ‘If you’re having five glasses of prosecco, it works out that you’re getting the food for free, so you're just paying for the alcohol,’ Inzani says. The maths checks out: bottomless brunch tends to cost between £35 and £45, meaning you’d need to chug between five and seven glasses of prosecco at their UK-average price of £6.10. Seeing as, according to Hibbard, the average bottomless brunch attendee drinks seven drinks, and on top of that you’re also getting a full meal, this is pretty good going.
Some venues will even give customers advice on how to get the most drinks in their allotted time. ‘Our staff will offer tips so customers can get more drinks. For example, if the whole table orders the same cocktail, it will make the round arrive a lot quicker,’ says Hibbard.
Saturday nights have turned into Saturday days: it’s how people choose to go out now
While bottomless brunch was starting to gain popularity pre-2020, it wasn’t until the Covid-19 pandemic that it really exploded in the UK. Unsurprisingly, all those months spent staring at our living-room walls left people gagging for a good night (or day) out. ‘Post-Covid restrictions, it was like turning on a tap,’ Hibbard says. ‘People were initially a bit nervous about going out later at night, so they turned to the daytime.’ On top of that, with nightclubs still closed, the rule of six (remember that?) and the ban on bar service meant brunch became the perfect way for people to get the drinks in.
‘Because people were on furlough or not necessarily working, they could go out in the daytime. You didn’t have to wait for Friday night to have a good time.’ Hibbard recalls. And, after people got a taste for it, bottomless brunch just stuck. ‘Saturday nights have turned into Saturday days. It’s how people choose to go out now.’
It’s mayhem out there
Could there be a dark side to this unlimited drinking? We’ve all heard tales of bottomless brunches gone wrong, with loads of local newspapers reporting on post-brunch ‘bloodbaths’. Notably, there was the woman who got stuck behind a sofa in South Shields, while the hashtag #bottomlessbrunch on TikTok shows countless clips of drunk attendees careering down streets, causing mayhem, and even being carted off in police vans. Then there are the innocent staff who have to deal with the raucous behaviour. ‘I once projectile-vomited over a drag queen at brunch,’ one friend tells me. ‘Drag queens need to be paid more for those gigs.’
Dealing with the drunk and disorderly is something Phil Inzani of Polo Bar has had to put up with many times. ‘We’re available 24/7 which is sometimes good fun, and sometimes a bit messy,’ Inzani says. Usually it’s just a bit of innocent fun, like when a ‘group of ten guys came down for bottomless brunch in the middle of the Euros’. ‘It turned into a mass striptease,’ he adds. ‘The scenes were not far off Magic Mike, there were kilts flying everywhere.’
On the flipside, limitless boozing can also lead to dangerous levels of drunkenness. ‘Because we’re 24 hours we have turned some people away who have shown up too drunk,’ Inzani says. ‘If you book after midnight it can be a worry. People will come in already quite tanked up so we have to monitor that very, very carefully.’
Herman Haye runs a central London pub in close proximity to three bottomless-brunch venues. On his pub’s street, just minutes from Covent Garden, he says wasted bottomless-brunchers often wreak havoc on local businesses after being unleashed from two hours of binge-drinking. ‘It used to be like the Wild West,’ he says. ‘You’d have really drunk people walking around in the middle of the streets, loads of businesses used to just lock their doors.’
‘There was a time when you’d get three ambulances on the road by 1pm or 2pm. No one could walk and people were chucking their guts up. We were constantly mopping up puke from the streets.’
It used to be like the Wild West – we were constantly mopping up puke from the streets
Thankfully for Haye, times have changed. ‘It used to be very antisocial, but it’s a lot better now,’ he says. ‘People don't come out paralytic like they used to.’ Haye also points out that the drunken behaviour today isn’t much worse than what you might see on a Friday or Saturday night, the only difference is it’s happening in broad daylight for everyone to see.
The nation’s craving for a good knees-up doesn’t really come as a shock. After Covid, the people of the UK were promised a new ‘roaring twenties’. Instead, we were hit with through-the-roof inflation, Brexit and a revolving door of shoddy prime ministers. Is it any surprise that we want to let loose with the ‘debauchery’ and ‘madness’ that many of these events promise? With the cozzy livs raging on, brunchers know exactly what they’ll receive and exactly what it will cost. In many ways, bottomless brunch is stress-free entertainment for a cash-strapped, fun-deprived generation.
For now, it seems that bottomless brunch is only going to get bigger. ‘It’s not going anywhere,’ says Hibbard. And really, what’s not to like? ‘It’s just immaculate vibes,’ concludes Cory.