Food & DrinkThe Locavore

Brunch Bill Could Bring Early, Boozy Brunches to Athens

The times may be a-changin’ for brunch lovers in Georgia. Senate Bill 17, otherwise known as the Brunch Bill, has passed the state House and Senate and now sits on Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk. The bill would allow restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 11 a.m. on Sundays, if local governments approve, potentially giving customers and restaurant owners an extra hour and a half to sling mimosas and Bloody Marys.

Athens brunch favorite Heirloom Cafe could bring in an additional $10,000 in sales, says co-owner Jessica Rothacker, due to the boost of selling more mimosas but also because customers won’t be as inclined to linger. “We have people that will come in and start their meal with us around 11, and they’ll wait and hang out until 12:30 and then order drinks,” she says. “So instead of being able to turn the table in an hour, we have people hanging out for two hours.”

During brunch service, the bar is an important leg of the restaurant, says Heirloom’s bar manager, Brian Winters. “An average brunch is $11 or $12, so if someone adds a $7 drink, you don’t have to worry about what they eat,” he says. “There’s more money coming in that way, so we do rely on the bar to make better profit margins.”

The change to the law is a no-brainer for Aaron Wallace, co-owner of Trappeze Pub and South Kitchen + Bar. “Trappeze is relatively dead from 11 a.m. to noon,” he said. “Then we definitely get hit really hard between 12:15 and 12:45.” For the bar, this can mean mayhem, adds Wallace. “12:30 is hard, because by then you’ve got a packed restaurant, so everybody orders all at once. We have a couple bartenders that are making drinks as quickly as possible, but there’s no real way to get them all out on time at 12:30.”

Expanding alcohol service hours would alleviate the bottleneck of local brunchers who tend to time their meals around when they can start sipping. Rothacker thinks that may even out the workflow in her restaurant. Heirloom is already full by 12:30, she says, but servers have a rush of extra work to do because they’ve been taking drink orders in anticipation of serving time all morning. And customers may see shorter waits. “If people are given the opportunity to come to brunch at their own pace, overall you will see a more steady flow,” Wallace says.

Georgia has made strides in the last decade to relax long-held, morality-based “blue laws” regarding alcohol, in step with the growing acceptance of alcohol sales among voters. But some lawmakers still openly voice opposition to serving on Sunday in deference to church leaders. Despite arguments that more alcohol sales support drunkenness, Wallace says that’s not the spirit of brunch.

“Brunch lends itself to responsible drinking more than any other time,” he says. “Most people, in my experience, are looking to have a nice cocktail or mimosa with their food, and not being hampered by time constraints is a win-win overall.”

Deal is expected to sign the bill, but it may be several months before Athens restaurants can start serving booze at brunch. Each county still has the right to maintain the Sunday-sales status quo, but given the potential for increased tax revenues and the community’s appetite for brunching, Wallace feels confident that Athens-Clarke County will go along.

Rothacker says we’re ready for this change: “Georgia is ready to do this, and there’s no real reason to keep them back from it and to keep things living in the past.”