It's 7:30 a.m. On a Saturday. San Francisco's Potrero Hill neighborhood is buzzing outside the trendy Plow restaurant. Patrons eagerly await the award-winning bacon and breakfast sandwiches to cure ills from the previous night's debauchery, which really, given this time in the morning, possibly never actually ended. Only one catch: their wait won't be over for an hour and a half.
At 7:30 a.m. On a Saturday.
Quite some time before his name would be called by the host, Alex Gold, a San Francisco entrepreneur, expressed his frustration, "You'd think that coming this early would get you in quickly but I'm still waiting for almost an hour now. It's like this everywhere across the city now."
It may be a bit of a "first world problem," but this truly has become a nationwide phenomenon. From San Francisco to Williamsburg, Brooklyn to Miami and non-coastal locales like Cleveland and Buffalo, America is the midst of a brunch boom that is turning getting a table into a competitive sport; or according to some, somewhat like a punch in the face. Stories of fights abound for tables as brunch hours get stretched not just into early morning hours, but also into the night before in some cases.
This is what you might imagine "peak oil" looks like. But for brunch. Let's call it "peak brunch."
Like the idea of "peak oil," there are some deeper trends at work here. For one, the influx of young professionals into cities over the last several years has ballooned demand for chic eateries catering to their tastes and free weekend time. With the advent of Instagram and Snapchat, just the act of "brunching" seems to be more important to this demographic than the often-mediocre food. As University of Toronto Professor Shawn Micallef puts it, this is an opportunity for millennials to engage in their own version of "conspicuous consumption." They essentially want to eat well, look good and spend money doing it, while other people their age are there to see it.
Luckily, intrepid, brunch-friendly software developers are using their skills to solve this "peak brunch" problem. Here are some of the hottest tech options for brunch, fresh off the skillet:
Reserve.com is a weekly special on many a smartphone menu, compliments of an Uber co-founder. The love child of entrepreneur Greg Hong and Joe Marchese, it's dubbed a "digital concierge" service--but this isn't some Open Table knockoff. It's actually quite the opposite. Instead of using technology to see which restaurants have openings at what time, Reserve lets diners send an ask to a restaurant. It flips the proverbial brunch tables. There are often a few seats open for great diners, which Reserve will highlight based on a user's rankings. The concierge fee is $5. Right now, Reserve is in New York, Boston and Los Angeles, and San Francisco with more cities coming.
Waiting in line for a table is as last season as kale. NoWait Inc. is an app from a Pittsburgh-based startup that lets restaurants ditch the physical wait list in favor of a digital system. Diners can stay home until the last minute, wander around near the restaurant, or head to a local bar until their table is ready. Diners can see how long they'd have to wait at a restaurant, get on the wait list, and be notified when they're ready to be seated. The app just scored $10 million in venture funding from Drive Capital. It's free on iOS and Android.
When you're hangry, you don't want to wait in line. This app lets you skip the line at a plethora of takeout restaurants. Find a restaurant, place your order, and skip the line when you go to pick it up. You both order and pay in advance, so you're in and out. Plus, the app remembers previous orders so if you're visiting the same restaurant as before, your order can be completed in two clicks. The app is free, and users are notified in real-time when their order is ready. It puts that whole 30 minutes or less pizza gimmick to shame.
Back at Plow, the aforementioned trendy San Francisco restaurant, I spoke to several diners on the hours-long waiting list, and I was struck by something Ting Kelly, a local designer, said as she took the wait in stride.
"We're probably going to create something to change all of this. It's only a matter of time before our 'phone-as-remote control' solves brunch waits and brings us all on demand bacon. I'm hopeful."
After I told her how there are already some "apps for that," she said (with a bit of sarcasm), "That's right. Silicon Valley startups, working on the truly serious issues."