When the first Omelette Parlor restaurant opened nine years ago on Santa Monica's Main Street, competitors wondered if the owners might be as cracked as the eggs used to make the fledgling establishment's namesake product.
After all, the restaurant was open only from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. selling primarily breakfast items--waffles, French toast and, of course, omelettes. The Omelette Parlor had no dinner trade, the bread and butter of most restaurants.
"It was unheard of," said Jim Furry, president of Grand American Fare, which owns nine Omelette Parlors and 24 other restaurants. But, "it's been successful since Day Two," he quipped.
The Omelette Parlor was one of the first upscale restaurants to focus on breakfast, long the territory of coffee shops and hotel restaurants. But in recent years, breakfast has become hot as more and more people choose to eat their morning meal away from home.
Early Morning Success
And while statistics indicate that restaurants' overall breakfast growth may be slowing, a surge in the popularity of conducting business meetings over breakfast is dishing out early morning success for many restaurateurs.
"Eating breakfast away from home in the past few years has been the fastest growing daypart," or segment, of a restaurant's business day, said Anne Papa, spokeswoman for the National Restaurant Assn. "The primary reason that breakfast away from home has been so popular is because of convenience sake," she said, as well as the increase in the number of working women.
About 8.8 billion breakfasts were eaten away from home last year, a 0.3% increase from 1985, Papa said. But that small increase came on top of 7.5% growth in 1985, 13.3% in 1984 and 13.4% in 1983, she said.
The number of breakfasts eaten outside the home rose 45% between 1973 and 1986, but nearly 90% of all breakfasts are still eaten at home, according to MRCA Information Services, a Stamford, Conn., market research firm.
As for the business breakfast, "that's still growing," Papa said. "That's something that people are just getting into."
Malibu public relations executive Barbara Sayre Casey finds herself at a minimum of one business breakfast a week. "I think it's really uncivilized, but I do them because they're a terrific time-saving device," she said.
"If I can have a meeting that starts at 7:30 in the morning, I can finish by 9 and have the whole day ahead of me," Casey said.
At the Century Plaza Hotel, three of the four restaurants serve breakfast and "there's no question about it, breakfast is way up with a lot of outside people, a lot of meetings," said Axel Suray, director of food and beverage services. "About two years ago we were talking about power lunches but there is such a thing as a power breakfast," he said.
Revenues from the breakfast trade have risen 20% to 25% in the last two years and breakfast customers have become more demanding, expecting prompt service and a variety of more expensive breakfast items, Suray said.
The International House of Pancakes has focused on breakfast since the North Hollywood-based chain opened its first blue-roofed restaurant nearly 29 years ago, said Steve Pettise, vice president of marketing.
But even IHOP, which has been working to expand its lunch and dinner trade with the slogan "Man does not live by pancakes alone," has seen its breakfast business rise "considerably" in the last few years, Pettise said.
The Omelette Parlor restaurants have gone so far as to place telephones at some tables for customer use, Furry said. "I see lots of briefcases every day," he said.
Coffee, Tea and More: How Americans like their breakfasts
Beverage only: 11%
Source: MRCA Information Services