What is the difference between a brunch and a buffet?

Brunch and buffet are two popular meal options that share some similarities but also have distinct differences. At a high level, brunch is a combination of breakfast and lunch, typically served between 10am and 2pm, while a buffet is a style of serving food where numerous dishes are laid out for guests to serve themselves. Understanding the nuances around timing, pricing, atmosphere, types of foods served, and other factors can help determine which is the better fit for a particular situation or preference. This comprehensive guide will examine brunches and buffets in depth to highlight how they compare and contrast.

What is Brunch?

Brunch originated in England in the late 19th century as a meal for the upper class eaten late in the morning on Sundays. The word “brunch” comes from a combination of “breakfast” and “lunch”. Brunch emerged as a popular meal in America in the 1930s. It continues today as a go-to weekend activity for many families and friend groups.

Some key characteristics of brunch:

  • Timing: Brunch is served from mid-morning to early afternoon, generally between 10am and 2pm.
  • Days: Brunch is mostly a weekend activity, with the heaviest volumes on Saturdays and Sundays.
  • Foods: Brunch menus incorporate popular breakfast items like eggs, pancakes, French toast, and pastries as well as lunch favorites such as sandwiches, burgers, salads, and soups. The overlap distinguishes brunch from breakfast or lunch alone.
  • Beverages: Brunch menus usually include cocktails and alcoholic drinks in addition to non-alcoholic beverages. Mimosas, bloody marys, screwdrivers, and bellinis are brunch staples.
  • Atmosphere: Brunch is a relaxed, leisurely meal. The mood is typically livelier than breakfast but calmer than lunch. There’s an emphasis on socializing with friends, family, and community.

Some popular brunch dishes include:

  • Eggs Benedict – poached eggs and ham on an English muffin, topped with hollandaise sauce
  • Quiche – savory baked egg custard in a pie crust
  • Pancakes or french toast – sweet breakfast staples
  • Omelets or scrambles – fluffy eggs mixed with cheese, veggies, meats, etc.
  • Avocado toast – mashed avocado on toast, sometimes with extras like bacon or eggs
  • Biscuits and gravy – buttermilk biscuits covered in creamy sausage gravy
  • Smoked salmon bagels – sliced smoked salmon and cream cheese on a toasted bagel

Brunch is most often enjoyed at restaurants, cafes, hotels, and diners, but can also be home-cooked. Going “out for brunch” is a common weekend activity across many cultures. Some restaurants host special brunch events like unlimited mimosas, live music, or buffets.

What is a Buffet?

A buffet is a style of serving food in which multiple dishes are set up on a long table or spread, allowing guests to serve themselves. Rather than ordering individual plates from a menu, people can choose to take any item from the buffet lineup in any quantity.

Some key aspects of a buffet:

  • Self service style – Guests browse and select food themselves rather than having orders delivered to the table.
  • Variety – Numerous dishes, appetizers, entrees, sides, and desserts are available.
  • Unlimited portions – Guests can take as much food as desired rather than being limited to single servings.
  • Inclusive pricing – Buffets are usually a fixed price with unlimited food included, rather than ordering a la carte.
  • Communal dining – People tend to serve themselves at different times and share dining space casually.

Buffets can vary widely based on the cuisine, venue, occasion, time of day, and other factors. Some types of buffets include:

  • Breakfast buffets – breakfast foods like eggs, bacon, pancakes, cereals, fruits, juices, coffee, etc.
  • Lunch buffets – lighter entrees, salads, sandwiches for weekday office or restaurant dining.
  • Dinner/banquet buffets – elaborate spreads of fancy entrees, appetizers, sides for events and upscale venues.
  • Holiday buffets – specialized food selections for events like Mother’s Day, Easter Sunday, or Christmas meals.
  • Cultural buffets – Indian, Chinese, Brazilian and other ethnic cuisine buffets.
  • wedding buffets – wide food variety suited for large wedding receptions.
  • Brunch buffets – combination of breakfast and lunch foods.

Buffets are commonplace at banquet halls, hotels, casinos, cruise lines, resorts, restaurants, and as catering options for events. Home parties sometimes incorporate casual self-serve buffet setups as well.

Brunch vs Buffet

Now that we’ve covered the basics, how exactly do brunch and buffet compare and contrast with one another? Here is a detailed side-by-side breakdown:

Timing and days

Brunch is served weekend mid-mornings through early afternoons, usually between 10am to 2pm on Saturdays and Sundays. It is rare on weekdays except occasionally on holidays. Buffets can happen any time of day – breakfast, lunch, dinner, late night, and all days of the week. Buffets may be more frequent weekdays for business lunches. Brunch has a more restricted window.


The food found at a brunch aims to blend popular breakfast and lunch dishes seamlessly. So there are often eggs, pancakes, pastries from the breakfast domain alongside sandwiches, burgers, salads representing lunch. A buffet can incorporate any foods – for Asian buffets it’s rice, noodles, chicken, tofu; for Italian buffets pastas, sauces, meats, cheeses. The brunch menu specifically bridges the breakfast-lunch gap.


Brunch menus tend to include alcohol – Bloody Mary’s, mimosas, rose, sparkling wines, while breakfast and lunch typically avoid alcohol. Buffets can offer alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages appropriate to the occasion. Evening dinner buffets would likely serve wines, beers, and cocktails while lunch buffets stick with sodas, juices, coffee, and tea. Brunch is unique in bringing alcohol into a daytime meal.

Atmosphere and experience

Brunch encourages a relaxed, leisurely dining experience with an emphasis on socializing. Lingering over plates, sharing items family-style, and noshing over bottomless drinks enhances the experience. Buffets can also be casual friendly affairs, but they’re focused first on the food itself – piling plates high, returning for extra helpings, trying a bit of everything. The heavy eating feels more utilitarian. Brunch wins for ambiance.


Most brunches take place at restaurants, cafes, hotels, and independent diners and are eaten “out” rather than at home. Home brunches would be rare, special occasions. Buffets can also be restaurant-based but are equally likely to be found at event venues, hotels, catering halls, office cafeterias, cruises, holiday parties, and more. Portable, packable buffet catering makes them more flexible for different spaces.

Service style

Brunch follows standard sit-down restaurant service – guests order individually off a menu, servers deliver food and drinks to the table, payment is per item. Buffets of course follow self-service protocols where people grab plates and serve themselves from the spread, then bus their own tables. The difference affects the dining experience.

Factor Brunch Buffet
Timing Weekend mid-morning to early afternoon Any time of day
Days Mostly Saturday and Sunday Daily
Foods Combines breakfast and lunch items Any type of cuisine
Beverages Mimosas, bloody marys, beer, wine Alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks
Atmosphere Leisurely, social, relaxed Efficient eating, focused on food
Venues Mostly restaurants Restaurants, hotels, event spaces, homes
Service Style Sit-down, ordered individually Self-service, grab your own food

Which is Better – Brunch or Buffet?

So when should you choose a brunch or a buffet? Here are some factors to consider:


Brunch fits weekend mornings or holidays for a unique dining experience with friends. Buffets work for large events, groups, weddings, conferences, parties where flexibility and variety are preferable.


Brunch encourages mingling and interacting while enjoying a drink and meal. Buffets focus more on quick access to copious food. Brunch wins for ambiance.


Brunch works best at dedicated restaurants with full menus and service. Buffets can pop up any space from hotels to homes to outdoor events. Buffets have more flexibility.

Group size

For smaller groups, brunch menus and service make sense. Large parties favor buffet’s self-service model that’s quicker and can feed more people efficiently.


Weekend mornings call for brunch. All day and night options suit buffets.


If you want classic breakfast meets lunch fare, brunch has that niche. Buffets can offer any cuisine imaginable in endless variety.


Brunch a la carte pricing adds up if you order multiple dishes. Buffet’s inclusive one-price model can be more budget friendly.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did brunch originate?

Brunch traces back to England in the late 19th century as a Sunday late morning meal, becoming popular in America in the 1930s.

Where are some popular places to have brunch?

Some top cities for brunch include New Orleans, New York, Montreal, Chicago, San Francisco, and Toronto.

What time does brunch end?

Typical brunch service ends between 2pm and 3pm at the latest.

What’s included in a brunch buffet?

Brunch buffets offer an all-inclusive spread of classic breakfast and lunch dishes like made-to-order omelets, bacon, pancakes, waffles, roasted potatoes, sandwiches, salads, pastries, breads, fruit, juices, coffee, and alcohol like mimosas.

What are some buffet etiquette tips?

Buffet etiquette includes: don’t overload your plate, only take what you plan to eat, use new plate for second helpings, avoid “grazing” at the buffet all day, don’t touch or handle food with hands, don’t cough or breathe directly on food at self-serve stations.

Are buffets hygienic?

Reputable venues follow food safety guidelines for holding foods at proper temperatures and preventing cross-contamination, but buffets do pose enhanced risks of spreading germs from multiple guests’ handling compared to plated service. Manybuffets adapted additional hygiene measures and precautions during COVID-19.

What are Swedish tables?

Swedish tables are a type of buffet featuring multiple food stations where servers plate each item individually for guests, rather than having everyone grab shared utensils. This enhances hygiene for large groups.

What are some culinary origins of brunch?

Brunch emerged from European traditions of late morning dining and evolved from English hunt breakfasts and American steak or champagne lunches into a fusion meal bridging sweet and savory tastes.

Can you host a brunch at home?

Absolutely! Home brunch parties are popular with friends and family. The menu can be as simple or elaborate as you like from DIY stations to catered delivery. The focus is on a relaxed social experience.

The Verdict: Brunch vs Buffet

In summary, brunch and buffets share similarities as communal meals focused on variety and abundance of food. But they serve different purposes. Brunch is a weekend morning tradition tilted toward relaxing and socializing over signature blends of breakfast and lunch foods. Buffets are designed for quick, efficient serving of large crowds at flexible times and events with flexible menus. The atmosphere, times of day, menus, and presentation set brunches and buffets apart. Choosing between them depends on occasion, personal preferences, and priorities like ambiance versus efficiency. Both can be terrific options for different needs. A brunch aims for an experience while a buffet focuses on function. Understand the difference between this classic meal fusion and abundant serving style to pick the best fit.

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