Bay Area restaurants institute penalty for brunch vomiters

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FILE: Some Bay Area restaurants serving bottomless mimosas at brunch have instituted cleanup fees.

FILE: Some Bay Area restaurants serving bottomless mimosas at brunch have instituted cleanup fees.

Moment/Getty Images

There’s a reason we revere brunch. We look forward to unpacking the work week with friends over decadent egg dishes, syrup-laden pancakes and the requisite mimosa. We give ourselves permission to indulge in extra bacon and maybe even a second champagne cocktail as we reconnect and relax. 

But nowhere in this happy place do you picture vomit. 

Yet dealing with patrons who lose their brunch is a reality for Bay Area restaurants offering the popular perk of bottomless mimosas. Particularly since the pandemic, they’re finding that diners, often ones in their early to mid-20s, are drinking too much and vomiting in the bathrooms — or even right on their tables. The burden on servers and staff to clean up after these public pukers is reaching a fever pitch, making it necessary for restaurants to take precautions and even implement fees.

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Cleanup sign at Kitchen Story in Oakland, Calif.

Cleanup sign at Kitchen Story in Oakland, Calif.

Jessica Yadedaran/SFGATE

At Kitchen Story, the cheery Asian-inspired restaurant in Oakland’s Rockridge district known for its millionaire’s bacon, the bathroom sports a pointed sign: “Dear all mimosa lovers, Please drink responsibly and know your limits. A $50 cleaning fees will automatically include in your tap when you throw up in our public areas. Thank you so much for understanding.” The text is signed off with a smiling emoji.

Restaurateur Steven Choi had his staff post the warning in the bathrooms nearly two years ago, after his general manager noticed similar signs in bars and suggested it as a possible solution. 

“This was still during the pandemic and it became a very sensitive issue for customers and staff having to clean up,” Choi told SFGATE. “But this is not unique. It’s there to make the customers stop and think about other people.”

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Clockwise from left: Bottomless mimosas, Kitchen Story exterior, inside of Kitchen StoryBe H/Shayla B/Bonnie S. via Yelp
Clockwise from left: Bottomless mimosas, Kitchen Story exterior, inside of Kitchen StoryBe H/Shayla B/Bonnie S. via Yelp

Kitchen Story co-owner Chaiporn Kitsadaviseksak said the sign has helped in preventing purging. He can’t even recall having to actually charge any customers the cleanup fee. But, before the sign, it was a big problem. 

“It was really tough cleaning. People were scared with COVID. And this was happening a lot. My workers don’t want to do that. It got better. Now [customers] know they have to pay. They understand,” he said.

Other factors seem to be how the bottomless mimosas are served and for how long. Most brunch eateries enforce timed seatings in order to discourage overindulgence and move tables. At Kitchen Story, a small restaurant, you can enjoy your bottomless mimosas for 60 minutes. Servers bring small carafes of grapefruit- or peach-laced bubbly to the tables for customers to drain before another is dropped off. 

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Clockwise from left: People dine at The Sycamore; bottomless mimosas; outside patio at The Sycamore.Kristen U/Jennifer N/Shannon W. via Yelp
Clockwise from left: People dine at The Sycamore; bottomless mimosas; outside patio at The Sycamore.Kristen U/Jennifer N/Shannon W. via Yelp

“We don’t do that,” said Liz Ryan, co-owner of The Sycamore, a lively gastropub in San Francisco’s Mission District known for pork belly doughnuts and prosciutto-stuffed Belgian waffles. “We have a staff member who is a mimosa fairy. They bring a pitcher around that they use to refill glasses. There’s a [mimosa] station and it says this is for staff use only so please do not help yourself.”    

During The Sycamore’s two-hour brunch seatings, the “fairy” makes their way through the dining area every 15 minutes or so to offer pours. At the same time, they’re paying keen attention to patron behavior. “Our staff is trained to make sure our customers don’t overdo it. Nobody wants to see people throwing up. That sort of spoils the party vibe that we’re trying to create.” 

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The training Ryan refers to is Responsible Beverage Service training from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. It became mandatory for all California bartenders, servers and waiters who handle and serve alcohol in July of last year, and prepares servers for their ABC Alcohol Server Certification exam. Among the topics covered are the impact of alcohol on the body and how to responsibly serve alcoholic beverages, including preventing service or sale to intoxicated customers.

“There are ways to cut people off without them realizing it,” Ryan said. “This is the kind of thing they teach you. We practice eye contact and engagement, we come by with a pitcher of water.” 

Still, every once in a while you’ll see people who realize they’ve had too much, Ryan said, noting that some step out front to throw up and then come back. “People can get carried away,” she said. 

Sign of cleaning fee hanging on the wall inside of Home Plate in San Francisco.

Sign of cleaning fee hanging on the wall inside of Home Plate in San Francisco.

Dee T. via Yelp

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Home Plate on Lombard Street caters to the brunch-obsessed Marina crowd with cheesy bacon tots and chunky corned beef hash. It offers a liter carafe of raspberry, peach or other flavored bubbly — roughly four to five pours, depending on the size of the flute — that is poured by a server as part of the service. Owner Teerut Boon and his staff have witnessed their share of ralphers over the years. In late 2021, when vomiting seemed to become an issue, Boon instituted “pretty much the same policy” as Kitchen Story, he said. Signs posted around the restaurant and on the menu asked diners to “Please Drink Responsibly. $50 cleaning fee per person for any incident incur as a result of intoxication.” 

After customers complained, the signs came down in July, but the policy remains — at the bottom of the drink menu. And it has helped, Boon told SFGATE. When Home Plate started serving bottomless mimosas back in 2010, they gave diners two hours to enjoy their champagne cocktails and breakfast dishes. They eventually reduced it to 90 minutes and over the summer took it down to 75 minutes. 

Left clockwise: Bottomless mimosas; Home Plate decoration; people dine at Home Plate.Jaime L/Ashley E/David L. via Yelp
Left clockwise: Bottomless mimosas; Home Plate decoration; people dine at Home Plate.Jaime L/Ashley E/David L. via Yelp

“We had a problem with intoxication and also we needed to turn tables to serve more customers,” he said. “It’s better, but every other week we get somebody throwing up or vomiting. Now they go outside.”

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Ultimately, Kitchen Story’s Kitsadaviseksak said, it all depends on how fast people drink, and that’s different for everyone. But he does agree with Ryan that the ABC training has helped him and his staff curb public barfing so everyone can get back to what brunch is really about: togetherness.  

“Some people enjoy and have fun and speak so loud and try to party on the table,” he said. “They get so happy and drunk they can’t control it.”

Back at Home Plate, Boon urges his customers to try to keep it together. 

“We can’t continue to serve them mimosas if they become intoxicated,” he said.

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