Drag brunch is “just the most wonderful time,” says the drag queen Ritzy Bitz. As the host of a weekly event at the restaurant La Pulpería, Ritzy Bitz was a fixture of the New York City drag brunch scene before moving to Austin, Texas, because of the pandemic. “You have fun, you sing music with people, you get to dance,” she says, classifying her own performance style as comedy with high-energy dancing and tumbling. “It’s kind of like the best parts of a wedding party, a bar mitzvah, and just any other good-old family celebration.”
Because the daytime restaurant setting can be less “intimidating” than nightclubs, drag brunch is “usually someone’s first-ever drag experience,” says Ritzy Bitz. To that end, drag brunches tend to draw attendees from outside the queer community, says Marcus Gross, whose company SADBrunch operates events in 20 cities nationwide.
Especially with the rise of RuPaul’s Drag Race, “drag itself has become more mainstream,” going from a nighttime activity to a Sunday morning affair, Gross says. This mainstreaming has led to scrutiny and legislation that now threatens the safe space that drag brunch has historically offered.
In this discriminatory political climate, the celebratory, welcoming nature of drag brunch feels all the more important. If it’s been a while since your last drag brunch or if you’re flirting with the idea of checking one out for the first time, here’s what you should know to make sure you and everyone else involved have the best time possible, according to the queens who are leading the show.
Find the right drag brunch.
Consider your weekend morning vibe — do you want to ease into the day, or kick it off loud and rowdy? “You have to find the type of performers that do entertainment that you are thrilled by,” Ritzy Bitz says. While her energetic approach is for audiences who want to be excited, others might want a mellower brunch experience, like an entertainer who performs dramatic ballads while wearing beautiful gowns, she explains. Scanning a drag brunch and a performer’s social presence can provide insight into what you can expect from the atmosphere.
Especially if you’re hearing about events through social media, “always, always, always check on the food” by reading reviews, Ritzy Bitz says. And if your goal is going all out with drinks, look for somewhere with unlimited drinks; naturally, those brunches tend to be more rambunctious. Accordingly, attendees should remember to stay hydrated and bring a designated driver, Gross suggests. Ritzy Bitz also recommends looking at the menu so that on the day of brunch, your attention can be on the queens: “The faster you order, the longer a show you will get.”
Tipping is non-negotiable.
“Tip your drag queen with ones, fives, 10s, 20s — if you see something you like, give them $1,” says Brita Filter, who hosts the drag brunch at the Flatiron location of NYC’s Burger & Lobster. “If you see something you don’t like, give them $5 and maybe they’ll fix it,” she adds. Money really does talk, especially when many drag queens rely on tips to help offset the costs associated with drag (for hair, makeup, transportation, insurance, etc.).
Still need another reason to shell out some cash? Remember that your tip can directly impact the trajectory of the show, according to Ritzy Bitz. “If you want a better show, $20 will get the best drag brunch you’ve ever seen in your life.”
When calculating how much money to bring to brunch, the Los Angeles-based drag queen Meatball suggests a baseline of $2 per drag queen per performance number. “Most brunches have five girls, so then 40 bucks — it’s not a ton,” Meatball says.
When it comes to handing your money over, take the lead from the performer.
Shaquanda, the NYC-based drag queen behind Shaquanda’s Hot Pepper Sauce, recommends folding a bill between your index and middle fingers and holding it out “as if you were waving a fan at church.” That approach will get a queen’s attention without disrupting the performance, Shaquanda says.
While a tip teased by an audience member — for example, waving a bill and then pulling it back when a performer reaches for it — might be fun once or twice, “if you do it over and over and over, it’s kind of disrespectful,” Meatball says.
Stay at or in your seat.
Attendees might want to get up and try to be a part of the performance. But aside from being disruptive, this behavior can also be dangerous, particularly with queens who kick, flip, and do other kinds of physical stunts, Gross explains. “It’s the queen’s moment; you got to stay out the way,” he says. And because it’s brunch, this kind of audience behavior can also interfere with restaurant staff who need to deliver food and drinks to tables. Keep your support audible, not physical.
Remember that it’s the queen’s show — not yours.
It takes a lot to put yourself out there as a performer, so the least you can do at drag brunch is pay attention and give each queen her spotlight. “There’s a difference between going ‘yes, queen’ and feeling your feelings, and then trying to be a part of the show by constantly interrupting,” says Brita Filter.
With many groups going to drag brunch for birthdays or bachelorette parties, it can be easy to lose yourself in the excitement. Noting that every drag brunch has a moment to ask what people are celebrating, “you will have your minute onstage to dance around, act a fool, and get your pictures and then be seated,” Meatball says.
Shower her with praise.
When it comes to applause, Brita Filter compares drag queens to Tinker Bell: “If she doesn’t hear it, she dies.” That praise doesn’t have to end with the show. Many performers will stick around for meet and greets, at which point even more encouragement — or a drink, if you’d like to offer one — is welcome.
“Definitely walk up and be like, ‘You were incredible. You are my favorite.’ Lie to them because drag queens live off of delusion,” says Meatball (who likes a tequila shot, if you’re buying). “Or I mean, you don’t have to lie to them. You can find the one thing you like about them and be like, ‘I really like your eyes today.’”
Unless invited to do otherwise, keep your hands to yourself.
Loosen up and get comfortable, but not overly so. “I hate when people get really grabby just because they’re having a wonderful time,” Meatball says.
Similarly, “I would definitely say never touch a drag queen’s hair, ever,” Brita Filter says. “People will just start touching you inappropriately and it’s like, ask first, baby.” She adds that attendees might also want to take care when giving a drag queen a tight hug: “I have this face of makeup on and if you’re wearing a white shirt, my brown face will get all over that white shirt and you’re gonna have to get a dry clean.”
Use the right pronouns.
“Do not call a drag queen a ‘he’ or ‘him’ unless they say that they want to be called that,” Shaquanda says. “I know it might be hard for some people to get used to that, but this person is obviously clearly conveying their gender difference, or what gender they’re trying to convey.” In general, be respectful, just as you’d be anywhere else.
There’s no need to be nervous.
“A lot of people are very nervous when they come to a drag brunch, especially if it’s their first time seeing a drag queen,” Brita Filter says. Beyond the theatrics, drag brunch is a celebratory community space that’s centered around self-expression. “I also think that that’s why we have so much anti-LGBTQ legislation going on right now: because people are afraid of what they don’t know. I think it’s really important to educate people and for them to realize that under all this glue, duct tape, makeup, and many layers of clothes, there’s a real human being underneath all of that, just like you.”
Don’t let picture-taking be a distraction.
“Because drag brunch is interactive — they walk around and grab tips — people want their picture right then and now,” Gross says. Again, in order to not disrupt the show, he recommends waiting until meet and greets at the end to pose for photos with the queens.
“We love to take photos — as long as you have the flash on, even in the middle of the day,” Ritzy Bitz says.
The point is to have fun, so bring the right energy.
According to Ritzy Bitz, the most difficult people to entertain at drag brunch are the ones who are on their phones the whole time, who don’t pay attention to the show, or who are, in general, “not open to having fun.” As with a comedy show, nervous new attendees and shy crowd members might want to avoid sitting closest to the stage or performance area since the drag queens are more likely to bring those onlookers into the show.
Like any performance, drag brunch relies on the relationship between the performer and the audience, and the most positive brunches tend to be the best. “When people do the smallest little trick or a little gag or something and the audience loses it, you feel it. The whole room can feel it; the girls in the back can feel it; and it just brings the energy up for the whole brunch,” Meatball says.
Meatball compares the experience to a play. “If everyone walked out during a bad scene, it would be awful for everyone,” she says. Ignore the food and the mimosas — you’re there for the experience and interaction of the show. “You don’t have to be into the performance; you have to respect that someone’s out there working, so be engaged a little bit.”
Shaquanda puts it more bluntly: “I think it’s all about going in knowing that you’re going to have fun, and if you’re the type of person that doesn’t want to have fun, then you shouldn’t be going to a drag brunch — you should be just going to your refrigerator.”