The past couple of years have brought about a shift in what – and when – consumers eat. While they have hurried back to restaurant dining rooms for conventional meals, they have also embraced snacking in a new way. Eating several mini meals throughout the day is just about as common as eating three squares. A recent Nation’s Restaurant News report notes the growth in small plates and shareable items on menus around the country, including savory items like deviled-egg flights to sweet items like fried cookie dough bites. As a result of consumers’ greater openness to smaller, shareable plates, the boundaries between dayparts have come down. Most any new idea can find a place on the menu. This change opens up opportunities for restaurants looking to adjust opening hours, pivot to new formats, launch inventive limited-time offers, or simply entice people to order at different times so an operator can spread the lunch and dinner rush more evenly across the day (and perhaps make do with less labor). Focusing on snacks and shareable items also helps restaurants emphasize the experience of enjoying restaurant food with others – something which, during these times of high inflation, can help entice consumers to order from a restaurant instead of preparing food at home.
As we continue to figure out what school and work routines will look like this fall, your dayparts may be in flux for some time. The lack of clear boundary between meals and snack times means restaurant operators could have more leeway to blend them in creative ways. Consider your most popular breakfast or lunch items, or late-afternoon snack and dinner options, and how you might combine them to create something exciting and unexpected.
Even as the pandemic looks to be winding down, consumers will likely hold on to some habits and patterns they adopted in the past year – working from home more often, for example, or flexing their meal schedule. As a result, restaurant operators may see a need to blend their day parts by extending their breakfast menu beyond the morning hours or developing new dishes that can work at various times of day. Blending day parts can help kitchens make the most of their inventory by spreading it out farther – and simply give guests more reasons to order throughout the day.
Omnichannel eating is a top foodservice trend of 2021. That’s according to the recently released annual food and beverage trends report from Innova Market Insights. Based on how Covid has changed people’s daily habits in the past year, it’s easy to see why the need to accommodate omnichannel eating is important for operators – and could be for the long term: More people are working from home or away from the office, they may be working on different schedules than before, and these changes could be permanent. According to McKinsey & Co. forecasts, between 20 and 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies like the U.S. could work from home between three and five days each week after Covid. As a result, the conventional day-part meal structure in restaurants may need to evolve with it as consumers demand food when and where they want it. Restaurants will continue to be valued not only as places to eat out or order takeout, but also as providers of meal kits, meal segments, branded products or specialty ingredients that can elevate meals prepared by consumers at home. Much like grocery stores have evolved in recent years, restaurants may need to do the same well after the pandemic is over – and embrace the different ways people now consume food and beverage.
As vegetarian and vegan food continue to rise on lunch and dinner menus, it makes sense that breakfast would follow. (And operators would be wise to tap the breakfast segment if they haven’t already: Data from the National Restaurant Association indicates that breakfast accounts for 21 percent of all restaurant traffic — and guests are welcoming breakfast foods throughout the day.) So how can operators compete on breakfast? Skift Table reports that Just, a vegan food company that makes an egg protein substitute called Just Egg, is positioning itself as the leader in the category and has new partnerships with casual dining brands that will soon be offering the product on menus. Aside from eggs, breakfast bowls and protein bars — packed with almond or oat milk, chia seeds, quinoa and nut butters —provide a lot of opportunity for building creative, protein-rich combinations too.
The lines between dayparts are getting fuzzy. As breakfast has grown in popularity as a meal to be eaten at any time of day, ingredients that have long been expected in later dayparts are now drifting onto menus earlier in the day. Mike Kostyo of Datassential told Supermarket Perimeter that ingredients or dishes like chicken or cocktails are now showing up on breakfast menus, while chefs are adding an egg to a wide variety of dishes and calling it breakfast. However, he said, guests still tend to look for higher-energy foods in the morning that can satisfy them until lunch and dishes that can help them relax and wind down later in the day, so bear those rules in mind if and when you reinvent menu items for different parts of the day.