Trends from AM to PM
The pandemic brought significant changes to the foodservice industry, as operations everywhere shifted to a to-go model in an effort to remain viable. Snacking and breakfast occasions also took a big hit away from home.
Today, we can see some of those shifts reversing course. On-premises dining, for example, is bouncing back. With more workers returning to the office, we’re seeing more business breakfasts again. Campuses are filling back up and C&U operators are finding new ways to entice students and faculty to stick around for more eating occasions.
These new developments prompted other questions: what else has changed? What changes will last? And how can you use that info to put your business on the smartest path forward? We took a snapshot of industry trends in four key dayparts, and what we found may surprise you.
As of the end of 2022, breakfast was just one percentage point from recovering to pre-pandemic levels based on traffic.1 A good deal of that recovery is the embrace of appealing to-go-focused breakfast offerings. There are still plenty of channel-specific opportunities for on-site breakfasts—from on-campus breakfast meetings to staff events and breakfast catering for hotels.
New, Crafty Builds
Supply chain issues have rocked the industry—but they have also given birth to innovative approaches to prep. Operators everywhere are taking what they have on hand and turning those ingredients into something new all over the menu—and breakfast is a key focus for expansion. If supply hands you lemons, consider zesting some into your oat muffins, or squeezing some into your poppyseed pancakes, or preserving some for an elevated brunch sandwich spread.
A little protein in the morning can help you get through the front half of the day. But for all kinds of reasons—from environmental to economic to devastating events like Avian flu—more consumers are turning to alternative sources of protein. By turning to meat alternatives in the AM, you can save costs and create something unique that keeps guests returning. You can jumpstart your alternative-protein-packed breakfast menu with this fun menu tool.
Going out for lunch is something that tends to happen when a consumer’s already out—when they're at work or doing some midday shopping for example. Though many employees have returned to the office, there’s a significant number who will never return. The remaining remote and hybrid workers will likely permanently impact on-premises traffic. How it stands as of May 2021: 4% down compared to 2020, and 10% down since 2019.2 In other words: it’s recovering but may never reach its former glory.
Lunch goers today are looking for “a good value.” Drawing out more guests at lunch time takes giving them something they can’t make at home or wouldn’t have thought to. Building LTOs (limited time offers) into your lunch offering can help you satisfy the value demand. Make it unique and craveable and you’ll be giving them exactly what they want in an LTO.3
Comfort with a Twist
The demand for comfort foods grew during the pandemic, and they are still in high demand.4 The trick is delivering your own spin on the flavors your guests know and love. PB&J is a great example. There’s no reason to stop with a standard sandwich. Think yogurt, wraps or even PB& jalapeño jam street tacos.
Like lunch, dinner is still climbing back from the pandemic hit. Dinner dining was down 5% in May 2021 compared to a year ago and 12% compared to two years ago.2 Foodservice establishments of all kinds are regaining evening traffic, and the ones that are finding the most success are offering something that their guests can’t get at home.
Out for Experiences
It turns out there was a pent-up demand for sit-down dining. Guests miss the atmosphere of dining out, among other factors. Technomic's Industry Insights Report from January suggests that workers returning to offices, increased travel and longer pickup time windows at busy locations struggling to keep up all contribute to the attractiveness of on-site dining.
Huge and Growing
Snacking has become a new way of life. It was a ballooning daypart before the pandemic, and the onset only seemed to accelerate its growth. In fact, as of 2021 48% of food and beverage occasions were snacking occasions.5 A 2022 NPD study found that 39% of consumers are continuing to snack more.
Drinks can be snacks too. Coffee, which is the most preferred snack beverage,6 is a key category exploding with innovation. Consider expanding your coffee options with seasonal or on-trend flavors (ginger, pistachio, brown sugar) and appealing formats (iced coffee and espresso-based drinks). If that seems like a lot to take on, you might be surprised how easy it can be.
On the Go
While on-premises dining is looking up, Technomic does not project a full recovery to pre-pandemic levels.7 An infrastructure has been constructed for convenient and accessible to-go dining. That looks like it’s going to have a long-term impact on the eating behaviors of consumers.
1NPD, Eatery Pulse News, Restaurant Industry Breakfast Daypart Near Full Recovery, Oct 7, 2022.
2NPD, U.S. Restaurant Industry recovery will depend on strength of key dayparts, July 12, 2021.
3Technomic, Statue of the menu Top 500 chain restaurants, 2023.
4Technomic, Industry Insights, Jan 2, 2023.
5Hartman Group, Snacking: Emerging, Evolving and Disrupted, 2021.
6Technomic, Category menu insights US snacking, 2022.
7Technomic, What we foresee for 2023, 2022