The Breakfast Boom - Not Just for Quick Service Anymore

When McDonald’s extended its iconic breakfast menu to an all-day nationwide option in 2016, sales soared as customers queued up at dinnertime for Sausage McGriddles and Egg McMuffins. As the months passed, comps impressed, and the chain’s stock price rose on the potential profits of eggs and hash browns being sold alongside Quarter Pounders.

Now many full-service operators are opening their eyes to the revenue-boosting opportunities McDonald’s found in serving breakfast foods across dayparts.

  • Consumers want waffles, bacon and eggs, potatoes or a delicious breakfast bowl at dinner. Expect to find them at a growing range of restaurants.
  • Traditional full-service chains like The Cheesecake Factory and Maggiano’s have added weekend brunch, while many indies are doing it on Thursday and Friday as well.
  • All the while, analysts say guests are happy to navigate the ever-blurred lines between dayparts to get a breakfast fix.
Image Image

People have made breakfast for dinner at home forever, and now someone else is doing it for them,” says Darren Tristano, CEO of Foodservice Results, a research and consultancy firm. “What’s not to like about that? When you want breakfast, it doesn’t matter what time of day it is. Now you can get it.” 

Has McDonald’s success with all-day eggs, pancakes and other early morning fare triggered a breakfast battle with others? NPD Group food industry advisor David Portalatin says it doesn’t appear so. He believes that by recognizing the opportunity to utilize its well-established breakfast assets in other dayparts, McDonald’s has merely helped itself. Customers responded to this new flexibility by visiting more often long after sunup, and he believes others could mimic that strategy.

“Breakfast was really the last frontier for restaurants as a whole,” says Portalatin, adding that more than half of Americans still eat breakfast at home. “What McDonald’s did was change its availability with all-day breakfast.”

Just as powerful, he says, was the burger giant’s ad push which followed.

“When the right combination of value in a promotional offering is put out there and it’s relevant to consumers, history shows that they generally respond,”

Portalatin says. “We see it as less about breakfast foods specifically and more about a great promotional strategy.”

To enforce his point, Portalatin says chains like Denny’s and IHOP, which serve breakfast all day every day, haven’t seen their breakfast sales increase at lunch or dinner as a result of McDonald’s roll-out or Taco Bell’s breakfast launch in 2016. McDonald’s is getting its positive response because it’s relatively novel for the brand, which continues to promote it, he says. 

Breakfast cropping up on other menus

Image Image

According to Hannah Spencer, a foodservice analyst at Mintel, breakfast foods have been creeping onto lunch and dinner menus at full-service restaurants for some time. Hashes more common to morning menus are seen increasingly outside breakfast hours featuring flavorful proteins such as smoked trout and pork belly. (Jack in the Box, a pioneer in all-day breakfast when it added the option 20 years ago, serves a spicy Jack’d Jalapeño Hash.) She says merely placing a fried egg onto a burger turns it into a breakfast burger, and waffles and French toast served as decadent desserts subtly imply customers are getting breakfast items.

Mintel found that “breakfast burgers are one of the fastest growing burger types,” Spencer says, “experiencing a 54 percent increase on U.S. menus between Q1 2016 and 2018.”

And few things go better with those than potatoes, which are popular side items and fillers. Served fried or oven-baked, tossed into bowls and hashes for stick-to-your-ribs sustenance, potatoes are great flavor and texture additions to any dish.

They’re also easy on the staff. Whether prepared from scratch in-house, or purchased ready-to-cook, potatoes are labor savors in the back-of-the-house and superstars on guests’ plates.

Breakfast equals a new snack opportunity

Image Image

As the lines dividing breakfast, lunch and dinner get fuzzier, restaurant operators are learning more about capitalizing on customers’ propensity to snack between meals. According to Spencer, customer dining habits are in a constant state of flux due to cultural changes (e.g. working stay-at-home parents) and evolving workplace norms (such as flexible scheduling to accommodate personal lives).

“Breakfast habits are shifting to fit consumers’ busy schedules and include more snacking, less traditional breakfast foods and eating on-the-go during the morning hours,” Spencer says. “The iGens (or Gen Z) and millennials in particular are more likely to snack for breakfast and consume non-traditional breakfast items to fit their time-crunched schedules.”

Portalatin agrees, saying NPD has “seen a lot of sales lift in this a.m. snack or in-between breakfast-and-lunch occasion.” He says people eating a rushed breakfast of coffee and a banana at home are more likely to “swing through the drive-thru for a breakfast sandwich later.”

So where does the opportunity lie for restaurants interested in increasing breakfast offerings? Analysts suggested studying what works at other concepts while looking for opportunities to fuse breakfast and dinner ideas to innovate. Just as McDonald’s has succeeded at what it does well (offering variety, value and promoting both well), do what your concept does best while staying aware of trends and opportunities to offer more breakfast options where appropriate.