It seems Americans have become obsessed with snacking. More than 40 percent skip or replace one meal daily with snacks and 35 percent eat three meals a day plus snacks, according to Nancy Kruse, president of restaurant research and consulting firm The Kruse Company.
“Grazing is definitely a big trend today. Our need for energy is continuous and is less peak-oriented, leading us to eat four to five meals or snacks a day,” says Darren Tristano, senior vice president of foodservice consulting firm Technomic.
Smart operators are leveraging this trend and reaching guests at non-traditional dayparts. Take Applebee’s, which offers its lunch combo meals until 4 p.m. and a late-night, half-price appetizer menu.
“Our philosophy is to build our core lunch and dinner business and extend our core proposition into non-traditional day-parts,” says Bill Leibengood, Applebee’s executive director of marketing.
As a result, many guests are coming in for lunch or a snack during the non-peak hours of 1:30 to 4 p.m., and after 10 p.m. for late-night snacks and drinks. “We get a lot of pull-through from our dinner menu to late night, [and some] of our audience just want to eat later,” Leibengood says. Instead of cannibalizing its lunch and dinner business, Applebee’s additional marketing focus on late lunches, late dinners, and snacks, has added incremental sales.
Like Applebee’s, numerous full-service chains have added special small-portion and snacking menus to capitalize on guests’ increased desire for these meals. For example, Fado Irish Pub, which has 14 locations in 13 states, introduced two new snacking menus that appeal to guests who are out for drinks and socializing, and just happen to order food as an accompaniment.
“We tried to make food that is easy-to-choose, smaller-portioned, and less expensive,” says John Piccirillo, director of marketing and development at Fado. “It makes it easier for people to make a whimsical decision around food—especially when they are in a group—instead of committing to a big appetizer of wings.”
Fado’s new offerings feature sophisticated snacks such as Stuffed Cheese Puffs and Slow Roasted Pork Belly with a Mangers Cider Reduction. And they stepped up the traditional smothered and covered french fries favorite, introducing a new menu dedicated to the favorite finger food and dubbed the “Chip Shop.” Guests can choose from chips, aka: french fries, topped with Harp Lager Cheese Sauce & Bacon, Pulled Lamb & Peppercorn, Chicken Curry, and assorted house-made sauces. Additionally, Fado recently added hummus and house-made chips to its snacking menu.
To promote its new Snacks and Chip Shop menus, Fado awarded its e-mail and social media fans free items from the menus throughout April and May. In July, Fado began an in-store campaign to promote sampling of the menus.
“A good chunk of customers don’t consider going to an Irish pub for food. So, we looked for people who should be snacking but aren’t, and offered them samples on the spot,” Piccirillo says.
In addition to late-night menus, many full-service operators are offering happy hour-type food and drink specials from mid afternoon to 6 p.m. “That is another way to draw consumers in before dinner and get them started at your restaurant,” Tristano says.
For most operators, snacking is an opportunity to expand the dining experience across all dayparts—effectively giving guests a reason to visit and eat whenever the mood strikes and the time is right for them.