CHICAGO – Consumers are jettisoning lunch in favor of afternoon snacking, and that trend has spilled over into restaurant visits, Nation’s Restaurant News reports. Visits to restaurants for snacking occasions jumped 3% in the year ending September 2016, according to The NPD Group. During that same time, restaurant lunch traffic dropped 2%.
“Snacking is growing at restaurants,” said Bonnie Riggs, an analyst at NPD. “Afternoon snack is the strongest-performing meal occasion for the year.” Nearly half of all snacking at restaurants happens in the afternoon. “With so many snacks occurring in the afternoon, the meal occasion that is most vulnerable is lunch,” Riggs said. “What we’re seeing now is trade-down from lunch.”
Lunch might not be the meal, but lunch foods are on the menu for snacks. The most popular menu item as an afternoon snack was a burger, followed (in no particular order) by chicken sandwiches, cookies, potato chips, French fries and candy, during the year that ended September 2016. For quenching thirst, consumers down bottled water, iced coffee and tea, carboned and non-carbonated soft drinks, coffee, frozen slushees and juice in the afternoon.
“There’s an opportunity for [operators to offer] more variety—more main-meal food being positioned as a snack,” Riggs said. Some restaurants are meeting that need by rejiggering their lunch menus to provide for smaller portions. For example, Pita Pit downgraded its signature pita sandwiches into mini sizes for snacking. “I do think it’s predominately an afternoon visit,” said Patrick O’Dell, Pita Pit director of brand marketing. “It’s something that’s a little less heavy.”