It’s 1 p.m. as I write this and I haven’t eaten since early yesterday evening. I’m consumed with mental images of syrup-slathered waffles and piping-hot savory sausages, and the data says I’m not alone in craving breakfast in the afternoon. So why aren’t more fast food places making this a reality?
The answer, according to this story in QSR Magazine, lies in some combination of tradition and cost.
While a National Restaurant Association survey found that 70% of Americans want restaurants to serve breakfast throughout the day, and that younger adults love eating breakfast for dinner more than any other age group, most major fast-fooderies draw a distinct line between their breakfast menu and lunch/dinner.
Part of that is due to the fact that, for all the affection we claim to have for breakfast, it’s a meal that many people eat at home (or skip entirely).
“Breakfast hasn’t traditionally been the most common dining-out daypart,” explains the Restaurant Association’s director of research communications, “but with the increasingly busy lifestyles we lead today, consumer interest is definitely stemming from the blurring of normal meal periods.”
While McDonald’s has openly mulled over the notion of all-day breakfast — and serves some breakfast menu items at McD’s stores that are open all night — it still hasn’t done a full-fledged test of selling McMuffins and McGriddles beyond 10:30 a.m.
Likewise, while Taco Bell has made a big splash with its relatively new breakfast menu, you can’t get these items after 11 a.m. in most locations.
One fast food chain that does do breakfast all day is Sonic, whose chief marketing officer says that the company is just giving customers what they want.
“At breakfast, we focus on unique menu items that we can offer quickly and consistently,” he explains to QSR Magazine. “Those same items… also happen to be great options for other dayparts.”
One big roadblock to breakfast for dinner is the added logistics and cost of being able to prepare two full menus’ worth of food in the afternoon. Diners and restaurants can do it because customers aren’t expecting to be served and out the door in two minutes, but fast food patrons want their order and they want it now.
An exec for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. explains that for these two chains, it’s a matter of kitchen resources.
“Most other chains cook their lunch and dinner menu items on a flat grill, so that lends itself to cooking breakfast items all day, as well,” he says. “At Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, the predominant cooking platform for our lunch and dinner items is a charbroiler, so we would have to run two separate cooking platforms to be able to prepare breakfast items all day, and that would significantly complicate operations.”
So maybe rather than asking established burger, taco, and chicken chains to figure out how to make breakfast and lunch in an affordable manner, it’s time for newer entrants to offer fast-food solutions to appease consumers’ breakfast cravings.
That would explain why Denny’s says it is planning to expand its college-focused fast-casual spin-offcalled The Den, which offers burgers and burritos alongside a slate of breakfast items in an environment more akin to what you’d get at Chipotle.
The Den has locations on a handful of college campuses and recently opened its first off-campus store.
The fast-casual approach may be the answer, as customers are not generally expecting to be get their food in seconds, but they also aren’t forced into a sit-down meal.
“This trend is really starting to go beyond the big chains, and that’s what’s making this so unique,” says the Restaurant Association rep. “Breakfast is kind of an unexplored daypart, and chains are starting to see that breakfast can definitely be a successful area for growth.”