Snacks — not just for kids and Scooby Doo anymore — have become a major driver of consumer behavior and spending in the last two years, affecting restaurant industry profits and planning in their wake. It’s no surprise, given the 12 billion snack visits made to restaurants and other foodservice entities annually, according to research completed by the NPD Group. Restaurant snacks can be big business for almost any establishment.
Are you making the most of potential sales from restaurant snacks?
Getting in on any overarching trend requires understanding it, so we present the 5 basics of snacking: the why, when, who, what, and how of building your restaurant’s profit with snacking in 2018.
WHY are people snacking more?
Pundits may be quick to assume that American eating habits and the trend toward obesity is what’s driving an increase in snack purchases at restaurants. But the data doesn’t really back up that claim, as visits to restaurants for snacking occasions jumped 3% in 2016, according to research firm The NPD Group. During that same time period, restaurant lunch traffic dropped 2%. Snack traffic isn’t necessarily additive.
The rise in restaurant snack purchases “is not about gluttony, rather it is about adapting our eating schedules to our busy lives,” states the Watrose Food & Drink Report for 2017-18.
NPD Group places the blame for lower lunch traffic on the increasing trend of employees working from home — which has risen by 24% in the past decade. Consumers who formerly would step out for an hour lunch or to pick up something on the go are now changing their behavior: eating what’s available at home, ordering delivery, or just as often, shifting their eating habits around their work habits.
If a freelancer spends any portion of their week working remotely from restaurants or cafes, that dining occasion very likely doesn’t fall neatly into the lunch category. While diminishing revenue is a possibility with lunch traffic down — particularly if your establishment invests more staff and resources in those particular hours than would otherwise — the potential to pick up the same business at other times is there.
WHEN can you expect more business?
Believe it or not, nearly half of foodservice snack visits occur during the lunch timeframe. Morning snacks represent 23 percent of overall foodservice snack visits and evening 30 percent. In other words, it’s possible that some part of your lunch traffic is staying, but possibly ordering lighter fare or incurring smaller spend per visit. But a full half of so-called “fourth meal” visits are dispersed into other hours of the day.
Depending on your business model, this diversification of dining occasion could be a strain on your kitchen and front of house staff if your menu isn’t designed with restaurant snacks in mind. But in order to fully understand how to make accommodations that keep your resources appropriately balanced, you’ve got to know what kind of diner you’re likely to see make this shift.
WHO is the target audience for restaurant snacks?
It may feel like listening to a broken record, but once again, Millennials are showing new behavior that will likely drive changes in the industry for years to come. These consumers in their early twenties to late thirties are more likely than any other generation to snack four times a day, with 25 percent actually doing so.
Why? Some of it involves working conditions, with freelance positions dominating the Millennial jobscape, particularly in the younger half of the group. Quite simply, snack menus are cost-effective options that also work with a freelancer’s flexible schedule. They’re easy to grab on the go and don’t hit their pocket book as hard for professionals at an earlier stage in their careers.
The age demographics of the Millennial also tend to make them more comfortable with dining alone than older generations. A shorter dining experience is now preferred, with diners opting to dine for sustenance rather than eating for the sake of eating. That said, Millennials want more for their money than just food. They want their dining experience — even a shorter, more fundamental one — to be customized to their concerns and aimed directly at them.
Designing your menu options to specifically offer restaurant snacks is the best way to give Millennials exactly what they’re looking for — and drive up sales for your business.
WHAT are restaurants doing already to respond?
Taking aim at capturing consumers when they want to spend on-the-go or in-between traditional meals, quick serve heavyweights like McDonald’s and Taco Bell are both reconfiguring their value menus. McDonald’s had cancelled its dollar menu in 2012, now bringing it back with items at the $1, $2, and $3 price point to expand the number of items that might be attractive to a snacking audience. Taco Bell is similarly growing its dollar menu, although maintaining the $1 price point to facilitate mixing and matching of items.
“It could be a situation where someone goes in thinking about buying one thing and then gets thinking, ‘This is pretty reasonable,’ and going to add on a few things,” explains R.J. Hottovy, restaurant analyst at Morningstar, an investment research firm.
But snack-sized pricing isn’t limited to quick serve and fast casual chains, as chefs nationwide are beginning to think about the necessity of branching out to more dining occasions than just the traditional three. With almost 90 percent of consumers reporting in Datassential’s 2017 MenuTrends Keynote Report that they have snacked on seafood, the door opens wide to many possible applications beyond just popcorn shrimp.
Pokeatery in San Mateo and Castro Valley, CA, has recently added Pokecado Toast to its menu, blending avocado (humorously, now infamous as a Millennial favorite) and poke (one of 2018’s growing trends) as a snack option. Similarly high-end, Camperdown Elm in Brooklyn, NY, has added SMAK as a snack to their menu. The pâté is made with smoked mackerel, amberjack and kingfish, and served with housemade squid-ink crackers and sesame seed.
Other restaurants are centering their entire operation on this phenomenon, like Snack Boys Snack Bar in Walker’s Point, WI. Set to open this month, Snack Boys grows out of the fine dining tradition with both chefs focusing on small plate delicacies that can attract the more-frequent-than-ever diner. The menu is designed like an entire appetizer list, with dishes like duck nuggets, breaded and fried and served with foie barbecue sauce.
On the flipslide, earlier this year Cheetos (yes, the snack brand itself) opened a temporary pop-up with chef Anne Burrell at the helm called The Spotted Cheetah in downtown Manhattan. Offering a three-course sit down meal that uses snack items as a basis for a dinner-time experience, Burrell focused not on timing, but our fascination with the culture of snacks to offer a fine dining limited time event.
HOW can you take advantage of restaurant snacks?
Ultimately, it may not be as important what you offer snackers as how. In fact, many consumers taking advantage of the snacking phenomenon are ordering the same menu items your restaurant likely offers at lunchtime. For instance, the most popular menu items for afternoon restaurant snacks in 2016 were: burger, chicken sandwiches, cookies, potato chips, French fries, and candy, according to the NPD Group. A lot of these items you probably already offer.
By resizing entree offerings — or even simply repositioning your existing items — in a menu section highlighting smaller portions, restaurants can take advantage of this growing consumer trend, and capture the dollars consumers are looking to spend. But make sure you are truly thinking about the experience your customer needs to go along with the food.
If you don’t want to make the big leap with your regular menu, try out a limited time offer (LTO). Not only will you be able to assess interest in snack-size plates among your patrons, but the nature of the LTO will drive urgency and should increase interest where it might not otherwise have bloomed.
Are snackers dining in or taking out? Do they need faster service that will require your kitchen to fulfill their order more efficiently? Are you set up during off-hours to offer more convenient, express service to your diners?
57% of consumers say portability is an important factor when choosing restaurant snacks, according to survey firm Technomic. Is your food able to be packaged so that it stays warm and in the same condition from leaving your restaurant to arriving on the customer’s plate at home? Will it taste the same as if consumed in your dining room?
Making sure the customer experience in taking away or delivery is as close to that of your eat-in patrons is critical for maintaining the revenue a restaurant snack menu can provide. Customer service and consistency, as always, is the key to success, whether your meal is served at noon, 6:00 PM, or 1:00 AM.
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