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QSR Feature
Breakfast for Dinner
Serving breakfast beyond the morning daypart is keeping sales at quick-serves sunny side up.
A high-protein breakfast is often more economical to consumers.

Breakfast isn’t just for breakfast anymore, judging by the number of quick-serves offering the types of meals in the afternoon, evening, and after-hours that are usually associated with the morning time. Case in point: Starbucks. The company made a notable splash earlier this year when it rolled out a line of $3.95 value-priced breakfast pairings that are served all day, including options such as an artisan sandwich and coffee, a coffee cake and café latte, and an oatmeal and latte combo.

Citing the state of the economy as one of the driving factors behind the menu change—and judging by the consumer response—the ubiquitous coffee chain clearly was on to something. As more and more of today’s consumers look to curb costs when they eat out, breakfast—considered to be the most important meal of the day—is becoming a crossover hit, popping up on menus around the clock. According to NPD Group, a global market-research company, breakfast accounts for 23 percent of quick-serve restaurant sales, with the burger/sandwich segment leading the category. The firm’s most recent data gathering found that breakfast was up 1 percent in quick-serves between December 2008 and February 2009 over the same period last year.

Having breakfast for dinner, restaurant owners say, allows their customers a wallet-friendly way to eat out and still enjoy the comfort food they love. It’s no wonder then that restaurants are scrambling to add more breakfast items to their lineups. Following are just a few ways quick-serves are capitalizing on the trend.

Offer Options

A number of quick-serves are making the most of the breakfast-for-dinner trend by featuring a separate—and often extensive—list of breakfast items that are available all day long. The Pop Shop in Collingswood, New Jersey, for example, is the kind of nouveau-retro diner where customers expect to be able to buy breakfast any time of the day or night. And the menu, which features more than 50 breakfast items, doesn’t disappoint. Connie Correia Fisher, co-owner of the restaurant, believes the success of the breakfast menu has a lot to do with the comfort factor.

“People like comfort food because it’s food you can rely on,” she says. “You just know it’s going to be good.” Popular breakfast dishes at the Pop Shop range from the Smokehouse Breakfast Burgers (three mini-slider burgers topped with barbecue sauce, scrambled eggs, melted cheddar cheese, and a dollop of sour cream served with shoestring hash browns for $7.99) to the Walking in Memphis Omelette (three extra-large eggs with pulled pork, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese for $8.59) to the Cajun Benedict (poached eggs and andouille sausage over a biscuit with Cajun hollandaise sauce and shoestring hash browns for $8.99).

“People are trying the meatier, heartier breakfast dishes later in the day,” says Fisher, who’s noticed an uptick in the number of breakfast orders served at dinnertime. “It’s the perfect combination of a breakfast meal and lunch meal, and also very popular with our male customers.”

Some may think of breakfast food as simple and basic, but there’s still plenty of room for innovation, says John Dillon, vice president of marketing for Denny’s. That’s especially true, he says, when consumers are allowed to customize the meal to suit their own personal preferences. Denny’s is having great success with its “Build Your Own Grand Slam” menu, which allows consumers to pick four items out of 10 (including eggs, pancakes, grits, and sausage) to create their own breakfast dish. Other popular breakfast dishes served all day long at Denny’s include the recently added Bacon Avocado Breakfast Burrito (bacon, avocado, scrambled eggs, smoky cheese, pico de gallo, and a spicy sauce served in a grilled flour tortilla)and the Prime Rib Breakfast Skillet (scrambled eggs, fire-roasted onions and peppers, and prime rib).

Says Dillon: “We’re having fun with it.” As part of its all-nighter RockStar menu, Denny’s also recently introduced the Unstoppable Breakfast, a biscuit topped with country-fried steak, eggs, American cheese, country gravy, and three strips of bacon, served with a side of hash browns.

Not to be outdone, Whataburger also offers a variety of breakfast dishes after hours, from 11 p.m. to 11 a.m., every day. The choices range from classic breakfast plates such as pancakes and egg sandwiches to such trendier fare as the signature Taquito (a soft flour tortilla filled with scrambled eggs and a choice of sausage, potato, or bacon) and the Honey Butter Chicken Biscuit (one breaded chicken strip on a buttermilk biscuit with warm honey butter sauce). Even Jack in the Box found its niche in the breakfast category, featuring breakfast bowls (a combination of eggs, cheese, and a breakfast meat) as well as the more familiar biscuits and croissandwiches.

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