Trend Report: Mealtimes give way to all-day eating

By Jo-Ann McArthur

Disruption in when and how we eat is one of the key trends explored in the 2018 Nourish Trend Report. Consumers are leaving their three square meals behind, yet that doesn’t seem to be how most foodservice outlets plan their menus. Busy 21st-century lives mean traditional meal times are starting to be cast off in favour of all-day snacking. Ipsos Canada reports that breakfast made up 11 per cent of eating occasions, Lunch 10 per cent, and Dinner 11 per cent. Snacks (including beverages) make up the balance of eating occasions. While most restaurants continue to divide up their offerings on the old brunch-lunch-dinner paradigm, consumers are leaving it behind. It’s time restaurants caught up.

From snacking between meals to snacking in place of meals

Snacking has moved from “guilty pleasure” to “meal replacer.” Consumers see this grazing type of behaviour as a way to sustain their energy levels throughout the day. Often breakfast is no longer the first meal of the day, with a protein smoothie being consumed first thing in the morning with a coffee on the side. A number of QSRs have been adapting to this behaviour by adding smoothies to their morning menus.

Snacks are no longer confined to bagged candies, chips and other unhealthy options. Today’s snack is more likely to include something that is fresh, healthy and protein-packed like jerky, yogurt or hummus and crudités.

Breakfast and lunch are the meals most at risk from snacking substitution, as dinner is the meal skipped least often. Dinner is still seen as a traditional time for a family to gather together and hence carrying more social and emotional significance (we’ll dive in a little deeper on opportunities for dinner traffic in a future article). Weekend breakfast and Sunday brunch have also risen in importance for these reasons.

Is brunch the “fourth square?”

Like dinner, brunch is a meal that is most likely to be eaten with others and is more than twice as likely to occur at a restaurant than at home, according to the Hartman Group, an American food and beverage consultancy. Millennials are drawn to brunch as it’s seen as a relaxing treat at the end of a hectic week and a chance to catch-up and socialize with friends.

The growing cultural importance of brunch is evident when you see it used as a verb (“let’s brunch”) rather than just a noun in speech and across social media. Its sweet and savoury offerings add to its comfort food appeal. Based on the long brunch line-ups I encounter, this appears to still be an opportunity for foodservice providers.

But remember, your customer expectations for breakfast are different on a weekday versus a weekend. Grab-and-go portability is important Monday to Friday, but on the weekend it’s a slower social occasion. Make sure your menu and food set-up takes that into account.

Ingredients that were traditionally lunch and dinner fare are also appearing on brunch menus. What started with the breakfast burrito or avocado toast has morphed into breakfast quinoa power bowls with a side of Brussels sprout hash.

And don’t forget your drinks menu. High-margin alcoholic beverages like customized bloody caesars, mimosas, and even beer with its lower alcohol content add to the customer experience, as well as your bottom line. And remember how the milk at the bottom of your sugary cereal was the best part of breakfast when you were a kid? Well, spiked cereal milk cocktails are proving to be a nostalgia-meets-adulthood hit south of the border, especially with millennials. Expect those to start making an appearance on a brunch menu near you soon.

Brunch service was traditionally where you put your most junior kitchen staff. That’s also changing as restaurant owners add these higher margin items coupled with faster-turning tables than a traditional dinner service, making brunch a big payoff.

“It isn’t just for breakfast anymore”

Do you remember that old tagline? Just like the Florida Orange Growers wanted us to think, eggs and other traditional breakfast foods are for any time. While whole chains like IHOP (we won’t even talk about the IHOb debacle) and Cora’s have built their businesses around breakfast foods, more customers are demanding breakfast as an “anytime” meal. Perhaps they’re making up for that skipped hot breakfast in the morning? Some QSRs are partially answering this need by extending their traditional breakfast hours.

U.S. research firm Datassential recently reported that 31 per cent of restaurants are now offering breakfast items for dinner. Their research also reported that 57 per cent of consumers say all-day breakfast is important with 60 per cent saying having grab-and-go options for that all-day breakfast is important. Can you add a portable breakfast sandwich to your menu to capitalize on this?

Dealing with change in customer behaviour is always hard. But those establishments that can adapt to this new normal will reap the benefits.

About the Author

Jo-Ann McArthur is the President and Founding Partner of Nourish, a marketing agency that specializes in Food & Beverage, working across all aspects of the food ecosystem. Clients include producers, processors, retailers, manufacturers, food service, and restaurants. Nourish has offices in Toronto, Guelph, and Montreal. Want to know more? Jo-Ann can be contacted at, or sign-up for the agency’s monthly newsletter at:

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