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Pancakes for dinner? Sure, more say


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Brick and Spoon is changing to an all-foods-all-day model, with its New Orleans restaurant expanding hours to 9 p.m. Above is one of its most popular dishes, any time of day.

You know you’re on to something when two food giants, McDonald’s and chef Mario Batali, can agree on something: breakfast is big, and now, more popular than ever.

Franchises already in the space are revitalizing their menus and expanding hours to take a bite out of an appetizing trend that many are predicting is here to stay.

Two years ago, the National Restaurant Association found that seven in 10 consumers wished for breakfast all day. In 2015, when asked if they would order breakfast items more often if restaurants offered them throughout the day, a sizeable 60 percent of consumers said yes.

Such industry intelligence has not gone unnoticed. McDonald’s has moved to offering breakfast all day (although not without hiccups). Batali’s latest restaurant venture in New York, La Sirena, offers breakfast with an Italian touch, an especially noteworthy move for a cuisine that does nothing much more for the morning meal than brioche and coffee.

What explains the sunny popularity of breakfast all day? Brent Fuller, brand leader for the Flying Biscuit Cafe based in Atlanta, believes it’s people’s busy schedules that are driving demand. He remembers a young couple who used to meet at the Flying Biscuit at lunch time every day and eat breakfast.

Annika Stensson, director of research communications at the National Restaurant Association, agrees. “Traditionally consumer demand for breakfast items tended to be much lower later in the day. But these days, consumer lifestyles and work schedules are rather different and we’re not living in a nine-to-five world as much,” she said.

Misty Young, co-owner of The Squeeze In franchise, points out consumers’ tastes are changing and they’re moving to a model where foods don’t have to be compartmentalized to one segment of the day. “We always have said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I also believe it’s the most delicious meal of the day,” said Young, whose franchise claims to serve “the best omelets on the planet.”

Availability also drives demand. Fuller adds there’s something about breakfast that tastes like comfort food. “Growing up, people have pancakes in the morning and now they come in to our restaurants and say, ‘I haven’t had pancakes in a while. I’d like them for lunch today.’”

Broken Yolk Cafe

The Broken Yolk Cafe serves up pancakes with bacon as a popular all-day option.

Clocking in

So what does “all day” really mean in these breakfast-all-day franchises? In most cases, it’s one single shift up until 2 or 3 p.m. At Brick and Spoon, a franchise based in Lafayette, Louisiana, the push is on to keep restaurants open until 9 p.m. serving not just breakfast all through but also dinner. The franchise’s New Orleans location recently moved to this model.

“You can come in at 7 a.m. and have either a cheeseburger or an Eggs Benedict or French toast,” said Blane Guillory, CEO of Brick and Spoon. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep the three meals separate.”

Industry experts caution that the breakfast all day — even into the night — option is not for every food franchise. “Before taking the plunge to offer breakfast items all day, restaurant operators should keep in mind their kitchen flow and consider service times,” Stensson cautioned. “Focusing menus by daypart is a way to maintain speed of preparation and service. The fewer the items that crews stand ready to prepare, the more streamlined the process.”

In other words, the traditional model of switching over from breakfast to lunch to dinner is a way of keeping things simple and easy to manage, especially with shift changes and complex staffing issues to handle.

“Before considering extending breakfast you need to understand the strain it will put on the night staff and how it will change the flow and economics of your business. It’s very possible that all-day breakfast will result in more work and less profit, a nightmare scenario,” said Tanner Agar, founder and CEO of The Chef Shelf, a restaurant consulting business.

For the franchises we talked to, it’s been only sweet dreams partly because they stick to the same menu all day long and often there are no shift changes to worry about. Even more relevant from a franchisee standpoint is the efficiency, said Valerie McCartney, vice president, franchise sales and development for The Broken Yolk Cafe, which serves breakfast from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day.

“Our differentiation is that our average unit volume is $2.1 million and we achieve that in a nine-hour day rather than the typical 16- or even 24-hour day common in other dine and breakfast/lunch brands,” McCartney pointed out.

As consumers’ tastes change, franchises are fine-tuning menus and options to stay ahead. Eggs are extremely popular and spicy is now becoming a bigger part of breakfast, McCartney said. Exhibit A is its popular Golden State Benedict, which includes avocado and sriracha, and the Border Benedict that has a corn cake base instead of an English muffin, and is topped with carne asada and poblano sauce.

Brick and Spoon’s New Orleans location has a variety of beignets (chocolate, cinnamon sugar) to whet appetites and Squeeze In sees a huge spike for breakfast cocktails such as the Bloody Mary. Health conscious customers can also have their fill at these franchises. The Flying Biscuit offers organic oatmeal pancakes with peach compote and scrambles tofu to satisfy vegans.

While there are no readily discernible age demographic trends in this segment, English Nassif at Brick and Spoon does say the millennials are looking for more flexibility in what they consume and when, and love the option of breakfast all day, especially given their busy schedules.

Young is convinced that breakfast is the most lucrative area of food franchising. “There are no moody chefs. There’s no bar crowds. In franchising, we like to say that the money’s in the morning.” Stretch that idea all day long and you’ve got a concept that sells like, well...hot cakes.

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