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Breakfast: The humble champion of the economic downturn

3 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

This post is by Liz Perman, SmartBrief’s director of association relations.

As attendees of the NRA Show 2010 cruised from one sample station to another over the lunch hour one day last week, I attended a fascinating educational seminar on one of my favorite meals: breakfast.

Greg Saunders, associate publisher of QSR Magazine, curated a panel discussion on breakfast trends and innovation success stories. Representatives from Denny’s, Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants and Datassentials Research weighed in with their varied perspectives.

Saunders set the stage for the conversation by remarking that breakfast has been a winner for the restaurant industry during the economic downturn. Panelists agreed that breakfast’s success over the past few years can be, at least in part, attributed to the fact that breakfast is more economical than lunch or dinner. So, while consumers tightened their belts during the downturn, eating breakfast out —  rather than lunch or dinner — allowed them to cut costs without giving up a favorite pastime.  

But according to the panelists, that’s not the only reason breakfast has been a sunny spot for many restaurateurs. An increasing number of restaurants — from quickservice spots to higher-end independent establishments — have been experimenting with their breakfast offerings. This innovation hasn’t just led to more interesting options in the morning — it’s led to an increase in the number of people eating out for breakfast.

I knew I had come to the right session when Maeve Webster, director of research and consulting at Datassentials Research, put a spotlight on some key trends for my favorite morning food: the breakfast sandwich.

  • Upgraded cheeses and proteins. Your trusty American cheese might be traded for Gruyere, and ham might be swapped for pancetta.
  • Combinations of sweet and savory, such as waffle sandwiches.
  • Traditional lunch or dinner preparations in the morning. Panini-style sandwiches are now finding their way to breakfast.
  • Healthy or “better for you” options. Hearty wheat pancakes can be found at Denny’s, and vegetables are appearing more and more often in the a.m. meal.
  • Ethnic profiles. Italian-, Thai- and Japanese-inspired flavors can now be found at breakfast.

What’s next for the evolution of breakfast? Webster put her bet on gluten-free options. They’re still niche at the moment, but if athletes are starting to switch to a gluten-free diets because of apparent enhancement in performance, it’s only a matter of time before it catches on.

Image credit: LauriPatterson, via iStockphoto