According to a study conducted a couple years ago, the number of fast-food menus featuring the word “snack” tripled from 2007 to 2010. Our snacking seems to have only picked up pace since then.
QSRWeb named “Snacks” as one of the top quick-service restaurant trends for 2012, listing just a few of the many new snacks introduced lately:
The daypart between lunch and dinner continues to grow, buoyed by snack-sized launches such as McDonald’s Chicken McBites, Jack in the Box’s Mini Corn Dogs, KFC’s Original Chicken Bites, Pretzelmaker’s Pretzel Bites, Whataburger’s Whatachick’n Bites, Popeyes’ Wicked, Dip’n and Rip’n Chick’n, Dunkin’ Donuts’ Pancake Bites and Wienerschnitzel’s Der Chicken Dippers.
Likewise, National Restaurant Association named “half-portions/smaller portions for a smaller price” as one of its top trends to watch out for in 2013. Restaurant consultants such as Baum & Whiteman are also highlighting the “Snackification of America” in 2013 trend reports, with more and more “minis” appearing at “fast food chains, adding impulse revenue to between-meal shoulder hours.” The consultant report explains:
We’re eating less at every meal… but more than making up for it with endless snacking … and our national waistlines prove it. Snacks account for one in five “eating occasions” … multiple snacks now qualify as America’s “fourth meal” … and even the traditional three are degenerating into nibbles and bits.
The snacking trend is hot at bars and upscale restaurants as well, according to Andrew Freeman & Co., whose 2013 restaurant forecast calls for more tiny menu items, including smaller selections on toast (“Perfect for snacking and for sharing”) and “One Bite Wonders” (“Pay per the piece pre-appetizer courses priced less than $5 each”). Freeman told Nation’s Restaurant News that snacking is a trend that’s been in the works for years:
For example, he said bar food will increasingly play a role in restaurant dining, offering all-day menus for snacking and helping restaurants lose their special-occasion-only place in consumers’ minds. “Bar food, I think, is as important as dining room food,” he said.
What’s with the onslaught of snacks? Whatever happened to three square meals per day? Well, the truth is it’s been a long time since snacks and snacking between meals have universally been considered bad things. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta wrote in 2008:
You can forget the no-snacking rule. Snacks can actually help stabilize your blood-sugar level, making it easier to curb your cravings come meal time.
(MORE: Top 10 of Everything for 2012)
Restaurants have caught on to the idea that a snack is often viewed as a healthier alternative to wolfing down an entire fast-food combo meal. Snacks also cost less than typical entrees, of course, and since most snacks are small, even bite-size, and are often designed to eat at any time of day, they’re especially suitable for today’s 24/7 on-the-go consumers. In other words, snacks are easy for diners to stomach, so to speak, in almost every way imaginable.
For restaurants, snacks come with the added bonus that they can draw in hungry diners at any hour of the day, not necessarily during regular meal times. Snacks can also serve as easy upsells — something a customer orders in addition to (not instead of) his usual meal.