Breakfast Opportunities Evolve in Wake of Pandemic

Posted in Family Restaurant on February 22, 2023

New twists on familiar comfort foods help drive sales in the morning dayparts


As consumers return to pre-pandemic routines such as commuting to offices, restaurant breakfast sales have rebounded.

Morning meals, including both the breakfast daypart and morning snacks, have been a bright spot for foodservice operators during the past two years, according to The NPD Group. Breakfast and morning snack-period traffic to restaurants and retail foodservice outlets increased by 2% in 2022, the research firm reported, on top of double-digit growth in 2021.

“Breakfast at restaurants was adversely affected in the early stages of the pandemic, and it’s recovering now that more consumers have returned to out-of-the-home routines,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America.

The growing breakfast trends of 2023 present opportunities for operators, helping them ensure they have optimized their breakfast menus with the right offerings. Much like the trends that are unfolding across the foodservice landscape, consumers are seeking globally influenced breakfast items, as well as creative spins on traditional comfort foods and a few healthy options as well.

All-day breakfast and brunch

One indication of breakfast’s appeal is the growing popularity of all-day breakfast and brunch trends in 2023, which have spawned several growing concepts in markets around the country. Among them is HashTAG in Denver, which recently announced plans for a second location. The concept is known for its lively music and atmosphere, as well as its innovative take on classic brunch fare—including award-winning Eggs Benedict, Chilaquiles, Big Cast Iron Cinnamon Rolls, Biscuits & Gravy, and platter-sized HashTAG Hotcakes in several seasonal and house varieties.

“The breakfast scene is growing fast and becoming more sophisticated,” says Troy Guard, chef and owner, TAG Restaurant Group.

Brunch is an especially vital daypart, he says.

“Brunch allows you to eat whatever you want,” says Guard. “Lunch or breakfast, sweet or savory, healthy or hearty, cocktails or coffee, it’s a no-judgment zone.”

From a business perspective, these trending breakfast ideas and brunch spaces are ripe for innovation and investment, he continues. “In a single shift, you could get three or four turns from three distinct guests: the early rising folks at 7 a.m., the working crowd at 8:30 or 9, and finally the crowd that is there to party at 10.”

Another example of innovative breakfast trends in 2023 is First Watch, which focuses on a fresh, seasonally inspired and elevated menu that changes frequently and features innovative variations on traditional breakfast favorites.

The concept also features a Healthier Side menu with items such as the Tri-Athlete—an egg white omelet with house-roasted Cremini mushrooms, onions, tomatoes, and green chilies. Served with house-made pico de gallo, whole-grain artisan toast, all-natural house preserves, and fresh fruit.

Viva la French toast

Consumers’ ongoing interest in French toast exemplifies the way familiar breakfast comfort foods are being reinvented in new ways. Quick-service giant Wendy’s, for example, last year introduced Homestyle French Toast Sticks to its breakfast menu, and they quickly became the chain’s top-selling breakfast item, the company says. A hand-held finger food well-suited for eating on the go, Wendy’s French Toast Sticks are made with real eggs and dipped in milk custard with a hint of vanilla, and served with a syrup for dipping.

In the mid-range restaurant segment, Huddle House recently revived its Sweet & Savory French Toast toppings as a limited-time offer. They offer innovative twists on classic flavors that blend breakfast and dessert elements. Selections include Blueberry Cheesecake Topped French Toast made with soft Vienna bread dipped in the Huddle House signature cinnamon batter, grilled, and topped with blueberry compote, powdered sugar, and whipped cream cheese. Huddle House also offers Caramel Bacon Pecan Topped French Toast, topped with Applewood-smoked bacon, chopped pecans, buttery caramel sauce, and powdered sugar.

“Consumers want quality and authenticity in a breakfast menu,” says Jorge Pederzini, vice president of marketing at Huddle House. “While there is room for innovation with the new flavors and ingredients, consumers want the staples as options when ordering breakfast, and when they find a place that makes them feel as if they are eating at home without having to do the dishes, they become long-term loyal and brand-loving guests.”

The high end of the foodservice spectrum has not forgotten about French toast either in breakfast trends in 2023. In Los Angeles, Ryan Wong, chef of the acclaimed restaurant, Needle, offers a Chinese-inspired take on this classic breakfast dish by placing a vanilla custard made from salted duck egg yolks between two slices of milk bread, and then frying it and topping it with sweetened condensed milk and maple syrup.

Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Bill Addison described the dish as “top-of-class brilliance.”

Operators seeking to capture some of the French toast zeitgeist could also try menuing Crunchy French Toast made with RITZ Crackers, which offers a sweet-and-salty twist on the classic dish, and tastes great with honey butter.

Other twists on comfort foods that follow these breakfast trends in 2023 feature ingredients customers love, such as cookie pieces from Mondelēz.

These include:

The Dutch Baby Pancake made with OREO Cookie Pieces, for example, offers a sweet, chocolatey treat as a breakfast, brunch, or even a dessert item. It is perfect for sharing—just slice it into four wedges and top it with powdered sugar and OREO butter.

Or try offering Sticky Buns made with Chunky Chips Ahoy! Cookie Pieces for a sweet, gooey breakfast or snack item. These include Chips Ahoy! Cookie Pieces both inside and out.

For more trends and inspiration, discover five key tips for capitalizing on breakfast’s comeback in this infographic.

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