The Midday dip: Breakfast and early evening meals take bite out of lunchtime spend

By Luke Nicholls

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Meal, Uk

Quick-service restaurants are benefiting from the change in the lunchtime trade
Quick-service restaurants are benefiting from the change in the lunchtime trade
Out-of-home visits for lunch and afternoon snacks have dropped by six per cent over the past two years as breakfast and early evening meals are proving more popular, up by three and 12 per cent respectively.

According to the latest data from foodservice research agency The NPD Group, annual per capita visits to out-of-home eating destinations for meals and snacks is continuing to decline with 179 visits per capita in 2012.

“As these figures show, breakfast is growing at the expense of other meal occasions – in this case lunch and afternoon snacks,” said Guy Fielding, director of business development for The NPD Group.

“This is particularly alarming for those channels that are heavily reliant on mid-day trade, but it does also signal the opportunity - and provides the motivation - for both operators and manufacturers to diversify into breakfast and evening snack occasions.” 

Cinq a Sept

One trend emerging when it comes to evening meals is 'Cinq a Sept’. In France, the term is used for a social gathering with wine and food that takes place between work and dinner; here in the UK, the terms can be applied to the increasing number of customers ordering full meals between 5pm and 7pm in a bid to maximise their work and leisure time.

Thierry Tomasin, owner of the fine-dining Angelus Restaurant & Lounge in West London, has been surprised by this shift in his customers eating habits. “At Angelus we now regularly see customers requesting tables for a three course meal from 3:30pm onwards," he said. "A lunch meeting a few years ago at midday could often mean not going back to the office, most businesses now expect their employees - if they get a lunch break at all - to keep it to within an hour.

“To host a successful lunch meeting with clients within 60 minutes, belittles the whole concept of entertaining and everyone knows that this is where the best deals are done.  With ‘Cinq a Sept’ business people can relax, bond and reach conclusions, safe in the knowledge that they do not have to return to an afternoon of hard slog.”

The trend has also been tapped into by other restaurants that are popular for business and leisure dining. Christos Karatzenis, head of operations at The Real Greek, added: “We have venues across London and are seeing customers enjoying meals increasingly at varied times, and especially later in the afternoon.

"This trend seems to be particularly apparent in our venues in Shopping Centres, such as Westfield Stratford and Westfield Shepherd’s Bush which attracts both shoppers and business workers from the surrounding area.”

Boosting lunchtime trade

Last week, BigHospitality’s Ideas from your Peers column looked at how to boost your lunchtime trade.​The ‘burnout generation’ sees time-pressed consumers no longer making their own lunch; working hours have increased and the lunch hour has become a quick sandwich at the desk.

Guy Holmes, managing director of Captivate Hospitality Consultants, told BigHospitality: “Some restaurants really struggle at lunch, particularly Indian restaurants as lots of customers think the cuisine is too heavy to eat. It’s always been true that the most expensive thing in a restaurant is an empty table – so the right lunch offering is essential."

And The NPD Group, which tracks the eating habits of over 80,000 UK consumers via the web, concludes that the struggling restaurants may be forced to change or adapt their existing lunch offerings in order to cope with the ‘grab and go’ demand.

"Fielding from NPD added: “We expect to see the struggling full service sector start to deploy a more flex-casual approach by adopting a quick service-style of service at lunch and off-peak periods, and offering the core full-service delivery at dinner. 

Shifting focus

“Likewise, quick-service restaurant operators are focusing more and more on building a bigger on-the-go business for both lunch and snacking, by introducing new products and greater focus on portion, portability and packaging.

“There has been a good deal of activity around the morning meal over the last year, and we fully expect this mid-day dip to shift the focus onto the important lunch and afternoon snacking occasion.”

A recent report from foodservice consultancy Horizons​highlighted that quality ‘food-on-the-go’ has become the key area of growth for the UK’s eating out market, with concepts consistently emerging in transport hubs, shopping centres and busy high street locations as consumers are looking to eat where they want, when they want. 

It concluded that the focus of many of the latest concepts is on gourmet versions of established food-on-the-go favourites such as burgers​and hot dogs.

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