Restaurant patrons are increasingly going out to pasture, "grazing" their way through smaller servings instead of sitting down to longer and more expensive meals in a shift that has eateries rushing to adjust.
Nearly half of diners now say they're snacking twice a day, compared with the quarter who said the same in 2010, according to research group Technomic. More than 6 in 10 customers said that the snacks they bought were impulse purchases.
Snack brands at Stockton, Calif.-based Diamond Foods Inc. are doing well, the company said Tuesday, with Kettle chips and Pop Secret popcorn both seeing sales increases in the 12-week period ending Feb. 18. Sales from the Emerald nuts brand were up 29% compared with the same period a year earlier.
Convenience store chains have been poaching customers from fast-food competitors, Technomic found this fall.
That growth has dining establishments trying new tactics to keep customers coming – including offering faster, cheaper and more portable and compact food and drink.
Cheesecake Factory now has a "Small Plates and Snacks" menu that features items such as mini corn dogs and chicken samosas. California Pizza Kitchen's "Small Cravings" offerings include Korean BBQ steak tacos and salads.
Some chains are offering value menus or small nibbles at the bar late at night to cater to younger customers, according to Technomic. Mini-sandwiches, sliders and wraps have gone gourmet to entice foodies who don't want the full-sized version. And with a third of consumers looking for more variety among healthful snacks, food-service operators are even launching better-for-you options.