By Rieva Lesonsky

Before I moved to Southern California, I lived in Manhattan (actually, I grew up in the NYC suburbs). Now I live in the suburbs south of Los Angeles, where everything basically closes down at 10 p.m., with the exception of a few fast food restaurants.  So I went from the “city that never sleeps” to a sleepy city.

But there’s mounting evidence that many formerly quiet cities and towns will soon be boasting an ever-increasing number of restaurants (and not just of the quick-service variety) that stay open 24/7. Why? Apparently Millennials are hungrier than the rest of us-and they want access to food day and night.

The big players are already taking advantage of this trend. According to an article in The Palm Beach Post, 40 percent of McDonald’s are open 24/7 (80 percent in Palm Beach), up from 4 percent about 10 years ago.  And it’s not just about feeding hungry night owls lining up in fast-food drive-thru lanes. Many of the McDonald’s in the Palm Beach region keep their dining rooms open as well, so people can “come in, catch up on the Internet, read…” (Most McDonald’s offer free Wi-Fi.)

But small businesses can take part as well. A spokesperson for the National Restaurant Association (NRA) told the newspaper that “restaurants have been extending hours for the past several years as Americans adjust to schedules that may not include the traditional three meals a day.”

This is underscored by several reports from marketing research companies. NPD Group says 20 percent of “eating occasions in America are considered a snack.” According to Restaurant Hospitality, Technomic research shows nearly half of consumers snack twice a day, and Packaged Facts calls “snacking ‘integral’ to the lifestyles of Millennials.”

Before you open your doors 24/7, however, the NRA strongly advises you to consider,”Are there enough diners to justify the operating costs of staying open late?”

Harry Balzer, the chief industry analyst for NPD, told The Palm Beach Post it’s likely “convenience, reasonable prices and new [food] items” are fueling the 24/7 food trend. His point: if you make consumers’ lives easier, they’ll come back to your restaurant.

Restaurant Hospitality suggests full-service restaurants consider the following to attract more 24/7 customers:

  • Create an all-day small-plates menu in addition to traditional daypart menus.
  • Offering grab-and-go items for time-pressed customers.
  • Remain open for business during traditionally slow times, such as mornings, midafternoon and late night.