The hottest meal at restaurants? Snacks.

By Rieva Lesonsky

If you own a restaurant, many of you have likely noticed your lunch bookings are down. According to an article in Nation’s Restaurant News, The NPD Group reports in the year ending in  September 2016, visits to restaurants for lunch fell 2 percent (breakfast visits grew 1 percent and dinner visits were flat).

But consumers aren’t rejecting restaurants altogether. Visits were up 3 percent later in the afternoon—for snacks. In fact, NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs told NRN, “Snacking is growing at restaurants. Afternoon snack is the strongest-performing meal occasion for the year.” Consumers are also visiting restaurants for breakfast and evening snacks, but nearly half of snack visits occur in the afternoon—obviously hurting the lunch hour business.

This trend doesn’t mean you should throw out your lunch menu: NRN says the number-one food ordered for an afternoon snack is a burger. Also popular for afternoon munching are French fries, ice cream, potato chips, candy/candy bars and chicken sandwiches. Three foods were popular all-day items: burgers, donuts/sweet rolls and cookies.

The star of the snacks is the breakfast sandwich, which NPD Group says has seen its popularity increase “by double digits across all meal occasions.”

If you haven’t yet introduced a snack menu, NRN suggests you consider “repositioning or promoting existing menu items as snacks, or adding unique snack items to [the] menu.” As Bonnie Riggs says, “There’s an opportunity for [operators to offer] more variety, more main-meal food being positioned as a snack.”