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Savvy restaurant operators are showcasing the versatility of coffee to boost sales beyond traditional breakfast hours. They’re touting coffee as the natural accompaniment to the biscuit sandwiches, omelets and pancakes consumers increasingly enjoy for lunch, dinner and off-hours meals as well as in the morning.
At the same time operators are promoting trendy cold brew and nitro coffees as afternoon refreshers for the thirsty masses.
Industry observers are finding a big opportunity revolves around breakfast in its many forms. Mintel, a market research company, reported last year that more than 50 percent of consumers polled were ordering breakfast foods from foodservice establishments more often than in the previous year. It defined “breakfast” either as the morning dining occasion or as a type of food that may or may not be consumed in the morning.
To serve that demand many operators are offering breakfast later in the day, inspired by McDonald’s traffic-building all-day breakfast launch in 2015. In another sign of the times the annual trends forecast by Andrew Freeman & Co., a San Francisco-based restaurant and hospitality consulting firm, named the breakfast sandwich the “dish of the year” for 2017.
“You see the trend of all-day breakfast everywhere,” says Mike Chissler, chief operating officer of Holler & Dash Biscuit House, a fast casual breakfast-and-brunch concept featuring Southern biscuits, premium drip coffee and cold brew and nitro coffee on draft. Now with five locations, Holler & Dash was launched by Lebanon, Tennessee-based Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. in 2015.
“Having a nice biscuit sandwich with a fried egg on it with coffee in the afternoon is not unusual today,” says Chissler. “Back in the day it might have been just the hardcore coffee drinkers who were having that in the afternoon. Now lines are being crossed in both breakfast foods and breakfast drinks, moving across the different dayparts.”
Nitro coffee, made creamy and effervescent with an infusion of nitrogen gas, appeals particularly to Holler & Dash’s millennial guests. “Nitro has finally hit the mainstream,” declares a 2017 trends roundup by Mintel, crediting Starbucks’ rollout of nitro coffee in select stores nationwide.
At Holler & Dash, sales of chilled coffees at lunch and in the afternoon are strong. “People are getting used to having a light snack in the afternoon and a coffee while they are doing some work,” says Chissler. “It’s not the top beverage from noon to 2 p.m., but we sell quite a few of the cold beverages then.”
Although coffee business is concentrated in the morning, it is also significant later. BUZZ 2016 research by Datassential, a Chicago-based market research company, shows that more than a fifth of coffee is consumed in other periods: 5 percent at lunch, 7 percent in the afternoon and 5 percent in both the dinner and late night dayparts.
At Brian’s 24 in San Diego, California, coffee sales perk around the clock, encouraged by a premium house coffee program that dovetails with a broad menu of upgraded diner fare, including breakfast and brunch favorites.
Co-owner and general manager Andrea Epstein and her family opened Brian’s 24 eight years ago to satisfy what they saw as unmet demand for 24-hour restaurant service in the Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego’s dining and entertainment district.
In the first several years of the restaurant’s existence the focus was on perfecting the food, Epstein says. In time the family had an “aha moment” about the coffee, a good but unremarkable diner-style brew. “We woke up one day and realized if we are going to serve an amazing breakfast, we should have amazing coffee too,” says Epstein.
The solution was to develop a house coffee program with a local coffee roaster. They tested several coffees in the marketplace and asked Brian’s 24 patrons to taste and choose from two leading blends. “We did a blind test on Sunday, our busiest brunch day of the week, and found a definitive winner,” says Epstein. That coffee was christened Brian’s 24 House Blend, which also is sold in packages at the restaurant.
The house coffee program at Brian’s 24 has added quality and variety to local coffee options. “We sell a lot of regular coffee at all hours of the day,” Epstein says. “Because we serve breakfast 24 hours, it’s just a natural thing for people to order coffee with their meals.”
“We’re one of the few places that sells good coffee in the middle of the night,” Epstein adds. “People have various reasons for coming in to a restaurant at 3 or 4 a.m. Some have stayed up all night; others have gotten up early to catch a plane or to go to work.”
No longer pigeonholed as an a.m. item, coffee has blossomed into a versatile beverage ready whenever consumers are --- whether the moment is a quick morning trip to the drive-thru window for coffee, a leisurely afternoon break over cold brew or sipping a rich hazelnut latte as a late night treat.