Breakfast foods are key players in this age of food on-demand, with delivery and takeout rising to new heights. Busier lifestyles, the growth of smartphone and online commerce and the growing appeal of breakfast dishes are making convenient off-premise options increasingly attractive to consumers.
Foodservice delivery posted gains of 20 percent in delivery sales and 10 percent in delivery visits over the last five years, according to a study this year by The NPD Group. Interestingly, consumers are now so used to ordering delivery that they are ordering it at breakfast and lunch in addition to dinner, historically the most popular delivery daypart, NPD says. In fact, delivery has grown at breakfast and lunch over the past five years while dinner delivery growth has remained flat.
The gains in delivery were supported in large part by the growth of digital ordering, which now represents over half of all delivery visits, NPD notes. Third-party delivery services like UberEats, Grubhub and DoorDash account for much of the digital delivery growth, although 49 percent of all delivery visits are still initiated by phone.
“Convenience is among the chief reasons why consumers visit restaurants and delivery brings a heightened level of it,” says Warren Solochek, NPD senior vice president, industry relations, in a statement. “We forecast that delivery will grow over the next five years and the growth will source to non-traditional delivery outlets and dayparts.”
At Denny’s, the Spartanburg, S.C.-based family dining chain, the Denny’s On Demand delivery and takeout program has been a hit. Since it launched last year, Denny's total off-premise sales have increased roughly from 6 percent to around 10 percent. “We definitely see this as a growth platform for us moving forward,” says John Dillon, Denny’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer. “We’ve seen higher sales and profits.”
In addition to offering online ordering and a Denny’s mobile app, the company is partnering with online delivery provider Olo Dispatch and leading third-party delivery companies such as DoorDash and UberEats. As of late June, delivery was established at 64 percent of the Denny’s domestic system.
The company’s experience underscores the consumer demand for breakfast food delivery. All told, 13 of the top 20 dishes ordered with Denny’s On Demand are breakfast related. Among the most popular items are Build Your Own Grand Slam Breakfast, Dulce De Leche Pancakes and Denny’s breakfast skillets. Dillon notes that not only are breakfast dishes ordered for delivery during breakfast hours, but also in the lunch, dinner and late-night dayparts. “The beauty of our menu is that it is breakfast all day and we see breakfast sold throughout the day,” says Dillon.
At IHOP, the family dining chain based in Glendale, Calif., sales of the IHOP ‘N Go delivery and takeout program have topped seven percent, supported by a mobile app, online ordering and business relationships with DoorDash and other leading third-party delivery companies.
“I don’t think anybody can afford to ignore the off-premise market now,” says Alisa Gmelich, vice president of marketing at IHOP. “Peoples’ lives are so busy, they are using restaurants very differently now.”
Breakfast dishes are the predominant delivery and takeout orders for IHOP, just as they are when patrons dine in. “It’s what sells in our restaurants — the combos, eggs, bacon, hash browns, pancakes, French toast, crepes or waffles,” says Gmelich.
In addition to full breakfasts, IHOP offers some items with enhanced convenience and portability for off-premise consumers. An example is IHOP Signature Pancake Sliders, two silver-dollar-sized buttermilk pancake sliders filled with a scrambled egg omelette, turkey sausage, bacon and American cheese, topped with sweet maple glaze. “They are a really premium version of a breakfast sandwich made with our signature pancakes,” says Gmelich.
Another quick option is IHOP’s Create Your Own Melt, a customizable sandwich made on grilled artisan sourdough bread filled with scrambled eggs, Swiss and American cheese and a choice of ham, bacon, corned beef or fire-roasted poblano peppers and onions.
Breakfast operators agree that one of the keys to breakfast delivery success is refuting the notion that breakfast foods do not travel well. “We knew we had to change the perception,” says Dillon. “In fact, breakfast has proven to travel well and guests are giving it credit for that.”
“Part of that was designing our packaging to help breakfast travel even better, with the venting and separation of foods in the package that has proven successful,” Dillon adds.
IHOP, too, has upgraded its packaging for off-premise orders. “We spent a lot of time on packages that protect pancakes, our signature item, making sure that they stay hot, yet allow steam to get out,” says Gmelich. “Our packaging does a great job maintaining the integrity of our food.”
In San Diego, a new concept in development called Eggies will feature grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches and Mason jars filled with French toast and breakfast tacos. Eggies will be located adjacent to locations of Breakfast Republic, a seven-unit group of breakfast, brunch and lunch spots in the area. Founder and owner Johan Engman sees the new concept as a fast, high-quality breakfast alternative for those who don’t have time to wait in line for tables at his full-service restaurants.
“The busiest Breakfast Republic stores have lines to get in every day,” says Engman. “Many people actually leave because they don’t want to wait. But if the hostess could point them to our sister concept next door which offers breakfast in five minutes, we can capture them rather than send them across the street to another restaurant.”
Eggies will offer six breakfast sandwiches and four breakfast jars. The latter will be prepared in advance and held in a warm water bath ready to take out and eat. The taco jar will feature layers of scrambled eggs, meat, beans and cheese topped with crunchy tortilla chips. The French toast jar will combine brioche bread, strawberries, chocolate and whipped cream. “You can keep the jar or bring it back for a credit toward your next order,” says Engman.
College and university students are among the most fervent convenience seekers in the off-premise food scene. “You have to give students easy grab-and-go options rather than hold them hostage in a dining commons,” says Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining at University of Massachusetts Amherst. “And you have to give them much better food than a soggy sandwich.”
UMass Dining, the largest C&U dining program in the country serving nearly 50,000 meals per day, answers the need for speed and convenience with self-serve breakfast bars modeled after the hot bars of upscale grocers like Whole Foods. “You are looking at same globally influenced menu items and ingredients students would get in the dining commons or in a sit-down retail location, just made ready for quick service,” says DiStefano.
In addition to hot breakfast items, there are fruit cups, Greek yogurts and smoothies available as well. “Those are things that as quickly as you pick them up, you’re out the door with,” says DiStefano.
At Rice University in Houston, breakfast participation has been raised by 30 to 40 percent by promoting freshly cooked breakfast sandwiches and tacos for grab-and-go service as faster, easier alternatives to sit-down breakfasts.
“We studied how students ate breakfast at home when they were growing up and learned that many of them were used to breakfast sandwiches and to-go items,” says Johnny Curet, senior executive chef and campus dining director at Rice. “So we changed our breakfast to include more sandwiches that they could take and run with. They may not have time to sit down for breakfast, but they do have time to get a beautiful breakfast sandwich or taco that is made for them.”
Rice’s breakfast sandwiches are based on high-quality ingredients prepared on the spot by campus chefs, not made in advance. “We cook the eggs fresh and use traditional meats and breads like bagels, biscuits, croissants, English muffins and slider rolls,” says Curet. Cold items like overnight oats and chia pudding are available in cups as well.
“For the students who say they don’t have time to eat in the morning, we make it possible to walk in and walk out with a good breakfast within two minutes, three minutes at the most,” says Curet. “All they have to do is swipe their card to get in and they’re gone really quickly.”