The Red Door in Chicago sells $3 tamales for the late-night crowd.
Focusing on the conventional breakfast, lunch and dinner dayparts may have made sense in the past, but plenty of evidence suggests that restaurant customers crave more flexibility than those schedules permit. The number of people who sit down for breakfast, lunch and dinner at approximately the same time each day is dwindling, and savvy restaurant operators are working out how to serve them better.
Snacking, as our collective waistlines indicate, has become a national pastime. More than half of Americans told Packaged Facts researchers that they snack two or three times a day. Millennials are probably the segment driving growth in snacks and smaller meals, which are integral to their lifestyle.
Another major influence on how Americans manage their time is the 24/7 availability of the Internet and television programming. People can and do stay up until all hours, and that behavioral change has helped spurred expansion of 24-hour supermarkets, drug stores, health clubs and other businesses.
Restaurants are responding to these demand creators in a variety of ways. Quick-service operators have claimed the snacker audience with extended hours and quick-bites menus, but the field is still open for full-service restaurants.
Dealing with staffing and kitchen logistics can be an issue, but many markets can support a thriving late-night trade. Think bar hoppers, show-goers, concert fans and video game aficionados with the munchies.
Scott’s in Costa Mesa, CA, offers half-off small plates and specialty cocktails, $5 wine and $3-$5 craft beers during its “late night happy hour” on weekends. Red Door, a new neighborhood spot in Chicago’s Bucktown area, serves tamales from 10 p.m.-2 a.m. The $3 tamales are stuffed with exotica such as bulgogi pork and kimchi, corned beef and cabbage, buffalo chicken, duck a l’orange and chicken cordon bleu. Signature salted popcorn in flavors like espresso, truffle, roasted garlic and spicy curry are offered free.
Extended happy hours, with their partylike atmosphere and small-plates focus, are another solution. Cleveland’s Noodlecat promotes two daily happy hours (3-7 p.m. and 9-11 p.m.) and all-day Sunday happy hour prices to bring in guests. The menu lists small portions of noodles and salads for $5, along with $2 steamed buns and discounted beer, cocktails and sake. In Tacoma, WA, Pacific Grill does an all-day, every day happy hour, with half-off an extensive menu of bar snacks, dips and other grub. Those $12 Rob Roys and $9.50 Negronis likely more than make up for the food cost.