Date Published (3.20.24)
Read Time 0 Min
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Evolving beyond meals in favor of snacking

Breakfast, lunch, dinner—it’s something we’ve all grown up with and quite frankly never really questioned, until now. As modern lives continue to evolve, so do the traditions we adapt to. Turns out, the concept of eating three “square” meals a day stems from—like most modern-day traditions—the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution. The normalization of working hours led to one meal for pre-work energy, followed by a midday break and opportunity to refuel, and finally, the family meal spent together upon returning home. These rituals were only solidified through the 1950s with the invention of classics like cereal, sliced bread, and microwave meals—even the lavish dinner party growing into its own phenomenon.

In 2023, however, we’re seeing more snacking throughout the day and less dedicated meal times. Blame it on the sheer amount of options available, the lack of boundaries between work time and personal time, or simply on the desire to start eating intuitively—either way, snacks are becoming a quick and efficient alternative to meal time. Gen Zs and Millennials, feel far more satisfied eating only when they’re hungry, opting for whatever sounds good in the moment—cue the recently trending “girl dinner”—rather than setting a scheduled time to eat a more traditional meal. So what does this mean for the food industry, and Quick Service Restaurants (QSR) in particular? A few key players like Popeyes and Sonic have already successfully capitalized on snack-centered-trends with “Happy Hour” deals and exclusive “Girl Dinner” menus, proving that with some creative considerations and special offerings, any QSR can satisfy their consumers’ snack-sized cravings.

While Millennials may have been raised on the “Happy Meal” and burger-and-fries combo, continuing to promote value meals like this probably isn’t going to scratch their current itch. Instead, QSR brands can tap into snacking culture by introducing new snack-sized menu items, or even offer an entire snack menu. It’s more than likely that there are already a slew of items on the “sides” menu that younger generations are gravitating towards, so most brands are already off to a good start. Plus there are plenty of ways to incentivize customers to keep “snacking” their days away—whereas most deals and discounts in the QSR space center around the traditional “value” meal, there is an entire untapped opportunity in offering promotions on snack-sized items, instead. Consider Sonic and their “Happy Hour” promotion: Every day from 2-4pm Sonic offers deals on drinks, making it the perfect time for consumers to stop in, grab a bite, and score a deal. While value offers on big ticket items have traditionally brought in the crowds, a “pick three” deal from the sides menu appeals more to the growing Gen Z and Millennial audience.

We’ve also seen limited-run “snack” items drive a good deal of interest from Millennials and Gen Zs. Consider McDonalds’ Grimace Shake, or Starbucks’ beloved Pumpkin-Spiced-Anything—customers flock to these occasions and the QSR becomes a destination, not just a consideration. Some QSRs have even taken this as not only an opportunity to offer an attractive item, but to offer exclusivity as well. Take the Grimace Shake at McDonald’s for example—this is an item that is only available through the McDonald’s app. Now they’ve piqued the interest of their snack-leaning customers and brought them into the fold of their own native app in the process. A win-win in keeping customers engaged and satisfied.

Photography: Linnea Steves


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