Inflation-weary consumers are snacking less often

Technomic's Take: Restaurant traffic during the snacking daypart plunged last year. How should operators prepare once diners come back?
restaurants snacking
Customers are getting snacks from restaurants less often. How should operators prepare? / Photograph: Shutterstock.

Technomic's Take

I always say that the best thing about being an adult is having snacks for dinner. Chips and salsa, followed by some pita chips and hummus. Go ahead, throw in a few cubes of cheese. How about some crackers?  No one cares, you’re an adult. If you’re at home and feeling fancy, break out that cutting board and slap it all on there with a few grapes. Voila! A charcuterie.  

But what if you’re a normal person and most enjoy your snacks in between meals?  Are consumers still popping into restaurants for a midday treat?

High inflation and rising menu prices are causing consumers to alter to their restaurant behavior, with quick-service restaurants seeing the largest declines in real sales in 2022.  However, there has not been a universal decline in traffic across dayparts.

Every week, Technomic surveys 500 consumers to track metrics for past-week visits to over 100 restaurant chains, including by daypart. When looking across dayparts, snack occasions experienced the steepest decline in year-over-year traffic for limited-service chains.

The significant decline in snacking occasions (down 10% compared to December 2021) coupled with only a slight decline in lunch and dinner visits tells us that consumers have been cutting out “extras” or indulgences as a way to curb spending, rather than sacrificing lunch and dinner occasions.

With inflation forecasted to ease in 2023, I expect to see the snacking daypart slowly bounce back, but not as quickly as it declined. High prices are here to stay, so until consumers adjust their expectations and get used to the higher cost of eating out, and real wages tick upward, we’re unlikely to see immediate and dramatic shift in away-from-home snacking habit. Instead, there will be a more gradual return to away-from-home snack occasions over the next couple years as the current economic environment normalizes and people allow the joy of a midday treat back into their lives.  

Although consumers may not currently be going to restaurants for a snack in between meals as much as they used to, doesn’t mean that restaurant operators should cut back on smaller-portioned, snack-sized items from the menu or forget about off-hour promotions. Operators can position snack-sized portions as appetizers, side items or small-plate shareables with price points that are more appealing on a pure cost basis to consumers who don’t want to cut out core meal occasions but are also watching their wallets. To boost incremental sales and traffic, operators should conduct pricing analysis and figure out how best to maximize revenue by including these items as add-ons to combos or bundle deals, especially as value has become more important to consumers. Finally, operators should offer off-hour deals to entice customers in at slower traffic times, which is an opportune time to offer meals and entrees, not just snacks, to boost sales and check averages.

Now that I’ve finished my article, I think it’s time to treat myself to a snack, but this time I’m going to leave it to the professionals. My attempt at a charcuterie board is just not cutting it.


Photo by Lori Rakoczy

For more information on pricing and menu research, click here or reach out to Technomic atinfo@technomic.comortechnomic.com. Technomic is a sister company of Restaurant Business. 

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