Topping off Consumer Satisfaction

Americans are fascinated by food. Everyone needs it and many of us are obsessed with it. We discuss it, take pictures of it and make celebrities out of our chefs. And it’s because of this love affair that we should have seen the inevitability of all-day breakfast coming years ago.

All the signs were there: years of dashboard dining, clockless days and being fed from drive-thru windows led Millennial children to expect to eat what they wanted whenever they wanted. And when those children grew up and overtook Boomers as the largest U.S. demographic, it was a given that restaurants would need to make changes to attract them. It’s one of those changes that will be the focus of this article – we’ll leave Instagram and rock star chefs for another time.

Offering breakfast – or something like it – all day, is one change that’s showing up at operations up and down the menu spectrum. Although all-day breakfast has been embraced by a growing number of chains, according to Datassential’s 2016 Keynote Report on breakfast only a quarter of operators offer breakfast beyond lunch. That’s where creative operators found other ways of spreading breakfast satisfaction throughout the day: they’re putting eggs on everything.

Topping Off Profits

Egg toppings generally come as an option for an upcharge or are included in a dish’s description. Late 2016 Technomic research shows fried eggs are the most common style used as an add-on option, having risen 6.8 percent in incidence over the past 12 months. A perfect example of eggs as an option is found in Chili’s new 2017 Winter menu, which includes three separate suggestions to “plus up” an order by adding a fried egg to any of the chain’s Craft Burgers, steaks or enchilada dishes for an extra dollar.

Dishes described as including an egg topping arguably began with burgers or as a dressing replacement on salads, but offering the craveability of eggs has graduated into a wide variety of items on daypart-blurring menus. Dishes like the following are found far beyond the breakfast menu including in appetizer, lunch, happy hour and dinner sections:

  • Avocado Boat: charred avocado, Brussels sprout dust, soft poached eggs, smoked salmon, balsamic, fresh herbs (Dolce Pane E Vino, Rancho Santa Fe, Cal.)
  • The SXSW: large bowl of jalapeño cheese grits topped with spicy pulled pork, fried egg, fresh tomatoes, sweet corn, pickled jalapeños and cilantro (LTO at Max’s Wine Dive, Austin, Tex., for past four years during the SXSW festival)
  • Wintergreen and Ricotta Pizza: grana, chili flakes and baked eggs (Venturo Osteria and Wine Bar, New York City)
  • Quinoa and Eggs: fall veggies, ginger and scallion topped with poached egg (2016 seasonal LTO at
    Sable Kitchen and Bar
    , Chicago)

An egg topper provides many advantages. It reshapes an old favorite, adds natural, unprocessed protein to vegetarian dishes, and even supercharges the protein quotient of a meat dish. It’s an economical add-on, yet adds silky mouthfeel for an indulgent texture. It’s already in nearly every restaurant’s inventory, so it optimizes ingredients. And if any more motivation is required, operators tell Datassential that egg dishes are both their best-selling breakfast items and the most profitable ones.1 Adding some of that value should increase any menu item’s allure for guests and operators alike.

Half of consumers surveyed (49%) in 2016 by Datassential2 said their reason for choosing breakfast foods during other dayparts was craving a specific food, like eggs. To capitalize on that, operators can easily create breakfast versions of traditional lunch or dinner items. Crowning salads, poutines or sandwiches with eggs increases their craveability and offers new menu options by adding one simple, natural ingredient. Topping foods like pizzas, meal bowls or nachos with eggs and bacon creates an entirely new menu category: in the morning they’re breakfast dishes in a P.M. format and later, they’re pizza, meal bowls or nachos with a fun breakfast twist. These types of items work well on menus of operations not open for breakfast.

So think of either an egg-topped breakfast pizza or a dinner pizza topped with eggs and pancetta. Both describe the same dish and both are delicious, trending and profitable.

1. Datassential’s MenuTrends Keynote Series: Breakfast (November 2016)
2. MenuMonitor; Technomic Inc. Base: Menu offerings across 1,533 Leading and Regional Commercial Restaurants and 251 Non-Commercial operators; including Convenience Stores, Food Trucks, Business and Industry, College and Universities, Hospital, Lodging, Recreation and Retailers

Egging on protein demand

Several consumer impulses are at the root of the continuing growth of foodservice breakfast. Breakfast is generally more economical and just as hearty as other dayparts, and we like affordable indulgences. Inexpensive drive-thru breakfasts fuel us quickly when we’re pressed for time, and we like convenience. But perhaps the most universal reason is that many people view traditional breakfast foods as comforting foods. And is there ever a wrong time for comfort?

Yet habituating us to procuring indulgent, convenient and comforting food in the morning is not the end of the story. These attractions have led us to move later into the day to meet friends at noon for brunch, enjoy mid-afternoon diner breakfasts and pick up late night breakfast sandwiches at a McDonald’s, White Castle or Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru, to name only a few.

Put an Egg On It

With the addition of all-day breakfast to large chain menus, we now have easy availability of relatively traditional breakfast sandwiches, omelets and plates of scrambled eggs whenever we please. That might be a logical end to the story but it’s still not the last chapter.

In answer to consumer demand for cleaner labeled, more natural ingredients, eggs are popping up on all manner of other food items throughout the day. They also fill the consumer desire for higher protein foods. Technomic found that 75 percent of people perceive foods high in protein as being healthier, and 39 percent are willing to pay extra for it*. Since cooks have been topping burgers with bacon for decades, the next logical step was to add an egg to the bacon and call it an All-day Brunch Burger like the one at Applebee’s with seared-in bacon and onion, topped with a fried egg, hash browns and cheese. Adding only the egg takes us a step farther away from being a breakfast item, as in the Big Stack charbroiled burger at Wild Onion in St. Paul, Minn. True to its name, the burger is crowned with ham, summer sausage, smoked Gouda, smoky tomato sour cream and a fried egg.

Add in the versatility of eggs to augment and add dimension to a wide variety of sweet, salty, and savory flavors, and it’s clear why people are ordering egg-topped pizza, burgers, sandwiches, bowls and salads in increasing numbers. Consider the allure of Bacon Jam Fries at Austin’s Peached Tortilla. Combining the bacon jam with green onions, sharp Cheddar, fried egg and chili aioli, it’s a wild symphony for the taste buds. Peached Tortilla also serves a surprising twist on fried rice by topping its Kimchi Spam Fried Rice with a fried egg in addition to the usual scrambled one mixed with shiitake mushrooms, green onions and nori.

But to add a new wrinkle to the story, things ramp up when we look at the newer chains focused primarily on breakfast foods, the ones that are evolving menu items into truly non-daypart specific meals. These chains fall into the regional and emerging chains segments, the places where Technomic reports 48 percent of egg-topping incidence is found*. One of these, San Diego-based Breakfast Republic, serves a Vietnamese Chicken Wing Breakfast Bowl made of sweet and spicy wings over white rice topped with Asian veggies and three eggs, as well as the Breakfast Hot Dogs with smashed house potatoes and topped with two eggs, bacon and green onion. These items are available throughout the day.

According to Technomic research, poached eggs rose 3.9 percent as entrée toppings between 2015 and 2016*. Examples include the poached egg that tops the Sisig and Grits at Buffalo Theory in San Francisco, with pork medley, chilies and onions, chicharrón and cheesy grits; Fabada Asturiana made with pork shank, smoked chorizo, Genesis Growers beans, soft egg and kale found on the dinner menu at Chicago’s Salero; and Avocado Toast with poached eggs and scallion mascarpone at Summer House Santa Monica in North Bethesda, Md.

So the final chapter of this story should offer a retrospective: egg toppings on dishes throughout the day are an affordable indulgence, a convenient way to add protein to any kind of dish and part of the consumers’ view of breakfast food comfort. An egg is an addition that truly lives up to its reputation – Incredible.

* MenuMonitor; Technomic Inc. Base: Menu offerings across 1,533 Leading and Regional Commercial Restaurants and 251 Non-Commercial operators; including Convenience Stores, Food Trucks, Business and Industry, College and Universities, Hospital, Lodging, Recreation and Retailers