As more employees return to the office and make their daily commute, fast food chains are ramping up promotions and loyalty programs in an effort to make fast food breakfast part of their morning routine.
“Breakfast is the most lucrative part of the day,” says Lauren Silberman, restaurant analyst at financial services firm Credit Suisse. According to a study by Credit Suisse, McMuffins, Baconators and a plethora of coffee mixes and donuts helped boost fast food breakfast sales by $35 billion in 2020. The researchers also found that breakfast contributed to more repeat business than any other part of the day.
While the breakfast business still hasn’t returned to pre-pandemic levels, “it bounced back faster than other meals,” Zilberman said. “Really amazing how strong the breakfast was.”
Even as millions of workers continued to work remotely and children only partly returned to in-person activities, attendance at fast food restaurants is up 11% in 2021, according to the National Restaurant Association, an industry trade group.
Peyton Willams, a banker from Palestine, Texas, can take some credit for this. For the past two years, Williams, 31, has been eating breakfast at one of three fast food restaurants near his office in Tyler. When he’s short on time, he takes McGriddle to McDonald’s. If there are too many people in the diner, bacon, egg and cheese for cookies at Dairy Queen or burritos at Sonic.
“I can go without eating another fast food meal, but gosh, some of the breakfast items are fantastic,” William said. Fast food breakfasts “Obviously they cook faster, but I mean an egg is an egg. If they boiled an egg to put on your food, they churned the egg to put it on your food.”
Not to stop there, many large fast food chains have invested in technology that can reduce wait times at the checkout. They also stepped up reward programs and special offers for customers who download their apps, which have become key promotional tools. McDonald’s, for example, offers coffee, hot or iced, in any size for 99 cents. But it must be ordered through the application. Branded apps not only improve efficiency by allowing customers to order ahead of time; they also produce a steady stream of data, making it easy for restaurants to feed them a steady stream of targeted promotions.
Smaller players such as Taco Bell and convenience stores including 7-Eleven and Wawa are also looking to take over the breakfast market with inexpensive breakfast sandwiches, two-for-one deals, and coffee discounts.
“Competition at breakfast is fiercer than ever,” said R. J. Hottovy, head of analytics research at point of sale analytics firm Placer.ai.
McDonald’s, credited with putting fast food on the map more than 50 years ago when it introduced the Egg McMuffin, still owns the morning breakfast, with about 27% of customer traffic, according to consulting firm Technomic.
But the competition is picking up. After several setbacks, Wendy’s reintroduced its morning menu in March 2020 with biscuit sandwiches, fresh eggs and breakfast bacon: sausage, bacon, fried eggs and two layers of cheese doused with cheese sauce on a bun.
This story first appeared on NBCNews.com.