By Rieva Lesonsky
Have you been to McDonald's lately? To celebrate a unseasonably warm day in February (even here in southern California) I hit the drive-through for an ice cream cone. I mindlessly told the disembodied voice I wanted ice cream, and she asked “What kind?” I was surprised at the question until I looked at the menu board and noticed there were several ice cream options available.
Intrigued by the choices (even though I ordered the cone) I hit my computer and discovered that many fast food restaurants are now adding a variety of desserts to their menus. With the goal of becoming a “dessert destination,” McDonald's started expanding its dessert menu last year.
Of course McDonald's is an industry leader. Other national chains are just now joining the dessert game. Taco Bell recently launched a line of desserts, Burger King offered a variety of holiday desserts a few months ago, Carl's Jr. (also known as Hardee's in some parts of the country) is pushing several kinds of ice cream sandwiches, and Jack in the Box keeps expanding its menu which now includes brownies, cookies, cake, cheesecake and mini-churros (which, by the way, are delicious).
What's driving all this? Consumers are now indulging in “clockless eating,” which means they're willing to eat almost anything any time of the day or night, including dessert. The first manifestation of clockless eating was the breakfast boom. Many restaurants (fast food and others) started serving breakfast foods round the clock. Jack in the Box offers breakfast foods at any time of the day. And McDonald's is considering serving breakfast starting at midnight.
This trend is not likely to go away. Consumers will want these options from small independent restaurants as well as the big chain operations. Consider boosting the dessert selections in your restaurants and adding breakfast items to your menus throughout the day. Also, be sure to make some of these to-go options, since many of these diners aren't looking for a sit-down meal.