Hey, What Are We Having for Linner?

In Effort to Goose Sales, Chains Concoct New Snacks -- and Mealtimes

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- There's nothing new about midday cravings or late-night binging, but the degree to which fast feeders and casual-dining chains are trying to lure consumers 24/7 has reached belly-busting proportions.

In a bid to boost sales, fast feeders are hawking all manner of menus for the wee hours, midmornings and early afternoons. Chick-fil-A has gone so far as to invent an eating time dubbed "linner" (the time between lunch and dinner). Notably, in sharp contrast to the products marketed for traditional mealtimes, which seem to be getting marginally more healthful, items on these alternate menus are more likely to tip the scales.

"You're seeing 'craveability,' and it's not healthy items that are going to satisfy those impulses," said Darren Tristano, exec VP of Technomic. When revelers are "out late at night drinking, their health concerns get thrown by the wayside."

Michael Polydoroff, director-sales promotion and licensing at Denny's, long a late-night hangout, said that although his chain has been in the segment for 55 years, he has begun to notice "erosion" in sales from the quick-service category. While the competition in late night has been building for five or six years, Mr. Polydoroff said his brand was incited to act when fast feeders began diverting marketing dollars to late night.

He knows his chain will lose out on the value proposition, so Denny's is pitching a way to keep the party going. The chain, which Mr. Polydoroff said makes "no apologies" for catering to inebriated diners, invited some of them to test kitchens late at night to sample "craveable" dishes. The result is a menu meant to stave off a hangover: kettle chips smothered in cheese and sausage, then sprinkled with onions and peppers; mini barbecue cheeseburgers with crispy onions and onion rings; and cinnamon-sugar chips drenched in fruit toppings, hot fudge, white-chocolate chips and whipped cream.

Here are some other chains' off-the-mealtime grid offerings.

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