All-day Egg McMuffins: Can breakfast finally slip the surly bonds of morning?

McDonald's all-day breakfast has arrived. What's behind the desire of American consumers to eat breakfast out?

Mark Lennihan/AP/File
A McDonald's breakfast is arranged for an illustration at a McDonald's restaurant in New York. McDonald's Corp begins offering all-day breakfast across the United States on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015.

An Egg McMuffin after 10:30? For many consumers, it's just become a reality.

After months of testing in markets across the country, McDonald's began its all-day breakfast menu Tuesday Oct. 6 at more than 14,300 restaurants nationwide. The change is prompted in party by a long-term shift in American work schedules, which is reflected by changes in eating habits. 

Last month, the company said all-day breakfast “is likely the number one request” from customers. In the past year, more than 120,000 people have tweeted McDonald’s asking for breakfast throughout the day.

With this move, the company is hoping appease customers who are demanding for breakfast to be served all day, while at the same time launching new offerings to reverse three years of sales declines in the United States.

Serving breakfast all day while remaining quick and consistent is, however, a problem for many restaurants, writes Emily Byrd for QSR Magazine.

For instance, even though McDonald’s declared "It's time for breakfast on your terms," the menu is limited to just nine items – Egg McMuffin, Sausage McMuffin with Egg, Sausage Burrito, Sausage McMuffin, Hash Browns, Hotcakes, Hotcakes and Sausage, Fruit & Maple Oatmeal, and Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait – and items available vary by location, the company explained.

The all-day breakfast menu offer comes amid intensifying competition in the breakfast category,  Taco Bell launched a breakfast menu last year, and Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, and Subway have also taken large wedges of market share from the fast food breakfast pie, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

America is shifting to an all-day breakfast society. According data from the NPD Group breakfast visits jumped 5 percent in the year ended in June, and the total morning meal visits are forecast to grow by 7 percent over the next nine years. 

“Breakfast continues to be a bright spot for the restaurant industry as evidenced by the number of chains expanding their breakfast offerings and times,” Bonnie Riggs, NPD’s restaurant industry analyst says.  “A restaurant morning meal serves a variety of needs. In addition to helping us jump start our day, it satisfies the need for convenience, is less costly than other restaurant meals, and is readily available to us.” 

So how did we become a nation of all-day breakfast eaters?

It all has to do with the switch to urban, factory-driven lifestyles, that transformed people’s work schedules, and thus their eating habits, Jessica Mendoza reported for the Monitor.

Unable to go home in the middle of the day for the traditional noon “dinner,” for instance, Americans began packing quick, easy lunches – sandwiches, pies, biscuits – saving the evenings for sit-down, family-oriented affairs.

“It’s not the meal that shapes work,” Abigail Carroll, food historian and author of “Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal” told “It’s the work that shapes the meal.”

“As our lifestyles have shifted, so have our morning routines,” Nielsen reports. “The trends that are driving Americans' desires to be plugged in and productive are also driving the way they fuel up at the start of each day.”

“With the increasingly busy lifestyles we lead today, consumer interest is definitely stemming from the blurring of normal meal periods,” Annika Stensson, director of research communications at the National Restaurant Association, told food industry publication QSR. “Who doesn’t like some good pancakes, no matter what time of day it is?”

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