Snacking is the new way to order at restaurants, saysMintel. According to its "Menu Insights" research, Mintel says restaurant offerings  that contain the descriptors “snack,” “snackable,” or “snacker” have increased by a staggering 170 percent since 2007 and growth is expected to continue as restaurants explore this new trend.

“Snacks are providing a huge opportunity right now for restaurants ranging from quick service to fine dining,” notes Eric Giandelone, Mintel director of foodservice research. “By innovating menus with various snacking options, restaurants can boost sales throughout the day and drive guest traffic during non-peak hours.”

Consumers are more likely to visit restaurants in the early and late afternoon for snacks, the 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. time slot being most popular with 37 percent of Mintel’s respondents. Spending, however, peaks in the early evening. Only 19 percent of respondents purchased snacks from a restaurant between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m., but the average amount spent is $4.26 per person versus only $3.79 across all other time periods.

“Snack options need to be appropriate for the time frame,” adds Giandelone. “Heartier and pricier fare may have more appeal later in the day, while light options may work best in the morning or early afternoon.”

Mintel says the majority of snackers (64 percent) look for a beverage when snacking, whereas 61 percent opt for something portable. Meanwhile, just over half (52 percent) crave an indulgent snack and 50 percent want something salty to nibble on. Only 32 percent of snackers choose a healthy option, which seemingly contradicts the restaurant industry's health conscious trend.