Despite total US restaurant traffic being down across dayparts for most of last year and through February 2021, late afternoon and after dinner snack visits — otherwise referred to as the pm snack daypart — have increased, according to The NPD Group.

NPD’s daily tracking of how consumers use restaurants finds that consumer visits to foodservice establishments during this snack period, which ranges from 3-5 pm and 9 pm-5 am, increased by +5% in January and +3% in February compared to same months year ago. The pm snack daypart also gained a 3% increase in share of occasions in the last calendar quarter of 2020 while every other daypart posted declines.

“Because of the pandemic and the disruption of our normal commuting patterns and daily routines, we have more flexibility in deciding when and what to eat, and pm snack is the beneficiary of this fluidity,” says David Portalatin, NPD food industry advisor and author of Eating Patterns in America. “This growing daypart is a clear opportunity for restaurant operators.” 

One of the biggest reasons consumers give for visiting during the pm snack period are the quality of food and desire for a treat. NPD says that more substantial meal offerings, like pizza and burgers, have been performing best during this time.