Your mother always told you breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and doctors would tend to agree: A healthy breakfast provides a high level of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals; energy; and overall better health. That message has been drilled into our heads so often that almost two-thirds of consumers link breakfast with health and believe skipping it is detrimental.
Not that you'll necessarily find such healthy options when you go out to eat. Donuts, pancakes slathered with slabs of butter and syrup, or powdered eggs don't quite rank up there with sliced fruit and cottage cheese, though that's probably available, too.
A java jolt to start the day
Yet quick-and-easy fare also seems to be what most diners are looking for, which is likely why the folks at Technomic find fast-food leader McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) dominates the daypart: It has a 31% market share that contributes 20% toward its $28 billion in global revenues.
The importance of breakfast beyond what your mom intoned, though, and what it can mean to a restaurant's bottom line, hasn't been lost on casual dining chains, either, who've increasingly been targeting the morning meal.
Per capita spending growing almost 8% between 2007 and 2012, such that even concepts that traditionally wouldn't be thought of as a breakfast destination are moving in, including Yum! Brands Mexican food restaurant Taco Bell and burger slinger White Castle.
Breakfast was a $47 billion opportunity in 2013, up 5% from the year before, and the industry watchers at Packaged Facts say we'll see similar growth this year and next, with most of those dollars being spent at limited-service restaurants.
So, with plenty of choices available to consumers, which one gets it right?
You gotta break some eggs to make an omelet
The folks at Market Force Information surveyed the opinions of 6,100 consumers in the U.S. and Canada on their favorite casual dining breakfast restaurant, rating them on a wide range of criteria including food quality, atmosphere, friendly service, value, variety, and kid-friendliness.
Respondents were between 18 to over 65 years of age, and about three quarters of whom were women. Approximately 70% were married, 40% had children at home, and they mostly had household incomes north of $50,000 a year. Not surprisingly, their choices for their favorites scored highest if food quality was tops.
The top-ranking restaurant not only got the highest marks there, but it also had an inviting atmosphere, while the next highest also scored best when it came to offering fast service. At the bottom of the list, it didn't help that the restaurant offered the best value. Good prices apparently can't make up for failings in the other categories.
With these factors in mind, go ahead, take your best guess...
The customer's favorite casual-dining restaurant
If you said Waffle House or Bob Evans Farms (NASDAQ:BOBE), good job! These were the second- and third-place favorites and just missed out on coming out on top. Bunched up a little ways below them were Perkins Restaurants, Village Inn, the DineEquity pancake house IHOP, or Denny's.
However, if you said Mimi's Cafe, go ahead and take a bow.
The French-themed Mimi's Cafe is a chain of 145 restaurants sprawled across 24 states in the south and southwest that had been acquired by Bob Evans Farms in 2004, but was subsequently sold last year to a French bakery and restaurant operator.
In its last full year with Bob Evans (2012), Mimi's generated $366 million in revenues, down almost 4% from the year before. Considering it had been in a prolonged same-store sales slump, which was what had caused its then-parent to initiate the divestiture, it's somewhat surprising diners find it to be their top choice.
Same store sales, or comps, are an important retail metric because they gauge how a business is growing organically, unencumbered by store expansion or other artificial means. Bob Evans had paid $103 million for the French cafe chain, plus the assumption of about $79 million in debt. It sold it almost a decade later for $50 million.
Wake up to opportunity
Perhaps what attracts patrons to Mimi's is that it's a full-service restaurant reminiscent of a French chateau, imbuing the charm of a Parisian bistro in your own neighborhood.
Even if researchers today challenge mom's notion that breakfast is the key meal of the day, restaurants will still try to make the most of it, and we'll see more emphasis placed on the daypart. And that means investors may want to start looking here for ideas, too.
Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends McDonald's. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.