Allison Perlik reports at Restaurants & Institutions that the New American Diner Study offers operators a peek into what consumers look for at their morning meals. 

Breakfast sales at restaurants declined 3.4% from 2007 to 2009, reports Chicago-based market-research company Mintel, but the daypart still is expected to post 13% growth from 2009 to 2014. As competition heats up for diners’ morning-meal dollars, data from R&I’s 2010 New American Diner Study offers valuable insights into customers’ habits and what they want from restaurants at breakfast.

How often do Americans eat breakfast from a full-service or quick-service restaurant on weekdays? 9.4% say they do so always or often, 24.3% say they sometimes do and 66.3% say they never do.

More dine out for breakfast on weekends: when 16.5% do so always or often, 33% do sometimes and 50.4% rarely or never. Asians, blacks and Hispanics much more likely than whites to go out for breakfast on both weekdays and weekends.

What would make diners more likely to eat breakfast at a restaurant on weekdays? Consumers offer the following as their top-five incentives: lower prices (42.4%), discounts for frequent/loyal customers (20.9%), more-convenient locations (19%), faster service (17.1%) and more time to stop (16.5%). Expressing the most interest in loyalty-based discounts are Gen Y and Hispanic diners, residents of the Western United States and diners with children.

It’s not the economy … Only 3.1% of diners who say they’re eating away from home less frequently because of the economic downturn name breakfast as the dining occasion on which they’ve cut back most (36% said dinner, 36.8% said “all occasions”).

Quick- or full-service? It depends on the day. During the week, fast-food establishments are by far the top choice for all age groups, with 48.9% naming QSRs as their top breakfast destination. Unsurprisingly, Gen Ys and Gen Xers are most enthusiastic about fast-food breakfasts; matures and boomers are much more likely than their younger counterparts to say they usually choose full-service family or casual-dining restaurants at breakfast on weekdays. On weekends, full-service family restaurants take the lead: 32.5% say they most often visit these operations. QSRs, casual-dining restaurants and fine-dining operations are the top choice for 25.9%, 8.1% and 9.2% of diners, respectively.

Chains win out over independents. Asked where they’re more likely to dine out for breakfast on weekdays-at a chain or at an independent restaurant-69.7% say a chain; 30.3% say an independent. On weekends, chains lose some ground, with only 54% of diners saying they choose them. Among demographic groups, younger diners and Southerners are more likely to patronize chains; Northeastern residents are more likely to head to an independent establishment. The groups most likely to choose chains are Gen Y, Asians, Southerners and single diners.

Breakfast of champions? Breakfast sandwiches (52.5%) by far are the most popular food choice for weekday breakfasts at restaurants, in particular among Gen Y diners, blacks, Southerners, single diners and diners with children. Pancakes, preferred especially by matures, blacks and Hispanics, rank second at 30.9%. Muffins, doughnuts and other sweet baked goods are a top choice for only 15.9% of consumers.

 Read the entire study: R&I’s 2010 New American Diner Study