CHICAGO — The early bird continues to get the worm as breakfast was the most important meal for restaurant traffic in August, according to data from market research firm The NPD Group.

The study found restaurant traffic for breakfast grew 4% over the month, compared with August 2021, and reached levels within 1% of pre-pandemic traffic.

Quick-service restaurants (QSR) were by far the most popular breakfast spots, a growing trend especially among Gen Z, and accounted for nearly 87% of restaurant breakfast traffic. Overall traffic levels for QSR breakfast grew 5% in August 2022 versus August 2021, and last month’s visits were up 1% compared with August 2019 levels.

“Breakfast at restaurants was adversely affected in the early stages of the pandemic, and it’s recovering now that more consumers have returned to more out-of-the-home routines,” said David Portalatin, food industry adviser at NPD. “Breakfast is an important daypart for the US restaurant industry, and it’s encouraging that consumers have found new reasons and ways to get breakfast away from home.”

The primary drivers behind the QSR growth were gourmet coffee and tea restaurants, followed by hamburger QSRs. Visits to QSR coffee and tea shops grew 20% compared with August 2021 and 15% compared with August 2019, while QSR hamburger visits only increased 4% compared with levels during the same month last year.

Breakfast sandwiches appear to be a consumer favorite, representing 37% of all QSR breakfast orders in August. Breakfast sandwich sales also have increased well above pre-pandemic numbers, up 4% from August 2021 and up 14% from August 2019.

Coffee was by far the most popular breakfast beverage in August and was included in 52% of all QSR breakfast order. Compared with August 2021, coffee servings increased 11%.