A McDonald's in Palmetto, Fla. By Brian Blanco, for USA TODAY
Ronald McDonald is concocting a new way to lure folks in during the middle of the night: serve dinnerand breakfast.
While the world's biggest fast-food company declines to discuss any formal plans, this month, an unspecified number of its 24-hour restaurants in the U.S. will begin serving a limited combination of breakfast and dinner items between midnight and 4 a.m., the company said in a statement on Wednesday.
"Our customers want convenience around the clock," the statement says.
After many months of testing its so-called "After Midnight" menu, the move appears to indicate the company is serious about its push into late-night snacking.
Customers will not only be able to get Big Macs and Chicken McNuggets, but also Egg McMuffins and hot cakes. Folks also will be able to mix and match from the two menus, say, hash browns with a Quarter Pounder or french fries with a Sausage McMuffin. All McCafe beverages and dessert items will also be on the late menu.
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For McDonald's, whose U.S. sales have been a bit wobbly in the past year, it's all about boosting business in tough times. While the national economy might be on the rebound, lower-income consumers - who are critical to McDonald's bottom line - are not quickly returning to fast food eateries. Unable to raise menu prices, McDonald's is now trying to attract new customers by offering something most major fast food chains don't: late-night breakfast munchies.
"It's indicative of how competitive things are," says Scott Hume, founder of BurgerBusiness.com, which reported some details of the After Midnight menu plans on Wednesday. "All the chains are struggling to get their numbers up. "
The late-night menu isn't about McDonald's making a move into all-day breakfast anytime soon, says Hume. That would require major equipment upgrades and massive retraining, because grills at McDonald's simply don't have enough space to handle full breakfasts and dinners at the same time.
By limiting the After Midnight menu to a few "best of" products, Hume says, "McDonald's may have found a way to keep everyone happy -- at least from midnight to 4 a.m."
Most Jack in the Box and Sonic restaurants serve breakfast all day; Burger King does not nationally, and Wendy's has been unable to successfully nail breakfast.
The After Midnight menu also is expected to appeal more to Millennials, who typically like to eat what they want, when they want. McDonald's says it's already in North Delaware and College Station, Texas. It's also been tested in parts of Ohio and Southern California. Hume says it's also in Rockford, Ill., northwest of Chicago.