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Food For Night Owls

At the stroke of midnight, the rules change Cravings take center stage and suddenly, it's customized snacks, breakfast burritos and milkshakes for everyone.

TREND: Late Night Pub-Fare Snacks

Late night studiers, partiers and college staff working late have all become “regulars” at the Crossroads, a 24-hour operation at the University of Oklahoma.

“They are studying until about 1 a.m.,” says Kevin Barker, director of retail operations, “And then we get the party crowd when the bars let out at 2 a.m.”

Crossroads' menu has evolved as Barker and the staff got to know their night owls.

“They want something different, and are also okay with higher price points.” Barker says.

Indulgent bar-food-style fried appetizers like mozzarella sticks and jalapeno poppers on a platter are menu stars. Just the thing to cap off a night on the town, Barker says, adding that he's found that food inhibitions are lowered for most customers after a certain hour.

“They figure, ‘It's been a long day; I deserve a treat.’ We started doing milkshakes awhile ago, and although they never sold very well during the day, at night, they are a big seller,” he adds.

TREND: A Healthier Night Shift

In April, a new 24-hour café, the Atrium, opened at Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, PA. Healthier fare is the focus, says Director of Foodservices Steve Cerullo.

“All menu items are exclusive to the Atrium,” Cerullo says, adding that there is another venue that is open until 2 a.m. on the opposite end of the campus (that venue has been around for a longer time, and features a rotating menu and grab-and-go items). A hot cereal bar, with oatmeal or other hot grain, is always open at the Atrium, and features healthful toppings, including a hot fruit topping.

Egg-white breakfast sandwiches made using lower-calorie breads and thinly sliced bagels with a variety of house-made cream cheeses are becoming late-night favorites, Cerullo says.

An upscale salad bar is one of the increasing 24-hour choices for third-shift workers at Huntsville Hospital, Huntsville, AL. Throughout the night, workers can find fresh fruit, cottage cheese, soups and much more, says Becky Lochner, retail manager. Night workers' biggest concerns have been the availability of healthy food and more variety on the menu, she says.

“We are in the process of giving third-shift workers a menu with more variety so they are not the ‘forgotten few’ who do not get the same choices that others have during the crowded lunch period,” Lochner adds.

TREND: Breakfast 24/7

“Breakfast is 24 hours for students, but at night they like to customize their breakfast more than ever,” Barker says. The breakfast burritos at OU have add-ons available, like bacon, sausage, ham, onions, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers and potatoes.

TREND: Partying Into the Night

At the University of Richmond, a pub called The Cellar is the place to be for late-night fun. Night crawlers can find live entertainment, a big-screen TV and karaoke. Open during the school year Thursday and Friday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. and Saturday through Wednesday 5 p.m. to midnight, The Cellar bills itself as “the place to gather with friends, have a snack, a cold beverage, or a full dinner.”

The Cellar's menu is extensive, offering snacks like quesadillas, but also devoting a section to the “mini” trend called “The Land of Minis,” which features mini cheeseburgers, buffalo burgers, crab cakes and pulled pork BBQ. The Cellar also offers full-size entrees on the menu, like Chicken Parmesan and Blackened Chicken Alfredo. There is also a takeout menu for those who “want to take the party back to their rooms,” says Cindy Stearns, assistant director in charge of marketing and special programs.

Aside from the great menu, the entertainment value of The Cellar is undeniable. A couple Fridays per month during the past school year, some local rock bands played, and in February, a bossa nova act took the stage. “Karaoke is very popular, and whenever there are big games, people gather around the big screen,” Stearns says.

TREND: Branded Concepts

A branded concept at an onsite location can be a good way to feed night owls. Parkland Memorial Hospital, Dallas, TX, opened the UFood Grill, a fast-casual concept with healthier versions of late-night favorites. Until 1 a.m., hospital workers and visitors who are up late can sample the baked “UnFries” and burgers.

At Duke University, Durham, NC, among many late-night venues, there is a 24-hour McDonald's in the school's Bryan Center, and also two hot dog concepts that are open until 4 a.m.

The Geisinger Health System has partnered with Peet's Coffee and offers a wide variety of coffee drinks for night owls.

TREND: Customized Just for Me

Something about being awake during the wee hours makes customers' individuality come out. Customizeable menu items are a great way to add interest to late-night menus.

Late night customers at OU feel especially nurtured when offerings are custom-made just for them, something that late-night hours often offer the flexibility to do. The Philly Cheesesteak turns into the “Philip Cheesesteak,” the kind of treat the regulars crave because without a lot of extra cost or effort, it's tailored to them.

Supervisor Philip Laizure adds a personal touch to each sandwich, taking one look at a weary nighttime warrior and say, “I know what you want.” He tucks banana peppers, bacon, mushrooms and more into his lovingly crafted sandwiches.

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