This ain't no friendly turf battle. It's an all-out war for customers who love breakfast when they want it, how they want it, with restaurant promotions such as all-day breakfast.
Golden Corral Buffet & Grill, tucked between an Aldi and a Sonic drive-through on Street Road in Bensalem, started testing the concept on June 8.
With a plate of bacon strips, French toast, an omelet, and biscuit, Demetrius Starling dug in just after 8 p.m. on a recent weeknight at the Golden Corral.
"I eat breakfast all the time," said Starling, a home remodeler from Germantown who was sporting an Eagles cap. "It makes no difference what time of day it is."
Golden Corral is the latest American restaurant chain to go this route - Taco Bell has the Waffle Taco, Sonic the French Toaster, and On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina the breakfast burrito.
Mintel Group Ltd., a global market research firm, reports that U.S. sales of breakfast foods at restaurants and other eating places reached $50 billion last year. The forecast for 2015 has sales increasing 4.3 percent to $52.2 billion. While breakfast is the smallest category, it is the fastest growing segment, in part thanks to an aging population that is blurring traditional meal times.
"Work schedules are rather different, and we're not living in a 9-to-5 world as much," said Annika Stensson, director of research communications at the National Restaurant Association. "Our research shows that 72 percent of consumers say they wish restaurants served breakfast items throughout the day."
For some, it reminds them of their childhood.
"I've always done that since I was little," said Jim Krier, a union carpenter from Bensalem, of breakfast at night. "I make eggs and pancakes all the time and offer it as dinner to my kids."
Krier and his family grabbed breakfast items at the all-you-can-eat buffet at Golden Corral.
At 5 p.m., Krier, 35, began with pot roast and mashed potatoes. He returned to the buffet and made a biscuit sandwich with sausage, egg, and cheese, and bacon on the side.
His fiancée, Rebecca Stephens, 25, had pancakes, French toast, scrambled eggs, and a biscuit. Son Xavier, 11, started with pizza before lining his plate with pancakes and French toast. Daughter Laela, 7, had pancakes with syrup.
The total tab for the family of four was $42 - and "well-worth the price for the amount of food we ate," said Krier.
"They should keep [the promotion] going," he said. "It would keep them in competition with other places."
Chris Kuehn, chief marketing officer for Raleigh, N.C.-based Golden Corral Corp., said the eat-or-be-eaten restaurant business was all about expanding market share.
"The guest is who drives all these decisions," Kuehn said. "Quick-service guys are making breakfast available all day long, including Jack in the Box, Bojangles' Famous Chicken 'n Biscuits, Hardee's and Carl's Jr."
Golden Corral, a casual, family dining restaurant that doesn't serve alcohol, shares customers with brands such as IHOP, Cracker Barrel, Denny's, and Bob Evans - all of which serve breakfast all day.
"Our research indicated that breakfast foods are chosen for lunch and dinner at those restaurants on a regular basis," Kuehn said.
Golden Corral tested all-day breakfast in local markets in Oklahoma City and Louisville, Ky., where it did well, before taking it nationally.
It's one price for everything, so for Breakfast weekdays after 4 p.m., you pay $11.99, and on weekends after 11 a.m., you pay $12.99. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, it's $8.99.
"People have been very receptive to it," Kuehn said. "It's value oriented. Since you don't have to pay $2.69 or $3.39 [like at other restaurants] for a side of bacon, you can have all the bacon you want."
He said serving breakfast all day was cost neutral for the chain. The price of bacon is near a five-year low, while that of sirloin steak is at a historic high, and that's why a breakfast promotion made more sense now. Steak was also the most expensive during summer grilling months.
Another factor: "The summer is a time when family schedules are not as well-defined," Kuehn said. "Families are on the move. Kids are out of school and sleeping in later."
But the competitive pressure with casual dining brands is intense year-round. "We compete with Applebee's, Olive Garden and Red Lobster," he said, chains that currently don't serve breakfast.
"In the restaurant industry, there is a massive share battle," Kuehn said. "People are after my customers; we're going after theirs. Everyone is working hard to steal from each other."
Brian Vecchione, of Boothwyn, Delaware County, was unaware the breakfast promotion started when he recently arrived at 5:30 p.m. at the Golden Corral. He filled his plate with a Western omelet with extra cheddar and Swiss cheese.
For "dessert," he grabbed three pieces of French toast and two blueberry pancakes and drenched them in hot pecan syrup topped with whipped cream.
"I could only get breakfast on weekends, or till 11 a.m. on weekdays," Vecchione, 49, said afterward. "If you come in late, you missed the boat.
"This was quite a treat for me."