NEW YORK — Restaurants are using snack foods to strengthen consumer spending by using snacks to entice customers to buy additional foods and beverages, according market researcher Packaged Facts in its “Snack and Dessert Trends in the U.S. Foodservice Market” report.

Overall, the snack and non-alcoholic beverage categories reached $25.7 billion in 2009 with forecasts to drop to $25.4 billion in 2010 and then going back up to $25.8 billion in 2011.

“Snackable foods have caught on at a host of restaurant menus, from McDonald’s to Dairy Queen to Boston Market to The Cheesecake Factory,” said Don Montuori, publisher of Packaged Facts. “Snack foods are the means through which these and other food service players are boosting mid-morning and mid-afternoon sales and are driving guest traffic. Plus, snacks possess upselling potential to higher-priced items and can be incorporated into bundles.”

Packaged Facts said they defined a snack as a small portion of food set in contrast to a larger regular meal, and respondents were given the choice of saying if they had visited a restaurant to obtain breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. Snacks also are known for portability and low price.

Consumers aged 18 to 24 spend the most on snacks and beverages followed by consumers aged 25 to 34. In fact, 60% of respondents said they snack on the go in the car. Those ages 18 to 24 are 27% more likely to snack on the way to activities.