When Taco Bell first introduced its "Fourth Meal" promotional campaign, critics were concerned about adding an additional heavy meal to the already bloated American eating plan. As it turns out, Taco Bell and other restaurants were simply tapping into an established practice known as a night lunch. A night lunch is an additional meal, either dinner or breakfast, generally eaten after 9pm or later. Some night lunches serve as regular dinners or breakfasts for shift workers, but others are consumed by late night party-goers or students holding all-night study sessions.
The notion of a night lunch may not appeal to those who stick to a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner schedule, but sometimes a person may have to eat smaller meals or skip a traditional meal altogether. Several hours after a light dinner, for instance, a night owl may find himself or herself feeling a few pangs of hunger. Ordinarily these pangs can be ignored during sleep, but sometimes the easiest cure is a fourth meal, or night lunch.
Some nutritionists believe that certain people are better served by eating several smaller meals throughout the day instead of three heavy meals at traditional times. A lighter night lunch consumed several hours before bedtime may be better for a person's metabolism than a long fasting period following a traditional dinnertime.
Many 24 hour diners and restaurants anticipate a night lunch crowd by scheduling more employees between the hours of 9pm and 3am, after local nightclubs and other entertainment centers have closed. Crowds of hungry bar patrons and late night movie-goers often end their evenings by frequenting restaurants that serve night lunches or fourth meals. Cruise ships may also offer midnight buffets to their passengers as a form of night lunch.
The popularity of late night meals has prompted many colleges to offer their own 4th meal cafeteria services. Students on a college food plan can use their meal tickets to obtain a night lunch during overnight study sessions. University libraries may also have cafes that serve late night meals, or the school's administrators may contract with an outside franchise to provide 4th meals to campus-bound students.