Knowing the busiest days and busiest times of day helps restaurants plan staffing and inventory. Depending on your location and the type of restaurant you have, the busiest periods might vary.
For the restaurant industry as a whole, April through August are the busiest months. The holiday season (November through January 1st) are also typically busy times. Your location is an important factor in determining your busiest periods, however.
More people are out and about during good weather, including both locals and visitors, which is why April through August are generally the busiest months for restauranteurs. Tourism and events such as festivals and parades also increase restaurant traffic. Of course, if your restaurant is near a ski resort, the winter months will be busiest and the months of April through August, unless there is another recreation in the area, will likely be limited to local trade.
Restaurateurs looking to boost sales during slow periods offer services such as takeout and delivery. They may also have seasonal menus, such as hearty soups and stews during winter months, and a selection of lighter fare for the hot days of summer.
Hiring seasonal people can be challenging. Depending on your location, there may not be enough seasonal workers available for hire. It's important to know your business flow so that you can plan to have enough workers and can give each of your workers enough hours to keep them happy.
Thanksgiving and Christmas are the slowest days of the year for restaurants. Most people dine at home on those days with family and friends. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start of the holiday shopping season, is not particularly strong for the restaurant industry as a whole. However, the season surrounding these holidays are typically busy times for restaurants.
David Foralatin, vice president and food industry advisor for the NPD Group, a market analysis firm, says that the holiday season can be a boon for restaurants. In 2019, nearly half of consumers surveyed planned on giving gift cards or an "experience" rather than a tangible gift. Offering food and beverage gift cards and gift certificates is a way to boost restaurant revenues, particularly when coupled with special offers.
Mondays and Tuesdays are traditionally the slowest days of the week for restaurants. Some restaurants close one or both of these days. It may cost more to keep the restaurant open than is offset by money taken in.
Daily specials can boost traffic on slow days. Dave Sobelman, owner of three pub and grill restaurants in the Milwaukee area, advertises Wing Wednesdays on table tents placed to catch the eyes of customers on busy weekends. His pub menus encourage customers to ask about daily specials.
In addition to daily specials, some restaurants successfully use limited-time offers, loyalty programs and promotions to increase traffic flow on slow days. Examples of such promotions include Olive Garden's All-You-Can-Eat Pasta bowls, Panera Bread's loyalty points for free food and bakery items, and Applebee's Two-for-$20 meal deal.
Peak and off-peak times vary by day of the week as well as local demographics. For example, restaurants that serve breakfast may see single diners from 6 to 8 a.m. during the week, but see couples and families dining together on weekends, having breakfast or brunch at mid-morning. Fast-food restaurants are typically busiest at lunchtime. Older Americans often prefer to eat dinner early, while young people more frequently dine late.
During peak days and times, restaurateurs may not have trouble attracting enough patrons, but boosting sales during off-peak times can be challenging. Here are some proven strategies to try:
- Happy hour or drink specials
- Variable pricing, such as early bird specials or 2-for-1 appetizers
- Small portions or "light bite" options
- Special events, such as a wine or cheese tasting