Like many of us 9-to-5-ers, the restaurant industry lives for the weekend—and Saturday mornings in particular.
According to a new report from Square, Saturday brunch is now restaurants’ busiest daypart by sales, replacing Friday lunch as the industry’s most lucrative period. More than 10% of all dining dollars were spent between 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Saturdays in the second quarter, compared to 8.5% in 2019, Square found in its analysis of data from about 800,000 restaurants.
It’s part of a bigger shift in restaurant traffic from weekdays to weekends coming out of the pandemic. In 2019, restaurants were busiest during lunch on weekdays and peaked around midday Friday. But with more people working remotely, combined with pent-up demand for dining out, weekends are now the prime time to visit restaurants, according to Square.
“With many people continuing to work from home, they’re not going to be spending their money on a soup or salad from the cafe around the corner from the office,” said Ara Kharazian, research and data lead at Square, in a statement. “At the same time, people are still excited about returning to indoor dining, and they’re choosing to spend their dining dollars on weekend mornings instead.”
Brunch is in a unique position to benefit from this shift, being as much of an activity as it is a meal. It caters to large groups looking to celebrate and socialize, often doubling as the capital-E Experience many consumers are after. Booze is usually involved, adding to the fun atmosphere and boosting sales. And it would have been nearly impossible to replicate at home amid pandemic lockdowns, giving it an extra tailwind when restrictions were lifted.
Restaurants themselves are adding to that momentum by rehashing their brunch menus and even offering brunch as an option for the first time, as fast casual Curry Up Now and full service Bonefish Grill have done.
And its growth has been reflected in the success of daytime-dining chains like First Watch and Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, which serve breakfast and lunch only. Snooze’s total sales rose 38% last year, while First Watch’s increased 22%, according to Technomic data. Eggs Up Grill, another competitor in that segment, grew sales 31.6% in 2022.
On the flip-side of that coin is the decline of weekday lunch. While Square’s data shows that it’s still the busiest daypart during the week, sales are significantly lower than they were in 2019, when more people worked in downtown office buildings and depended on nearby restaurants for lunch.
Today, many of those people have not returned to on-site work—at least not every day. According to data from Kastle Systems, the average office occupancy across 10 metro areas at the end of July was about 50%.
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