American diners are becoming early birds.
More people are making dinner reservations earlier in the evening than last year, according to an analysis by data firm Placer.ai, and fewer tables are being claimed after 8 p.m.
The phenomenon was brought to the researcher’s attention by Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Hospitality Group and Shake Shack, who posted the following question on X last month: “When did a 6:00 dinner reservation become the new 8:00, most prized table of the night - and will it last?”
To test Meyer’s observation, Placer.ai looked at reservation data from six fine-dining chains—The Capital Grille, Ruth’s Chris, Cooper’s Hawk, Saltgrass Steak House, Fogo de Chao and Eddie V’s. Sure enough, the data showed that reservations were generally growing between 4 and 6 p.m. and shrinking at 8 p.m. and later.
At 30-unit Eddie V’s, for instance, the share of 5 p.m. reservations rose 1.8% year over year from June to August, while the 9 p.m. slot fell off by 1.2%.
And at the Capital Grill, the share of reservations from 4-6 p.m. rose nearly 3 points, from 25.6% to 28.4%, while the 8-10 p.m. window cooled slightly, from 33.8% to 33%.
The data shows that 7 p.m. is still the most popular reservation time overall, although it is ceding ground to earlier hours in many cases.
Meyer had a few theories about why this was happening. He wrote on X that remote work is isolating people, stoking their desire to get out and socialize earlier. He also posited that people want to eat earlier so they can get home and either continue working or stream something on TV.
Placer.ai backed up Meyer’s contention that remote work is affecting dining patterns, but noted that it may have more to do with flexible schedules than consumers’ itch to go out. Because many people are still working from home, they’re not spending the first part of their evenings commuting and are therefore free to dine out earlier.
The firm also suggested that a migration of younger families into urban areas, where many fine-dining restaurants are located, could be driving demand for earlier dinners. Placer.ai data shows for instance that New York City, Chicago and Philadelphia are seeing population increases post-pandemic.
Here’s another possibility: Inflation. Data published in July by InMarket also showed an increase in restaurant traffic from 4 to 7 p.m., which it attributed to consumer demand for happy hour specials as expenses rise. At least four of the six chains analyzed by Placer.ai offer happy hour deals in the early evening.
If the early dining trend continues, it could have implications for restaurant staffing levels and even their hours of operation.
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