May 14, 2024 - Business

Let's do lunch — but not 'til the weekend

Three slope charts that show the change in weekly share of restaurant transactions from 2019 to 2023 nationwide compared to select cities. The weekly share of weekday lunch transactions dropped from 21% to 18%, while happy hour transactions was virtually the same and weekend transactions rose from 30% to 34%.
Data: Square; Chart: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Our restaurant spending is shifting from weekday lunch hours to the weekends, per new Square data.

Why it matters: It's a reflection of pandemic behavior changes — and an important insight for restaurants as they continue adapting to survive and thrive.

By the numbers: Weekday lunch's share of overall restaurant transactions fell nationally from about 21% in 2019 to 18% in 2023, based on data from food and drink establishments using Square.

  • By contrast, the weekend's share grew from about 30% in 2019 to 35% in 2023.
  • Happy hour transactions were nearly flat: 7% in 2019 and 8% in 2023.

How it works: Square, which makes payments processing tech, defines the "weekday lunch" period as 11am-2pm, the "weekend" as all day Saturday and Sunday, and "happy hour" as weekdays between 4-6pm.

What they're saying: "There's a perception that consumers are cutting back at restaurants, when in fact total spending has increased. The bigger change is in consumer behavior," Square research lead Ara Kharazian said in the company's new report.

  • "Before COVID, consumers were going out more during the week to eat lunch by their office and grab drinks after work. Now with remote work, restaurant spend has shifted to the weekend and we now see that weekend traffic is at its peak."

Zoom in: The phenomenon is especially pronounced in some cities struggling to revive their downtowns.

  • In Boston, for example, weekday lunch's share of restaurant transactions was down about 10 percentage points in 2023 compared to 2019, while weekend transactions were up about 10 percentage points.

The bottom line: See you at brunch.

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