Oct 13, 2022 - Business

Downtown Chicago struggling with low Friday foot traffic

Empty outdoor patio

A River North restauarnt on a recent Friday. Photo: Justin Kaufmann/Axios

👋 Hey, Monica here. Last Friday I ventured downtown and learned that the rumors are true.

  • Traffic is easy, street parking is plentiful, and you can eat lunch pretty much anywhere without a reservation.

Why it matters: Thousands of businesses rely on downtown workers' foot traffic, but those workers have returned to only about half of pre-pandemic levels, according to office card swipe data from Kastle Systems.

  • Those levels drop by about half again on Friday, which could mean lasting changes for downtown cultural venues and businesses.
Chart: Axios visuals. Source: Kastle
Chart: Axios visuals. Source: Kastle

By the numbers: Rush-hour CTA ridership has risen 34% over last year, but only Tuesday through Thursday — the highest ridership days.

  • Local workers reserve desk space most on Thursdays and least on Fridays, per office booking platform Robin.

The intrigue: In recent U.S. Census data, Chicago didn't even rank as a Top 10 city for highest percentage of remote workers.

Yes, but: Many in that 80% are still allowed to work remotely a few days a week. And guess which days they pick.

What they're saying: Employees are reshaping "their workweek to be more flexible, supporting a work-life balance of efficiency, well-being, and creativity," Robin co-founder Zach Dunn tells Axios.

  • "As time continues, the teams that prioritize connections, employee experiences and modern workplaces that maximize in-person collaboration will see better outcomes."

Zoom in: These Friday doldrums allowed me to walk right into Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill for a delicious lunch last week with no wait. Great for me, but sad for restaurants.

  • Maybe we can work to change this by planning Friday lunches — even collaborative meetings — at Chicago gems.
Plate of Mexican food with a drink
My scrumptious lunch at Frontera Grill last Friday. Photo: Monica Eng/Axios

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