Feb 21, 2024 - News

The slow return of late-night eats to the Triangle

A clock where the hands have been replaced with knives

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

The pandemic made us early birds when it comes to eating out, and many restaurants have scaled back their hours in response.

Why it matters: Rising inflation and the effects of COVID-19 reoriented the restaurant industry, giving diners fewer late-night bite options.

  • But pandemic-related staffing shortages have improved somewhat and the economy appears to be avoiding a recession, making some business owners a little more confident in keeping their kitchens open late.

Driving the news: This week, for the first time since 2020, Alley Twenty Six in Durham began offering hot food until 2am, owner Shannon Healy told Axios, after customers kept requesting it.

  • Healy restarted the late-night menu because "our belief now is that the market is there for it."

Yes, but: Healy says it remains a risky proposition for any business — and it's helped Alley Twenty Six that other nearby spots, like Queeny's and The Velvet Hippo, have extended their late-night hours, too.

  • Prospects, a new upscale diner in Raleigh's Glenwood South, also plans to add a late-night menu, with chef Alex Ricci bemoaning how many people in the food industry were forced to eat fast food after their shift.
  • "I was tired of my friends telling me they were waiting in the Cook Out line late at night, so I decided to do something about it," Ricci told Axios earlier this year.

What happened: The pandemic hasn't ended for most restaurants, Healy said. Many still have debt from taking on loans to stay open and inflation has made some diners wary of eating out.

  • Many restaurants are still recovering financially and can't afford to have extra workers standing around in the hopes late-night diners will arrive.
  • And most of a restaurant's previous night owls have simply stopped their habits after the pandemic.

What they're saying: "The people that are out later now are the younger set — the 20-somethings," Healy said. "All of those people in their 30s, 40s and 50s, myself included, are doing earlier things now."

  • "The 20-somethings are kind of back, but they're not the same customers we had before," he said.
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