At the start of 2022, we reported on the changing restaurant landscape and the growing number of restaurants finding success in the suburbs. This is due, in part, to the new hybrid or fully remote workforce that represents a large percentage of people remaining in their suburban oasis instead of traveling to the cities. For many, this translates to venturing into the city only three days a week, Tuesday through Thursday.
There was a time when restaurants could count on Fridays for the after-work rush, a period celebrated in anticipation of the coming weekend. Fridays translated to enhanced profits and a crowd that was at times overwhelming but always appreciated. Now, those same workers are staying home, significantly affecting the restaurant landscape. In fact, according to the latest research, hybrid work is costing businesses billions of dollars a year, and part of those dollars were once relegated to dining and entertainment.
The Hybrid Workforce
According to a recent survey, as of January 2023, only 59% of respondents worked fully onsite. About 28% were in the hybrid workforce, and 12.7% worked remotely. This form of employment was more common in the professional and business services sector as well as tech and finance.
The survey also revealed that large U.S. cities are witnessing significant reductions in spending on those days that work from home is prevalent. New York City topped the charts with a decrease in spending per person at about $4,660 per year. In Los Angeles, Miami, and Chicago, those numbers dropped to around $4,200, $3,320, and $2,390, respectively. Overall, 12 cities noted a loss of over $2,160 per person per year.
The Changing Restaurant Business Model
Following the pandemic, restaurants looked forward to nearby professionals returning and heading out to the once-common lunch meetings and after-work drinks. Unfortunately, the predominant three-day-a-week schedule has upset that long-held balance. In major U.S. cities, restaurant sales have returned to pre-pandemic levels just three days a week, forcing restaurants to cut hours and reconsider their business model. Many started marketing campaigns designed to attract guests during the “off” days.
CNBC reported on Amali, a Manhattan restaurant, that’s bringing in as little as a quarter of midweek business on Mondays and Fridays. In addition, several restaurants in the area have or will close, including Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Random Access.
In contrast, in 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics found a growing increase in foot traffic in the suburbs compared to urban areas. This transition has been described as the “new normal” and is not expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in the near future, or possibly, ever.
Attracting Remote Workers
Some restaurants are looking to attract this new normal workforce by offering free Wi-Fi, modifying tables and seating, providing good lighting, and offering laptop-friendly areas. Unfortunately, while this approach can lead to increased sales, it can also result in “laptop squatters” who spend long periods of the day at restaurants without buying much.
To solve these issues, some restaurants are renting out tables to remote workers during the weekdays. Others create policies that mandate workers to purchase an item every hour. Some operators turned once-unused areas into lounge spaces with comfortable chairs and couches.
A Growing Trend
According to a study conducted by OpenTable, almost 50% of remote workers spend time every week working from cafes or other places. This is particularly true for Gen Z, who often prefer getting out of the house and into new environments, including restaurants and bars.
Some elements that attract these workers include excellent music, an outdoor space, comfortable furniture, reliable Wi-Fi, and electrical outlets near tables and chairs.
How do you attract restaurant customers on weekdays?
One proven method for attracting new customers during the weekdays includes offering menu items exclusive to that time frame. These may consist of lunch or drink specials, prix fixe menus, or happy hours. You can also set up special events, incorporating live music or focusing on different community groups. To get the word out, you’ll need a strong marketing campaign.
How can you attract remote workers to your restaurant?
While many restaurants hesitate to attract remote workers due to their tendency to linger, some models have proven successful. This includes cafes that rent out tables and market them as coworking spaces. It’s essential that this strategy is reflected in their websites and social media platforms.