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Growth in the US restaurant business is now fully dependent on weekends

Two people sitting down and chatting with one another at a restaurant.
REUTERS/Hannah Beier
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Sweetgreen, the fast casual salad chain popular with yuppie workaholics, is becoming less of a source for sad desk salads and more of a weekend outing during the pandemic.

Remote work is changing dining habits. With people leaving the house less, going to the restaurant on weekdays—and especially on Fridays—has seen a drop during the pandemic. Meanwhile, weekend visits have increased, driven by people eating at counter-service chains, including fast-casual restaurants (think: Sweetgreen and Panera Bread) and quick-service outlets (think: McDonald’s and Taco Bell), according to data from Earnest Research, which looks at store-level foot traffic.

“Folks now leave the house less between Monday and Friday than before the pandemic, putting pressure on the traditional morning commute and lunch food trips,” says Michael Maloof, data analytics director at Earnest Research.

“People who aren’t traveling for business as much as they used to are using fine dining restaurants maybe a little bit more on the weekend, which has been great to see,” said Eugene Lee, CEO of Darden Restaurants, one of the largest restaurant operators that owns chains like Olive Garden and The Capital Grille, on a earnings call Sept. 23. Sunday has become a “legitimate sales day in fine dining,” which, pre-Covid, was “kind of a throwaway day.”

Going forward, restaurants will have to get more creative in reaching customers who are no longer commuting during the work week—whether that means expanding delivery options or making pickup more convenient, says Maloof. Restaurants will also need to take advantage of the trips people make out of their home on weekends and holidays, possibly expanding hours of operation or adding catering offerings.

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