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U.S. Restaurants Reduce Operating Hours, Even in Post-COVID Era, as Challenges Persist

COVID-19, Economy, Industry Events, Restaurants, Sales Effectiveness

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U.S. restaurants reduced their operating hours last year, across the country and regardless of segment, according to a Datassential analysis. 

Datassential found that U.S. restaurants reduced their operating hours by an average of 2.6 hours per week in 2023 compared with 2019. 

This runs counter to a lot of expectations, with most assuming that average open hours would increase after COVID. But persistent economic and industry challenges have caused restaurant operators to make hard choices about when and how long they’re open. Whether it’s opting to stop dinner service for a restaurant that primarily serves breakfast and lunch, limiting late nights, or closing altogether on certain lower-traffic days, restaurants are having to navigate not only pressing financial issues but also labor woes that can keep restaurants short-staffed or force other difficult choices. 

Still, there is some reason to feel optimistic. This 2.6-hour average reduction in 2023 is a significant improvement from 2022, when restaurants were open an average of 6.4 fewer hours than in 2019. 

The most notable hours reductions have been with independent restaurants, but declines have occurred across the board – even with the nation’s largest chains. 

Here’s a look at the average weekly hours trends across segments by number of units: 

Independent -4.6
2 to 10 units -3.8
11 to 50 units -2.8
51 to 100 units -2
101 to 500 units -1.2
Over 500 units 0.4

By segment, midscale dining saw the biggest pullback in operating hours, at an average of 4.4 per week, although casual and fine dining also reduced their hours by more than 4 per week on average. Quick-service and fast casual restaurants saw less of a reduction. 

Here’s the breakdown of hours reductions across major restaurant segments: 

Quick Service -1.3
Fast Casual -2
Casual Dining -4.2
Midscale Dining -4.4
Fine Dining -4

By cuisine, French restaurants experienced the largest reductions at an average of 5.9 per week compared with 2019, followed by coffee/bakery and American restaurants, both with an average reduction of at least 5 hours per week. 

Even restaurants offering popular and growing global flavors have had to reduce their hours, from Mediterranean to Mexican, steakhouses to seafood, Thai and Japanese to dessert and snack spots. 

In fact, the only restaurant cuisine types that bucked the trend were burger restaurants, with an average increase of 2.3 percent per week vs. 2019, and Southern restaurants, with only a small increase, 0.1 average hours per week. 

Looking at the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, Burlington, Vt. led declines with an average of 8.1 hours per week fewer hours than in 2019. Vermont also led declines by state, with an average decline of 6.9 hours per week. Only West Virginia had restaurants with an increase in average open hours, and by the smallest amount: +0.1 hours compared with 2019. 

Other metropolitan areas with average weekly declines of more than 6 hours per week were Syracuse and Buffalo, N.Y.; Milwaukee, Wi.; Reno, NV; and Louisville, KY. Ten of the top 100 metros had an average increase in hours compared with 2019, led by Mobile, Ala. at +3.1, Little Rock, Ala., at 2 and Charleston, S.C., with an average increase of 1.6 hours per week. 

To find out far more details about the restaurant industry’s performance this year, including more information on factors that improved and those that worsened in the industry this year, and bright spots among the nation’s largest chains, and even more geographical nuances,  subscribers can access the full Datassential 500 report. 

If you’re not a subscriber and would like access to the report, click here. To read Datassential’s original report on restaurant hours from 2022, go here

Samantha Des Jardins is the Content Marketing Manager at Datassential. 

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