early dining

Restaurants are seeing an uptick in early dining traffic

Consumer habits come and go, and as work schedules remain flexible and consumers are cost-conscious, early dining seems to be a trend that’s picking up speed. Although many QSRs are finding success with late-night dining, adding this daypart to their offerings, there has also been significant recent growth in earlier visits. With reservations for five o’clock dinner up 15 per cent this year, there is a part of the population that is interested in eating dinner earlier in the day. And while the older population is certainly part of that demographic, it’s not just seniors enjoying this trend.

According to studies, restaurants are now seating 10 per cent of their diners between 2 and 5 p.m., double the number of guests dining during that period in 2019. Earlier dining is allowing some restaurant kitchens to close earlier, making it easier to better manage labour, increase their daytime revenues,  and afford the staff a better work-life balance.

“A good way to string this together is there are more dayparts,” says R.J. Hottovy, head of analytical research at Placer.ai. “It used to be more breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Now we’re seeing more segmentation.”

Why might early dining be appealing for consumers? Is it because so many people are still avoiding a commute by working from home, allows them an earlier dining schedule? Or is it a matter of healthy eating, and the belief that consuming calories later and closer to bedtime is less healthy than an early dinner? Experts predict that it’s a combination of factors that make earlier dining more appealing as time moves on.

While the most popular dinner time remains at 6 p.m., accounting for 20 per cent of restaurant reservations, if this trend continues, restaurants could see crowded dining rooms as early as 4 p.m. going forward. The shifting landscape means that restaurants paying attention to the trends can attract a new crowd with the right scheduling, marketing, and management. No matter the reason, here’s an opportunity for restaurants to capitalize on this trend, with happy hours, family dining, LTOs, and more.