Restaurant operators utilize a range of tactics to help drive traffic during slower periods.
Dave Sobelman thought it odd to see a restaurant closed on a Tuesday — that is, until he became a restaurant owner himself.
“Tuesday is the slowest day of the week,” says Sobelman, who now owns three Sobelman’s Pub & Grill restaurants in the Milwaukee area. “Even Mondays are busier than Tuesdays.”
Tracking consumer behavior throughout the week and identifying ways to accommodate and alter that behavior is an ongoing assignment for restaurant operators. The weekend remains the busiest time for the industry, but operators are finding ways to encourage visits during slower times and slower meal periods. Limited time offers, days of the week specials, loyalty programs and various promotions are helping drive consumer behavior, say operators and industry observers.
At Sobelman’s daily specials are designed to boost traffic on slower days, helped along by the use of some playful alliteration — Wing Wednesdays or Thigh Thursdays, for example. The specials are promoted with table tents to catch customers’ eyes on busy weekends, including Saturdays when Sobelman’s sell 600 to 700 burgers and 325 to 350 Bloody Mary drinks. The menus also encourage customers to ask about weekday specials.
Recognizing traffic patterns
Clearly, though, it is critical for operators to recognize their customers' traffic patterns. Consumers made 61 billion visits to restaurants from January to August of this year, reports Bonnie Riggs, restaurant industry analyst for the NPD Group, a marketing research firm based in Port Washington, New York. The busiest day was Friday with nearly 10 billion visits, followed by Saturday with 9.8 billion, according to Riggs. Wednesday was the third highest with 8.6 billion visits, then Thursday with 8.5 billion, followed by Sunday with 8.4 billion. Monday had 8 billion and, as Sobelman observed correctly, Tuesday logged the fewest visits — 7.9 billion.
“It depends on the daypart, but it starts off light during the week and then there is a steady build to the weekend,” Riggs says.
Although breakfast has been a daily growth driver for restaurants — particularly those in the quick service segment — lunch remains the busiest daypart throughout the week for quick service, fast casual and casual operators, she says. Dinner, meanwhile, has been somewhat flat.
Snacks and dayparts
No matter what day it is, the afternoon snack remains an opportunity for restaurants, experts say. Other ways to reach consumers throughout the week include such strategies as delivery, loyalty rewards programs, online ordering or mobile ordering apps.
In the meantime dayparts are blurring at restaurants, notably during the work week. Consumers are having sandwiches in the late afternoon rather than the lunch hour and considering the sandwich a full meal, Riggs notes. In addition, more consumers also are working from home and not going to lunch with co-workers.
“Know the young customers and their experience, understand their wants and needs and what they expect from you and meet those needs,” Riggs says.
The typical Pita Pit customer is a millennial — age 19 to 35 — who comes for a weekday lunch or dinner on the weekends, says Patrick O’Dell, brand marketing director for the Idaho-based fast casual chain. Mall locations will do a stronger lunch business and Pita Pit stores in downtown or urban centers will generate more weekend dinner business.
Pita Pit franchisees can turn to a variety of promotions to improve weekday sales, such as offering a pita and drink for $6 on certain days of the week. A franchisee in Fort Myers, Florida, employed that special and improved his same-store sales by up to 20 percent, year over year, O’Dell says.
“If we can get customers into a groove — coming in for a turkey pita and drink on Tuesdays, if we can become part of their routine and schedule, and if we execute well when they are here, they really do give us their repeat business,” he says.
Weekday business starts to ramp up on Wednesdays with strong sales on the weekend at Wing Zone restaurants, says Dan Corrigan, director of marketing for the Atlanta-based chicken wing concept, which generates nearly 60 percent of its sales from delivery.
Mondays during professional and college football seasons there are easy sales to score during the dinner hour, Corrigan says. But for slower days franchisees also will feature lunchtime specials or a menu special for slower nights of the week.
“Some stores do wing night specials, such as a 60 cent boneless wing on Tuesday, which is our slowest day of the week,” he says.
Operators can also use their busiest days and times of the week to promote specials for slower days, says restaurant consultant Andrew Freeman of Andrew Freeman & Co. in San Francisco.
“Don’t introduce a promotion on Monday if Monday is a challenging day, and then say it didn’t work,” Freeman says. “The best night to introduce a promotion is on your busiest night.”
Cinzetti’s Italian Market Restaurant is one of the highest volume restaurants in metro Denver on Saturday nights in terms of customer counts, says co-founder Bobby Fitzgerald. Servers are instructed to remind Saturday customers about Monday and Tuesday promotions, such as kids-eat-free nights and half-priced wine carafes.
To attract customers on certain days, seriously consider what they want and what draws them to your concept, and be sure to offer that on those slow days, Fitzgerald says.
“We serve the same food on Mondays,” he says. “But we said let’s focus on the parents and what drives them, and make [a Monday visit] compelling for them.
SNACK: “The best night to introduce a promotion is on the busiest night” - Andrew Freeman of Andrew Freeman & Co. in San Francisco.