Shift in Consumer Spending: Lunch Savings and Evening Outings

Consumer Spending Trends: From Weekday Lunch Savings to Weekend Splurges | Insider Market Research

(Source – IWG).

The shift in Consumer Spending to hybrid work models has significantly affected lunchtime business for many bars and restaurants, preventing a return to pre-pandemic levels. Data released Tuesday by the digital payments platform Square highlights this trend, showing a 3.3% decline in weekday transaction volumes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. in 2022 compared to 2019. However, while lunchtime transactions have dipped, weekend and evening spending has seen an uptick. Card transactions rose 4.2% on weekends and 0.3% during weekday happy hours from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

This data aligns with findings from University of Toronto researchers, who observed that foot traffic in major U.S. cities’ downtown areas rebounds more rapidly during evenings and weekends than on workdays. These trends indicate a new normal in post-pandemic leisure spending, which remains robust despite increased costs of dining out. Fast food chains are launching promotions to attract customers turned off by price hikes, and alcohol brands are pushing canned cocktails as menu prices rise faster than grocery bills.

Shifting Consumer Habits

The transformation in consumer habits, particularly among office workers, is evident. Ara Kharazian, research lead at Square, noted that while lunchtime spending has decreased, the saved money is being redirected to weekend activities. “That’s been the largest transformation in the last four or five years,” Kharazian said. “We’re seeing consumers instead spend money on the weekends.”

Brunch has emerged as a significant driver of this weekend spending increase. In 2023, 1.88% of the food and drink transactions Square processed occurred between 11 a.m. and noon on Saturdays, up from 1.60% in 2019. This data, based on transaction volumes rather than dollar amounts, reflects changes in foot traffic rather than inflation-adjusted spending.

Sara Senatore, a senior restaurant analyst at Bank of America, suggests that consumers are gravitating towards more affordable dining options. “Brunch is a much more accessible price point than dinner,” she said. “People still want to go out to eat, they still want the experience, they still want to congregate with their friends and family.”

Boston’s Stark Shift in Spending Patterns

Boston exemplifies the shift towards evening and weekend spending. Among the 23 major cities analyzed by Square, Boston saw a 10.1% decline in weekday lunch transactions, which was more than compensated for by a 10.3% increase in weekend transactions and a 1.6% rise during happy hours. Aceituna Grill, a fast-casual Mediterranean restaurant in Boston, has experienced a noticeable drop in lunch crowds at its three pre-pandemic locations, particularly those near office buildings for Bank of America and PwC, according to CEO AJ Kurban.

The trend indicates that consumers are rethinking their spending habits and prioritizing their leisure time after work. With hybrid work schedules reducing the need for weekday lunch outings, the saved funds are being funneled into weekend and evening activities. Despite rising costs, the desire for social experiences remains strong, driving people to find ways to enjoy dining out without breaking the bank.

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