Restaurants: Busiest Times?

Here are the busiest times of restaurants:

It really depends on what you mean.

The busiest time of year is typically Mother’s Day, followed by a few other key holidays.

The busiest times of the week are typically Friday evening, Saturday evening, and Sunday around lunch, in that order.

For a given day, dinner is usually the busiest rush of the day.

So if you want to learn all about when restaurants are busiest, then this is the right place for you.

Let’s get started!

When Are Restaurants the Busiest?

This is a bigger question than it might seem at first glance.

Restaurant business ebbs and flows, and for any particular establishment, it depends on a lot of factors.

Location and the business model are the biggest issues.

If the restaurant is located in an airport, then the busiest times for the restaurant will coincide with the busiest times for the airport itself.

You get the idea.

That means that based on location, restaurants can have wildly different traffic patterns.

Also, a place that specializes in breakfast and brunch is going to have a different traffic pattern from a place that prioritizes cocktails and hamburgers.

There’s a lot that can go into this.

Holidays, local traffic, and local events are also major factors.

There’s too much to say that there’s a magic time when a restaurant will be at its busiest.

Instead, I can break down different major factors and explain what that can do for your expectations.

In that spirit, I’m going to split this into three parts.

We’ll talk about the times of the year that are busiest.

Then I’ll break down general times of the week that are busiest.

Lastly, I’ll explain the most common traffic patterns for an average day.

What Times of the Year Are Restaurants Busiest?

Even though I’m splitting this along times of the year, there’s still a lot of inconsistency.

High-end steak restaurants tend to be busiest for special occasions.

Their sales tend to skyrocket on Valentine’s Day, graduation for local schools, and other common special occasions.

Meanwhile, breakfast joints tend to see Mother’s Day as the busiest day of the year, so there’s a lot to consider.

If we’re looking at total averages, then the National Restaurant Association has some good data for us.

Overall, Mother’s Day is the very busiest day of the year for the average dining establishment.

The second-busiest day is Valentine’s Day, followed by Father’s Day, New Year’s Eve, and Easter, in order.

Yet, that still doesn’t paint the whole picture.

If you’re looking for more generic times of the year that are busiest, then the two weeks before Christmas should be listed.

As Christmas shopping gets busier, so do restaurants—especially those located near major shopping centers.

It’s also worth reiterating the point about local events.

If there’s a major concert nearby, you can bet the restaurants will be busy that day.

Other major local events tend to have a similar impact, so looking up a schedule at your local chamber of commerce can help you figure out which days might be extra busy.

What Times of the Week Are Busiest for Restaurants?

But, if you’re not worried about particular days of the year, then there’s another way to look at this entire thing.

We can instead consider the average week for a restaurant.

Whether the restaurant has a busy or slow season, your typical weekday isn’t usually the busiest day for most establishments (although I will be noting a few exceptions in a minute).

From this point of view, the two busiest times of the week are Friday evening and Saturday evening.

That probably doesn’t surprise you, but if you’re trying to avoid crowds at your favorite restaurant, these are the times to avoid.

The majority of people have more free time on the weekends, and dining out is typically more of a social decision in these cases.

On average, Fridays are busier than Saturdays, but that depends even more heavily on location than most things.

Areas with a large churchgoing population, as an example, might see more Friday night dining than Saturday night dining.

But, if you’re in the financial district of your city, restaurants that cater to lunch might see more business Friday afternoon than Saturday night.

I’m just trying to emphasize how much this depends on a lot of factors.

Now for those exceptions I just mentioned.

For breakfast and lunch establishments, Sunday morning and early afternoon are usually the busiest times of the week.

Your local IHOP is getting more business from 10 am to 1 pm on a Sunday than any other day of the week.

That has to do with the business model, and that’s why it’s an important exception. 

Also, as I lightly mentioned, lunch restaurants (like a sandwich shop) might see more business Monday through Friday than on the weekend, as a lot of people eat at these places during a lunch break from work.

What Times of the Day Are Busiest for Restaurants? (3 Times)

We’ve already covered a lot, and we’re not done yet.

On a given day, what’s the busiest time for a restaurant?

I’ve already covered how business models can impact things and why weekends are usually busy, but there’s more to consider. 

For most restaurants, you get multiple rushes each day.

Depending on when they’re open, your typical establishment will see a rush for dinner and for lunch.

If they serve breakfast, then breakfast rushes are also common.

So, let’s explore each of these in a little more detail to fully answer your question.

#1 Dinner

If we go back to the National Restaurant Association data, then dinner is the busiest rush of the day.

If you’ve ever worked at a restaurant that has a dinner rush, then you already knew this.

It’s common for most restaurant business models, and there’s a clear reason for it.

People are at work more days than not (and kids are at school a lot too).

Eating out takes time, so going to a restaurant for breakfast or lunch isn’t always viable.

You’re on a time crunch, and it’s not always worth the stress of being late to eat out. 

But, when you get out of work, you have a lot more time to work with.

You’re no longer rushing to get to or back to work, and eating out sounds a lot more promising.

On top of that, plenty of people are tired after work, and going home and cooking sounds exhausting.

It’s much more relaxing to sit down and have someone bring dinner to you.

You might even enjoy a relaxing beverage while you’re at it.

Obviously, I’m oversimplifying the many reasons that people eat out, but work and time are really why dinner rushes are the biggest.

Still, I haven’t put a hard time on it.

The exact dinner rush will vary from establishment to establishment, but the general expectation is that the dinner rush runs from 5 pm to 8 pm.

A lot of people get off of work at five, so that’s when the rush starts.

It usually picks up, and by 7, the peak rush has hit.

Still, it might take a little longer for the rush to fully cool down.

Once more for emphasis, this is an average. Any particular restaurant might experience things very differently.

#2 Lunch

For most restaurants, lunch is the second-busiest time of the day.

There is an average rush, and it usually runs from 12 pm to 1 pm.

Again, this can vary from place to place, but the lunch rush is usually also attached to work schedules.

A lot of professional workplaces have a scheduled lunch break that starts at noon.

So, anyone who feels like eating out during that break has a limited window to visit a favorite eatery.

Plenty of restaurants cater to this by promising a fast lunch and beefing up staffing for this short, busy time, and the single hour of a lunch rush can rival the busiest dinner hour at a lot of restaurants.

The major difference here is that the lunch rush is usually a lot shorter, so it’s easier to avoid the crowd if you want, and you’re less likely to walk into an already crowded or backed-up establishment.

All of that said, there are plenty of restaurants that really cater to the lunch crowd.

I mentioned sandwich shops before, but any place can build around lunch rushes if desired.

For such a restaurant, you can expect the lunch rush to be much busier than the dinner rush.

#3 Breakfast

Lastly, we have breakfast.

For starters, a lot of restaurants don’t open before 11 am and don’t include a breakfast menu.

I’m removing all of them from the conversation.

Obviously, if the place doesn’t serve breakfast, it won’t have a breakfast rush.

So at this point, we’re really talking about two types of restaurants.

You have your IHOP category that certainly features a breakfast menu but is open for more than breakfast.

There are also plenty of breakfast and brunch places that close long before dinner time.

In either case, breakfast can be the busiest rush of the day.

At a place like IHOP, breakfast actually might not be the biggest rush every single day.

Even though they’re known for pancakes, you can see a big crowd on a Friday night.

But, if a place serves breakfast, then the Sunday morning rush is likely to be one of the biggest of the week.

This coincides strongly with church attendance.

A lot of people go out for breakfast or brunch after church, and that’s when you see this rush.

It can start as early as 8 am and run as late as 2 pm.

Specifically for donut and coffee shops, you can see a breakfast rush that even starts around 6 am, but that’s drifting into a whole different conversation.