Open for Business?

Most operators go to great lengths to ensure every aspect of their business is finalized before opening the doors to their restaurant or bar, but many foodservice operations undergo adjustments in decor, menu, and operating hours as owners and managers adapt to demographic, industry, and staffing changes. Because every foodservice concept has a unique set of considerations, there is no “one schedule fits all” solution for deciding the best operating hours. However, operations of all kinds can answer many of the same questions to identify when they should be open for business.

Whether you’re considering changing an existing restaurant’s hours of operation or need help determining the best operating hours for a soon-to-open business, consider how the questions below apply to your restaurant.

Choosing Your Operating Hours

What’s on your menu? A restaurant’s menu can help guide its operating hours, particularly if the concept is designed to appeal to one or two specific dayparts. For example, a cafe specializing in coffee and breakfast items may not be busy enough in the evenings to justify staying open past lunch, while a fine-dining restaurant with a sought-after dinner menu may not have the same draw during lunch hours.

What is your demographic? Knowing your business’s demographic can also help determine your hours of operation. An upscale lounge that appeals to Millennials and young professionals will be busiest in the evenings, at night, and on weekends, but a family-style restaurant may offer a casual menu to attract customers for lunch and dinner throughout the week. Similarly, the operator of a fine-dining restaurant located in a financial district may wish to craft an upscale lunch service to attract businesspeople and other professionals hoping to impress their clients or colleagues; many restaurants using this strategy also close between lunch and dinner service to give front- and back-of-house staff time to prepare for the next daypart.

What are other businesses in the neighborhood doing? Your location can and should impact your operating hours. If your restaurant is on a street where the majority of surrounding businesses close at 5 p.m., you most likely won’t be able to depend on foot traffic to generate revenue on weeknights. However, being open when those businesses close can entice nearby employees who want to enjoy dinner before they head home for the evening. Alternatively, if your business is located in an area with a thriving nightlife, you may wish to offer a late-night menu of small plates and appetizers to entice hungry passersby who aren’t ready to end their night out but aren’t seeking another full meal.

Will you change your hours during the holidays or for special events? Opening on holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s is a decision many operators make with their staff, since it may require servers, line cooks, hosts, and other employees to miss out on time with their families or work overtime to compensate for employees who will be out of town. However, even if you choose to close on those days, you may be able to adjust your hours during the holiday season to appeal to customers who are out shopping on weeknights and weekends. If you are normally closed one or two days a week, you may be able to generate revenue by allowing your location to be rented out on those days for holiday parties or special events like wedding receptions and birthday celebrations.

Can you and your employees have a healthier work-life balance? Shortening your restaurant or bar’s operating hours or being closed on a traditionally slow weekday may guarantee employees one day off each week or give them additional opportunities to spend time with family and friends, tend to personal matters, or simply relax and prepare for their shifts the rest of the week.

Are shorter hours more cost-effective for your business? Ultimately, the decision to shorten hours is often a financial one. Calculate your operating costs for your slowest days or dayparts, then compare them to your average revenue for those same times. If you’re consistently operating at a loss, it may be time to shorten your operating hours.

Once you’ve determined which operating hours are best for your location, remember to clearly communicate your hours to potential customers and promptly update them on any future changes. In addition to updating the hours advertised on your storefront, update the hours of operation listed on your social media accounts and other online spaces like Facebook, Google, and Yelp.

Ariana Keller
Ariana Keller

Ariana Keller was raised on the banks of the Chattahoochee River in south Alabama, where she learned to fish and love football. She moved to Knoxville with her family when she was 12 and later graduated from the University of Tennessee with a bachelor's degree in English. She spends her free time playing tabletop and video games and passionately rooting for mediocre sports teams. She is an advocate for animal rescue and lives in Knoxville with her husband and their two adopted pets: a hound dog named Beau and a Maine Coon mix named Vesper.