From heat to wind, from rain to shine, and everything in between, weather can have an enormous impact on restaurants.
But how much of an impact, exactly?
Having grown up in a family that ran several small businesses (a restaurant included), I’ve always been hyper-aware of how the weather can make or break your take-home pay. A snowstorm meant asking staff to work overtime to help shovel out, and, usually less business. Meanwhile, a perfect sunny 75 degree weekend could mean making a typical seven days’ pay in two.
But that has just been my experience as a New Englander. So, I sought out to see how weather impacts restaurants across the country and if there are ways to capitalize on weather – good or bad.
A Brief History of Weather and Restaurants
To begin, the National Restaurant Association reported, “More than 90 percent of restaurant operators indicate that changes in local weather conditions affect their sales and customer counts.”
Clearly, weather is top of mind for restaurant operators, which didn’t surprise me. When I began my research, I also wasn’t shocked to learn that snowstorms can drastically impact business. Eater covered the “snowmageddon” of winter 2016-2017, noting the following:
“Even for restaurants specializing in cold weather-ready comfort food, the snow presents major hardships. For popular ramen spot Boke Bowl, which has two locations on opposite sides of the city, winter is typically its busiest season — but owner Patrick Fleming says business is down as much as 35 percent compared to prior years, largely thanks to the week or so worth of snow days the restaurant has had to take over the last month.
The city’s most famous chefs aren’t immune, either: Chef Naomi Pomeroy, who owns two restaurants, tells Eater PDX that one snow day can result in losses of $3,000 to $6,000.”
But it doesn’t snow everywhere, and a major blizzard isn’t the only kind of weather that influences foot traffic. Here’s what some restaurants from coast to coast had to say about the weather.
You would think that heat makes things better for restaurants. While it does for some, it's the polar opposite for others.
These restaurants said the heat helps their business:
- Chad from Chicago’s Fireplace Inn said, “Warmer temps brings out more drinking of alcoholic beverages.”
- Jeff from Costa Vida (locations all over the U.S.) said, “Warm weather definitely is better for our restaurants. Our best months are April-August.”
Meanwhile, other see a decrease in sales with an increase in temperature:
- David from Dino’s Restaurant of Massachusetts says, “Hot weather tends to slow down transit business, but take out increases. Cold weather usually increases traffic in-house.”
- Dimitrios from Connecticut's Pleasant Pizza says, “Sunny summer weather affects our lunch time weekend business; people want to be outside grilling, as they should be!”
Overall, rain leads to a decrease in restaurant sales. No one wants to walk or drive outside when it's pouring, and restaurant sales often suffer as a result.
However, like weather itself, sales can always change with little warning. Josh from Henneman Nashville’s Party Fowl said, “We are, for some weird reason, a restaurant that tends to get very busy when it rains.”
A Change in Consistency
Some parts of the world, like the state of Florida, have a rather repeatable weather pattern. We spoke to two Floridian restaurants, and this is what they said about how the heat impacts their business.
- Gregg Ciccone from St. Petersburg, Florida’s (swah-rey), “It's almost always hot here and the temperature doesn't seem to impact us at all.”
- Jonathan from Florida’s IL Primo Pizza & Wings says, “In Florida, more people tend to be out and about when the cooler weather sets in; we call it reverse winter down here.” and, “Hurricanes bring a spike in business; everyone likes some pizza and wings before a storm.”
What does this mean? Well, clearly in a state like Florida, a change in the winds for a cooler day is a call for residents to go out. Elsewhere, heat could mean a less-than great day for sales. The key takeaway here is that weather only adds to the unpredictability of the restaurant business.
Two Ways to Adapt Your Restaurant Business to the Weather
Here’s two ways to help ready your restaurant operations, rain or shine.
1) Follow the Norms
Weather marketing platform Skymosity suggests the following questions to consider, especially for fast casual establishments.
Prepare for Takeout, Delivery, and Eat-in Service
According to Skymosity, "inclement weather shifts sales from eat-in to takeout or delivery.
If you're expecting bad weather, make sure you staff up your kitchen team and have enough delivery drivers. If your waiter or waitress asks for the night off, you may want to give it to them."
Stock Up on the Right Foods
"Often, extreme cold drives sales of soup, hot chocolate, and coffee, while extreme heat drives sales of ice cream and frozen beverages.
Consider a summer/winter menu with seasonal offerings based on the weather. We see coffee shops do this with peppermint-infused hot beverages in the winter and specialty iced drinks in the summer."
2) Follow Your Own Path
Other companies, like Panera Bread, turn to data and restaurant analytics to make calls about their restaurant.
As noted in an Inc article:
“Panera Bread uses weather data compiled by the Weather Underground in its point-of-sale system to record and analyze when certain dishes sell well. If, for instance, Panera finds that its roast beef sandwiches sell best when it's 65 degrees outside, the company can then promote that product when it's 65 degrees outside.”
Weather and Your Restaurant
It's best not to leave the decisions you make around weather to assumptions. Getting creative with how you market your restaurant in accordance with the weather and turning to data can help.
Comb through some of your restaurant metrics over the past months, look up your area's corresponding temperatures, and see if you can draw any conclusions. Moving forward, you'll be able to accurately forecast sales to staff and stock up appropriately.