Full-Service Restaurants: The Busiest Hours, Reservation Insights, and Popular Proteins by State

Dec 07, 2023

The Q3 2023 Restaurant Trends report dives into full-service restaurants, guest reservation booking and dining behavior from Toast Tables, protein trends by state, and some good news regarding tipping.

BOSTON, MA – Toast (NYSE: TOST), the all-in-one digital platform built for restaurants, today announced its Q3 2023 Restaurant Trends Report, providing insight into the overall state of the U.S. restaurant industry through an analysis of aggregated data from selected cohorts of restaurants and in select U.S. metropolitan areas on the Toast platform, which serves approximately 99,000 restaurant locations as of September 30, 2023. Read more details about our methodology below.

The hourly heatmap: the busiest hours for transactions at full-service restaurants

This report will look into dinner service transaction data from full-service restaurants on the Toast platform and reservation data from Toast Tables. First, let’s look at transaction data.

To better understand dining behavior and the current state of dinner service at full-service restaurants (FSRs), Toast analyzed transaction counts on the Toast platform in 17 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) in the U.S. between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. local time in Q3 2023.1 These transactions occur when guests have paid for their service, not when they initially sat to eat. 

1Methodology: Toast analyzed the number of transactions at full-service restaurants in 17 select MSAs on the Toast platform between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. local time platform to determine the busiest hours transactions occurred in Q3 2023. Percentages may not equal 100% due to rounding.

Out of the 17 MSAs Toast explored, 7 p.m. was the busiest for transactions in every area except for Miami, with most transactions (17%) split between 7 p.m. and  8 p.m. That trend continued to the later hours in Miami, which saw the highest percentage of its transactions at full-service restaurants occur during 9 p.m. (14%) and 10 p.m. (10%) as compared to the other metropolitan areas we observed. 

Alternatively, the San Francisco MSA transactions had a slower late-night crowd, with only 5% of its FSR dinner transactions occurring during 10 p.m. and just 2% during 11 p.m.  

Dining behavior at FSRs

Next, we’ll explore dining behavior and the days guests reserve tables and eat in restaurants using data from the Toast Tables platform. 

2Methodology: Toast analyzed the number of reservations each day of the week at full-service restaurants on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 to determine which days had the highest number of reservations. 

The most popular day of the week for reservations on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 was Saturday, which had approximately 85% more reservations than the weekly average, followed by Friday, which had approximately 54% more reservations than the weekly average.2 Surprisingly, Sunday was the third busiest day in Q3 2023 for reservations on the Toast Tables platform, with about 8% more than the weekly average, followed by Thursday, 12% below the weekly average for reservations. 

Now that we’ve covered the most popular days for reservations let’s look into the most popular hours for dinner reservations

3Methodology: Toast analyzed the number of reservations between 4:00 p.m. and 12:00 p.m. local time at full-service restaurants on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 to determine which days had the highest number of reservations. Times are indicative of the restaurant location’s local time.

The most popular hour for dinner reservations between 4 p.m. and 12 a.m. local time on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 was 6:00 p.m. (37%), followed by 7:00 p.m. (26%), and 5:00 p.m. (22%). 3

So, if you’re looking to snag a reservation to a trendy spot but are having difficulty, your best bet is to look for a reservation on a slower weekday like Wednesday or a less popular time slot, such as 4:00 p.m. or 9:00 pm. 

4Methodology: Toast analyzed the time of reservations at full-service restaurants on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 and compared it to the time the bookings were marked as sat by a host to determine how early, late, or on-time reservations were seated in the restaurant.

Nobody likes to wait — or be late — but surprisingly, most reservations on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 were sat on time or even early.4 

Observing the 30 minutes before and after reservation time, approximately 50% of reservations on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 were seated within 5 minutes of the slotted booking time, and nearly 10% were seated exactly on time

There are countless reasons why a table may be seated later than the intended time slot, but this data suggests that showing up a little early to a reservation may result in sitting at a table a few minutes early. Just remember some restaurants require all of the members of your party to be present.

Reservation booking behavior at FSRs

Now that we've covered guest dining behavior let's look at booking behavior — or the days and times guests make their plans by calling a restaurant or booking a reservation online. 

5Methodology: Toast analyzed the number of reservation bookings at full-service restaurants on the Toast Tables platform to determine when guests were booking reservations in Q3 2023. Times are indicative of the restaurant location’s local time.

To better understand booking behavior when people call a restaurant or book a reservation online, not the time slot they reserve — Toast analyzed reservation data on the Toast Tables reservation platform.5 The most popular times guests booked their reservations in Q3 2023 were during 4 p.m. (11%), 5 p.m. (10%), and 3 p.m. (9%). However, many bookings were also made during off hours when many full-service restaurants were typically closed.  

6Methodology: Toast analyzed the number of reservation bookings each day of the week at full-service restaurants on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 to determine which days guests booked future reservations.

In terms of what days guests are booking reservations, the most popular day of the week people booked reservations on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 was Friday, which had approximately 33% more reservations made than the weekly average, followed by Saturday, which had approximately 22% more reservations than the weekly average.6 The least popular day that guests book reservations is Monday, which was 30% below the weekly average, followed by Sunday, which was 25% below the weekly average. 

Again — this booking behavior represents the day of the week that people call a restaurant or book a reservation online — and is not necessarily the day guests dine at the restaurant. 

Diving deeper into guests’ booking behavior, Toast analyzed how far in advance people are booking their reservations, and it’s safe to say that most people making dinner plans do not decide on where they are going to eat too far ahead of time.7 Looking at a 60-day timeline, over half (52%) of reservations Toast observed in Q3 2023 on the Toast Tables platform were booked less than a day ahead of the reserved time slot. Approximately 23% of those reservations made on the Toast Tables platform in Q3 2023 were made less than two hours in advance.

7Methodology: Toast analyzed the time and number of reservation bookings at full-service restaurants relative to the booking slot on the Toast Tables platform to determine how far in advance guests were booking reservations in Q3 2023.

The protein report: what proteins guests are eating at FSRs


So what are guests eating when they dine at full-service restaurants? Well, it depends on what area of the country you’re dining in. Toast analyzed food items containing “beef, pork, chicken, eggs, fish, and shellfish” in all 50 states to better understand the popularity of each protein.8

8Methodology: Toast analyzed transactions at full-service restaurants on the Toast platform from July 1, 2023, to September 30, 2023, to determine the popularity of dishes containing beef, pork, chicken, eggs, fish, and shellfish compared to total orders containing proteins in all 50 U.S. states in Q3 2023. Orders containing multiple proteins will be counted for both categories.

Where’s the beef? It's in Wyoming, which had the highest percentage of beef ordered compared to the total order of protein dishes at 33%, whereas in Louisiana, that number was just 17%. 

Washington state had the highest percentage of pork orders (12%), while in Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey, only 6% of its protein orders included pork.

Chicken dishes are more popular in the Midwest and South — 25% of  Ohio and West Virginia’s protein orders contained chicken, which dropped to just 13% in New Mexico.

New Hampshire really like eggs, with a whopping 10% of its food orders containing protein having some type of egg. That number dips to just 3% in Mississippi and Alabama. 

Hawaii (17%), Alaska (16%), and Maine (14%) had the highest percentage of fish orders, while landlocked states like New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, North Dakota, and West Virginia had the lowest percentage of fish orders at 5%.

Finally, the states with the highest percentage of shellfish orders are all known for their shellfish — Maine lobsters, Rhode Island clams, Maryland crabs, and Louisiana shrimp. These states tied for the highest percentage of shellfish orders at 19%. 

The good news about tipping

There is some good news about tipping at restaurants in the U.S. — overall, tipping remained steady in Q3 2023 compared to Q2 2023.9

9Methodology: Data from restaurants on the Toast platform with tipping enabled and where a tip was added to the order via a card or digital payment. Cash tips are not included in the analysis.

Total tips for restaurants we observed on the Toast platform averaged 18.9% of total check amounts in Q3 2023, the same as Q2 2023. FSR tips, where tipped employees may make a lower hourly wage in the U.S. than other establishments, also remained steady at an average of 19.4% in Q3 2023, as well as quick-service restaurant (QSR) tips, which averaged 16.1%.

This is good news for employees who rely on tips to supplement their income, especially if they are paid a lower minimum wage. The federal minimum wage for tipped employees is $2.13 per hour as long as the “amount combined with the tips received at least equals the federal minimum wage,” according to the Department of Labor. This is known as a “tip credit.” The maximum tip credit against the federal minimum wage is currently $5.12 to meet the federal Basic Combined Cash & Tip Minimum Wage Rate of $7.25 per hour. 

However, local municipalities and states can pass their own laws to increase the minimum wage for tipped employees, such as in California, where the minimum cash wage is currently set at $15.50 an hour and does not offer a tip credit to employers. This may be one of the reasons why California consistently has the lowest tip average among all 50 states. 

Next year, California will raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers to $20 per hour, which will apply to restaurants with at least 60 locations in the U.S. There are reports that large chains that fit into this category have hinted that they will raise menu prices for consumers to combat the extra labor costs. 

10Methodology: Data from restaurants on the Toast platform with tipping enabled and where a tip was added to the order via a card or digital payment. Cash tips are not included in the analysis.

In addition to tipping rates remaining steady this quarter, another good sign for tipped employees is that people choosing to tip on a card or digital transaction is not dropping.10  Approximately 66.6% of card or digital transactions on the Toast platform in Q3 2023 included a tip, up from 64.7% in Q3 2021. 

QSR restaurants and cafes and bakeries both had a lower average of tips being added to a card or digital transaction as compared to the average of total tips on the Toast platform, but both types of eateries have also seen growth in the percentage of people tipping on transactions in the last two years.

About the Restaurant Trends Report:

The Restaurant Trends Report, powered by Toast, uncovers key trends across the restaurant industry through aggregated sales data from a selection of cohorts of restaurants on the Toast platform, which has approximately 99,000 locations as of  September 30, 2023.

This information is provided for general informational purposes only, and publication does not constitute an endorsement. Toast does not warrant the accuracy or completeness of any information, text, graphics, links, or other items contained within this content. Individual results may vary. Toast does not guarantee you will achieve any specific results if you follow any advice herein. It may be advisable for you to consult with a professional such as a lawyer, accountant, or business advisor for advice specific to your situation. The Restaurant Trends Report is not indicative of the operational performance of Toast or its reported financial metrics.


About Toast

Toast [NYSE: TOST] is a cloud-based, all-in-one digital technology platform purpose-built for the entire restaurant community. Toast provides a comprehensive platform of software as a service (SaaS) products and financial technology solutions that give restaurants everything they need to run their business across point of sale, payments, operations, digital ordering and delivery, marketing and loyalty, and team management. We serve as the restaurant operating system, connecting front of house and back of house operations across service models including dine-in, takeout, delivery, catering, and retail. Toast helps restaurants streamline operations, increase revenue, and deliver amazing guest experiences. For more information, visit www.toasttab.com.

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