But all goes quiet during the week. Houseman is closed on Mondays, and “Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are abysmal,” he said.
Steve Zagor, a restaurant consultant, said that this had been a familiar refrain among clients. He has been hearing a lot of comments about the unusually soft January and February, he said.
Reservations at restaurants that use OpenTable and have reopened in New York City were at 80% the level of 2019 on Saturday, Feb. 5, according to data made public by the firm. On Tuesday, Feb. 1, it was just 50%.
The reasons are many. Tourism, a driver of weekday dining, is down; visitors often fill seats on weekdays when New Yorkers might be at home. Without a big group of business or international tourists, hotel occupancy is higher on weekends, an indication of regional visitation. For the week ending Jan. 29, occupancy was at 38.8% Monday through Thursday, and 50.9% on Friday and Saturday, according to figures from STR, which tracks the industry. That’s down from a high of 81.5% in mid-December.
At the same time New Yorkers and commuters are still not running around the city as they once did. January subway ridership was 46% of its pre-pandemic level, and MetroNorth and Long Island Rail Road were at 34% and 39%, respectively, according to figures from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.
James Mallios, the owner of Amali, added that several of his regulars had told him they were spending the winter in Florida. He said they told him, “We’ll see you in March.”
January is typically slower than the fast-paced holidays, but this is the worst month in recent memory, Mallios said. Some blame the recent cold weather, but this empty weekday trend preceded the cold. Back in early December, Tyler Hollinger, who owns Festival Café on the Upper East Side, was noticing that guests all wanted to dine in the same two-hour window–Friday or Saturday at 7p.m.
“They think, ‘You must be busy because I can’t get a reservation,’” Hollinger said. A few hours of having a packed dining room could not make up for epically slow sales on other days, he said.
To compensate for empty seats, business owners are returning to some of their pandemic-era pivots, such as meal kits.
Baldwin said he had refined his offerings so that customers can now buy a number of prepared, vegetable-forward dishes to fill their fridges. Instead of having to order for a specific day, customers can now order the items anytime. He has also gotten serious about soup and has been creating gluten-free, warming bowls that are selling fast for delivery—about 10 soups a night, he said. That offering stands in for a day or two of dining-room sales, he said.
At the Brooklyn sports bar TailGate, which opened during the pandemic, January was so slow that founder Jarrod Fox just decided to shut down on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, saving on the costs of labor during such slow periods.
“We had been open and nothing was happening,” Fox said. He works doubly hard to make sure that business on Thursday through Sunday can subsidize the rest of the week.