Do small, local restaurants do more business during March Madness?

When it comes to major sporting events in America, there’s nothing quite like March Madness. With millions across the country filling out their brackets, secretly watching afternoon games at their desk, and cheering on every upset and buzzer beater, it’s clearly one of our biggest unofficial national holidays.

Which got us to thinking: How big is March Madness for local restaurants across the country? Do Americans look to catch the big games at a local eatery? Or do small, local restaurants actually do less business, losing out to fans who prefer to watch games at home or head to big chain restaurants with dozens of big screen TVs?

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To find out just how big March Madness is for local restaurants we analyzed transactions at over 42,000 small, local businesses across the country in 2018.

Here’s what we found.

March Madness means more money for local restaurants

The average local restaurant we analyzed brought in a daily average of $1,542 in revenue on days when there was an NCAA tournament game last year. That’s a significant 19% bump over the average daily revenue of $1,272. However, since restaurants do much more business on weekends, and game days fall on Thursdays through Sundays (plus Monday’s Championship game — more on that later) we thought a more fair comparison was in order.

When compared to a typical Thursday through Sunday stretch, March Madness still outperformed a typical weekend for local restaurants, but by a less substantial margin.

A 4% increase over the busiest days of the week isn’t something many restaurant owners would turn their noses up at. But before we drew any broad conclusions about just how big March Madness is for local restaurants, we wanted to take a closer look at the data.

We started by comparing each of the three major weekends of the tournament against each other.

Opening weekend comes out on top

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the first weekend of the tournament—with its non-stop slate of games and frequent bracket busting upsets—saw local restaurants bringing in the most revenue each day.

The second weekend saw revenues drop only slightly, while the final weekend came in as the slowest of the tournament.

That third and final weekend is, of course, quite different from the first two. With only a pair games on a Saturday, and the final game of the tournament on a Monday (typically the slowest day of the week for restaurants), it’s difficult to draw a direct comparison.

Looking at the Final Four on its own, however (particularly the championship game), backs up the notion that the more games on TV, the more business there is for local restaurants across the country.

The most (and least) popular days for eating out during March Madness

Looking at the day-by-day performance of restaurants throughout the tournament might show us which days brought in the most revenue overall, it also doesn’t paint a full picture of the days where March Madness might have been responsible for bringing in more business than usual.

In order to best understand which days were truly the biggest for restaurants, we need to compare the revenue restaurants brought in on each day of March Madness against the revenue they would otherwise expect to bring in on that day of the week.

For example: the third biggest day in the chart above is Final Four Saturday, where restaurants brought in about $1,800 in revenue. While that looks great compared to the $1,240 average restaurants saw on the first day of the tournament, it becomes less impressive when you consider that a typical Saturday sees restaurants bring in about $1,790 in revenue.

Let’s take a look at how each day of the tournament compares to the typical day of the week throughout the year:

This much clearer view shows us that the opening weekend of the tournament does, in fact, bring in more revenue for local restaurants. Particularly on the first Saturday of the tournament, which vastly outperformed what is the biggest day of the week overall. (Note: This also happened to be St. Patrick’s Day, which may have also played a hand at larger-than-usual crowds).

The second weekend of the tournament still brought a decent bump in revenue, while Thursday returned to near average levels. Leading one to wonder just how many Americans are taking extra long lunches or calling in “sick” to hang out at a local restaurant on opening day.

Interestingly, the final two days of the tournament saw near average numbers for local restaurants.

How to get the most out of March Madness for your restaurant

Do you own your own small, local restaurant? If so, how does yours stack up with the national average? Do you see a similar increase in business throughout the days of the tournament?

It’s clear that Americans like to go out to eat during the tournament, and not just to the big chain restaurants with hundreds of TVs. Try creative ways to draw customers to your restaurant during the tournament. If you have TVs playing the games, make sure to feature that fact. If you don’t, try running special promos centered around delivery or takeout. Think about running special give-aways or contests.

Check out our post on 4 key elements for an effective marketing strategy for your restaurant for even more ideas and suggestions. And if you’re really looking to take your loyalty marketing game to the next round, Womply’s loyalty marketing software can help you build customer loyalty — automatically. Womply has helped restaurants like yours increase revenue by 20%, see 22% more repeat customers, and save 10 hours of time per week. Learn more, plus get free reputation monitoring and customer insights when you sign up for Womply Free!


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