Dollars After Dark: How Restaurants Can Cash In On Late-Night Dining

“Last call!” the bartender shouts over the booming bass of the nightclub… but the thoughts about where that party-goer is headed next are even louder than the music. 

Greasy cheeseburgers. Limp, salty fries. And a huge bottle (or two, or three) of water. 

While that’s probably most people’s ideal 2 AM snack, what if you could offer something better than a quick-and-greasy combo meal? 

What if you could satisfy their post-party munchies with something actually handmade, ready to pick up, and properly delicious? 

The good news is that you can, and we’ll tell you how – after we go over the facts first. 


The Facts About Late-Night Eats

Over the past few years, late-night sales have been anything but booming thanks to stay-at-home orders and nationwide health priorities. But, since 2022, we've seen late-night sales make an incredible comeback, with Wendy’s leading the quick-service pack. 

In Q1 of this year, Wendy’s welcomed a nationwide sales increase of 8.6%, with late-night sales rising back to familiar levels. The sales increase has inspired Wendy’s to stay open later, add more value to their menu, and even ramp up advertising efforts to target the late-night crowd.

Jack in the Box has seen similar growth, with their dinner and late-night dayparts growing steadily from Q4 of 2022 into Q1 of 2023. Their overnight success – pun intended – is attributed to longer, later hours and a brand new “Late Night Munchie Meal.” 


The Opportunity for Restaurant Owners

So, there’s definitely some proof in the (late-night) pudding…but what does that mean for restaurateurs like you? 

If you ask Tyler Small – the co-founder of Three Small Scoops and our most recent podcast guest – focusing on late-night sales means a world of opportunity. 

“In the bar, you have a very captive audience,” Tyler says. “They’re buying drinks, they’re talking with their friends, they’re there to enjoy themselves, have a good time, be entertained.”

When Tyler shows up on the night scene to represent Three Small Scoops, you’d never know that his pitch-to-conversion ratio is 10x greater in bars than anywhere else because all he’s doing is having a good time and building relationships. 

Then, when Tyler’s Double Chocolate Chip Sea Salt brownies make their way into the conversation, that’s when the late-night magic starts to happen. “If I’m there, and people are in a spending mood anyway, they might as well be supporting a local business,” says Tyler, “‘cause otherwise they’re just gonna go to McDonald’s afterwards and have a cheeseburger.”

Getting his product in front of the night crowd has let Tyler sell more product-per-person at bars than anywhere else… and there’s no business owner who wouldn’t want that kind of success. 


Your Solution in Joining the Night Scene 

If Tyler’s table-to-table sales aren’t your vibe, don’t stress. There are a ton of other ways to get your restaurant – and your delicious food – in front of the late-night crowd.

  • Set up a street vendor stand in your downtown core. 
  • Park a food truck outside your town’s most popular bars.   
  • Extend your dine-in or take-out hours on popular bar nights.
  • Join your local night market and stay up selling to the night owls. 
  • Let bar-goers “order ahead” through your Craver app, paying now and picking up later.
  • Reach out to local bars and nightclubs to see if you can set up a table inside their venue. 

Before getting your heart set on a night scene sales plan, make sure to check out your city and state’s regulations for things like food trucks, vendors, and off-site food sales (‘cause fines are never good for your bottom line!). 


Wrap Up

Whether you’re tackling the late-night food scene with a basket of bar brownies or you’re setting up shop on the sidewalk, one thing is for sure — the night crowd is the right crowd.