Bad Weather Can Mean Good Business for Restaurants
Bad Weather Can Mean Good Business for Restaurants

Thanks to an increase in delivery options, business can boom when weather is bad.

Every winter, it happens like clockwork. As soon as cold weather hits, we queue up the Netflix, plant ourselves on the couch, whip out our iPhones and tap the red app icon of hope—GrubHub.

Food delivery services and restaurants see noticeable surges in business during inclement weather. Consider the Polar Vortex of 2014, which whirled and whipped cold arctic air from the North Pole down into the central and eastern United States. Chicago temperatures dipped as low as 40 degrees below zero. It’s times like these that customers count on delivery options most.

On average, restaurant chains saw a 40 percent increase in delivery orders during that bitingly cold month. Many restaurants had to up-staff their delivery fleet to meet the influx in delivery demand that winter. The average tip amount increased for these brave deliverymen, too—during the Polar Vortex, the average tip amount was 14 percent higher than average in Chicago.

As the threat of a “historic” blizzard loomed over New York City in 2015, people started to hunker down at home. Unsurprisingly, food deliveries saw a big pickup. Despite Mayor Bill de Blasio’s assertion that “a food delivery bicycle is not an emergency vehicle,” hungry New Yorkers couldn’t resist the urge to place their orders. According to data compiled by GrubHub, the average order size that day was about 12 percent larger than normal. But pizza in particular saw the biggest increase—sales were up 135 percent.

All of these numbers tell us what many restaurants have known for awhile now—business can boom when weather is bad.

“Whenever the weather is inclement—rainy, snowy, very cold—the trend is for delivery to go up. Restaurant sales typically decline in the winter, but now that more and more restaurants offer convenient delivery options, they’re gaining back whatever dining-in service they may have lost in to-go orders—and then some,” said Bruce Grindy, chief economist for the National Restaurant Association.

Toppers Pizza has noticed the same uptick in sales during cold weather (and as a Wisconsin-based brand, they know how to brave brutal temperatures). With nearly 40 percent of their system-wide orders currently being placed online, a big part of their business comes through deliveries. But during the winter months in particular, Toppers sees a surge in orders. In January, February and March of last year, the brand experienced a 13.59 percent increase in system-wide sales.

This boost comes during a time that’s notorious for slow restaurant business. In fact, for most dine-in—and even quick servicerestaurants, extreme weather usually hampers sales. According to research done by BlyeSky, sales were down by 10 percent for restaurant owners once the weather begins to change.

The numbers all point to one important advantage restaurants should enact—to truly thrive during blizzards, rainstorms and Chiberia, you need to have a solid delivery game in place to reap the rewards of hungry, snowed-in consumers.

“On a busy snow day, we’re basically doubling our orders. Whenever we know the weather is going to be bad, we have our entire staff come in—it’s all hands on deck. It’s usually one of the biggest sales days of the year,” said Adam Oldenburg, the corporate operations director for Toppers. “At Toppers, we have this culture of ‘owning the snow.’ We’re the last pizza place open in nearly every city we’re in, and we do it because we love it.”