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Christmas Day Dining Recap

Lila Margalit
January 11, 2024
Christmas Day Dining Recap

The holidays conjure up warm, cozy images of families sitting around artfully-set tables and enjoying delicious home-cooked meals. But for many people, Christmas Day is also a time to eat out. And while many restaurants are closed on December 25th, several national and regional chains keep their doors open for patrons eager to enjoy a nice, stress-free meal with loved ones – without the clean-up. 

So with the holiday season in the rearview mirror, we dove into the data to explore nationwide December 25th dining trends – focusing our analysis on more than 100 chains, mostly full-service, with significant national or regional presence. Which brands are most popular on Christmas Day? And what differences can be observed in different regions of the country? 

The Pacific West Takes the Lead

Nationwide, visits to dining chains nationwide were down 59.7% on December 25th, 2023, compared to a Q4 2023 daily average. But digging down deeper into the different areas of the country reveals significant regional differences. 

The Pacific states – including California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Hawaii – saw a drop of just 33.8% in dining visits on Christmas Day compared to the region’s Q4 2023 daily average. Next in line were the various regions of the South, where December 25th foot traffic dropped between 51.2% and 56.9%, followed by the Mountain states. And on the other end of the spectrum lay New England, where visits were down 83.3% compared to a Q4 baseline. Other areas of the Northeast and Midwest also experienced foot traffic dips in excess of 70.0% – indicating that residents of these areas are less likely to dine out on the holiday. 

Christmas Day is Breakfast Day

But which chains are most popular on December 25th? Analyzing the distribution of holiday visits among 25 leading Christmas Day restaurant destinations shows that three all-day breakfast chains – Waffle House, IHOP, and Denny’s – dominated the Christmas Day dining market this year. 

Together, these 24/7 eateries, which tend to experience significant holiday visit bumps, accounted for an impressive 70.4% of holiday dining foot traffic. After a leisurely morning of presents and hot cocoa, it seems, nothing quite hits the spot like waffles, pancakes, and other breakfast favorites. And with affordable prices, seasonal menus, and special holiday vibes (complete with pajama-clad customers), these restaurants offer plenty of holiday cheer. 

But breakfast chains aren’t the only dining venues that draw Christmas Day crowds. Red Lobster, the popular seafood chain, cornered 4.9% of this year’s December 25th dining foot traffic. And Applebee’s, Black Bear Diner, Golden Corral, and TGI Fridays each received between 2.0% and 3.0% of Christmas Day visits. 

A Variety of Local Favs

Drilling down deeper into the data for holiday visit trends shows that each state has its own favorite Christmas Day destination. In no fewer than 21 states nationwide – including New York, Texas, Michigan, and Florida – IHOP topped the chart. Denny’s and Waffle House, for their parts, each led the charge in 11 states, with Waffle House dominating the Christmas Day scene in much of the South. 

But in some places, other chains topped the Christmas Day rankings. In Iowa, Minnesota, and North Dakota, people flocked to Perkins Restaurant & Bakery – the casual-dining chain known for its iconic pies and pancakes. In Wyoming and South Dakota, Red Lobster drew the biggest crowds. And in Oregon, Shari’s – a chain with some 80 locations in the western region of the country – attracted the most holiday visits.

More Leisurely Meals

Foot traffic data also reveals, unsurprisingly, that visitors to the three Christmas Day leaders – Waffle House, IHOP, and Denny’s – spent more time in the restaurants on Christmas Day than they usually do. Some 17.3% of Christmas Day Waffle House visits lasted more than one hour – compared to 14.7% on an average day in 2023. IHOP and Denny’s also saw significant holiday increases in dwell time. 

If You Stay Open, They Will Come

Though many restaurants are closed on December 25th, chains that do stay open – especially all-day breakfast eateries – draw significant crowds. How will holiday winners like Waffle House, IHOP, and Denny’s continue to fare as people settle back into their post-holiday routines? And how will Christmas Day dining trends evolve nationwide in the years to come? 

Follow to find out.

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