The evolution of day and night spending

The pandemic seems like a distant memory today but its impact on economies is still being felt, particularly in the way we work. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the UK, where people work from home 1.5 days a week on average, the second highest number of days globally (after Canada) and more than double the European average. 1

The new ways of working have trickled down into how we dine out, as we reported in the Mastercard Economics Institute’s recent analysis of the dining scenes in the Big Apple in the U.S, and the dining scene across Sydney and Melbourne in Australia. Now we provide an analysis of the “economic clock” in London by leveraging insights from our aggregated and anonymized in-person spending data at London’s restaurants and bars to see how the city’s dining and nightlife have been transformed by the pandemic. We focus on the evolving day and night economies in London, by looking at changes in spending by day of week and time of day.

Happy hour is up, while dining out is down
The absence of office workers is felt in the City, Canary Wharf and around Whitehall and Victoria

Restaurant spending in the City and Canary Wharf accounted for 20.1% of total restaurant spending in London before the pandemic. This share has now shrunk to 16.6%, or by 3.5 percentage points (pp). 2

The weekly pattern of spending has also changed. Before the pandemic, restaurant spending in the City and Canary Wharf rose every weekday from Monday onwards, peaking on Friday. In 2023, spending is concentrated between Wednesday and Friday, peaking on Thursday, which has become the most popular day for working in the office. Indeed, only on Thursday evenings is the City's and Canary Wharf’s share of London’s restaurant spending near pre-pandemic levels.

We also found that people spend differently depending on the time of day. Spending per card is 10% above pre-pandemic levels during happy hour as office workers socialize with colleagues when they do meet in person, but 18% and 15% below pre-pandemic levels at lunch and breakfast respectively.

Southeast includes postcodes SE5, SE10, SE13, SE15 and SE18. SOURCE: MASTERCARD ECONOMICS INSTITUTE

Areas around Whitehall, Victoria and St James's, the site of many government offices, have also seen their share of London restaurant spending fall – from 8.8% of London’s total in 2019 to 7.3% today. The decline in share has been smaller than in the City and Canary Wharf, possibly because Whitehall benefits from tourist attractions like Big Ben and Buckingham Palace. This could explain why restaurant spending in these neighbourhoods has recovered more strongly on weekends than on weekdays.

The West End, which features a mix of office, entertainment and residential areas, has also seen a loss in its share of London’s restaurant and bar spending, which fell by 4 pp from 19.7% in 2019 to 15.7% in 2023. However, the trends differ by mealtime, with the West End losing more during breakfast time (-5.6 pp) than dinner time (-2.5 pp). And despite a sizeable 4.2 pp loss in its share of London’s night-time spending, West End remains the most popular night-time destination, accounting for a quarter of night-time spending in London in 2023.

Mayfair is among the priciest office and residential areas both in the West End and London more generally and home to many fine-dining restaurants and private clubs. The area saw one of the biggest falls in its share of restaurant and bar spending for a single postcode. It went from 3.2% of London’s total in 2019 to 1.9% today, -1.3 pp lower. The fall was driven by night-time spending, declining from 6.4% in 2019 to 4.2% in 2023.