On an October Thursday in Brighton, a dozen chatty patrons sipped Japanese liquor at The Koji Club. Bartenders described the sake — brews with names like Forgotten Fortune or Dragon God — as “ricey and rusty,” and a couple complained about their bosses over a plate of curry empanadas.
It wasn’t the weekend, but it might as well have been.
“Think of that sigh of relief you usually see on people’s faces on a Friday,” said bartender Steve Connolly — or Sake Steve, if you will. “Now sometimes, you see it on Thursdays.”
As Americans redesign their lives for the contours of a “post-pandemic” existence, Thursday is enjoying a renaissance. The once unremarkable day that historically predated the weekend has recently taken on a newfound importance, say bar and restaurant operators around Greater Boston. It’s busier than before COVID — sometimes so much so that owners have to hike up inventory or bring on extra staff to keep pace with the crowds. Data from Open Table shows that reservations through the service were up 30 percent the last Thursday in October, compared to the same day in 2019.
The hybrid workweek is at least partly responsible for the trend. But newly formed fluctuations in priorities and social habits are playing a role, too.
“Maybe it’s because Thursday is a school night, a ‘treat yourself’ night,” said Alyssa DiPasquale, founder of The Koji Club. “Customers want to linger, have good conversation, and hopefully eat.”
Starting this month, the sake bar began selling bento boxes from Cambridge’s Cafe Sushi on Thursday nights, in addition to the snacks already on the menu.
To be sure, Thursday has always been a buzzy evening for twentysomethings and college kids.
“It’s the first of three party nights in a row,” said Chris Lutes, the man behind the Cambridge haunt Miracle of Science. College students hit the bars on Thursdays, he noted, while clubs cater to “a more arty crowd.” Others want nothing to do with weeknight shenanigans: Terri Wagner of Natick said at The Koji Club, “Maybe it’s my age, maybe it’s the pandemic. But no thanks.” (Keep in mind, Wagner was out drinking on a Thursday when she said this.)
But several restaurant industry observers said we’re in the midst of a moment for Thursday, and there are endless threads that may explain the weekday’s recent rocket ride to fame.
Some theorized that the pandemic highlighted the need for greater work-life balance. Friendship, after all, shouldn’t be reserved for two nights a week, said Mario LaPosta of Da LaPosta, an Italian restaurant in Newtonville.
“People have a little more time on their hands,” he added. “They care about the personal over the professional.”
It may also be that New Englanders have started to escape for weekend trips earlier and want to eat before they leave. Or that locking down a weekend restaurant reservation has just become too difficult.
“Thursday is close enough to Friday, I guess,” said Gabby Malina, a host at The Koji Club.
An obvious remote-work theory has also emerged: Those working on a hybrid schedule now see Thursday as the unofficial end of the work week, before they head to their home office on Friday. Nationwide, 23 percent of employees can work from home part time, according to a June survey from McKinsey, and many local companies allow people to stay home select days of the week.
Restaurateur Philip Frattaroli noted that “jobs are a little more flexible than they were before. Employers are getting reflective, and that’s playing out in people’s behavior.” After 5 p.m. on Thursdays, Ducali, his Causeway Street pizzeria, sees a surge of downtown workers looking for a slice. Another of his spots, Cunard Tavern, draws employees living in East Boston’s Jeffries Point for a fish taco and pale ale after their commute home.
Eateries closer to office buildings are also seeing waves of corporate dinners and after-work drinks on Thursday. With many workers staying home on Fridays, they say adieu the evening before.
Sean Olson of Salt + Stone said his Assembly Row restaurant fills up with employees from MassGeneral Brigham or the Puma headquarters coming for $1 oysters from 4 to 6 p.m. on Thursdays. Afterward, formal work dinners overtake the space. One recent Thursday, Salt + Stone had six reservations for company get-togethers on the books, for anywhere from eight to 15 people.
Compared to pre-pandemic, his Thursday sales are up 50 percent. So Olson plans inventory meticulously for that evening and staffs the restaurant up with more cooks and wait staff.
“Before COVID, most money came in on the weekends,” he said. “Now we can count on Thursday to be one of our busier nights.”
That’s good news for restaurants that can no longer rely on steady sales from lunch. Fast-casual places in the Financial District and full-service eateries as far out as the suburbs have seen dismal showings from midday meals since the pandemic began, said Steve Clark, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association. Making up that business on a Thursday could be a boost for eateries that have survived COVID but still struggle with inflation-thinned profit margins and low turnout Monday through Wednesday.
And though the changes in work lives impact how — and when — people eat, Jyoti Mehta pegged another reason for the Thursday resurgence: the social calendar. The owner of Wine Press in Brookline and Fenway said that, unlike in 2020 and 2021, Fridays and Saturdays are now booked up by more plans with friends or family than ever before.
She and her husband, Aaron, are an example.
“Friday, we have dinner with these friends. Saturday, we have this or that birthday party,” Mehta added. “But Thursday is the evening of relaxation.”
Her customers seem to operate in a similar way. They filter in and out quickly on Fridays, picking up wine for parties or craft brews for a cozy night at home. But the day before, crowds hang around for tastings from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. They chat about whether they favor the bottles on display: beaujolais, frappato, a bubbly champagne. Regulars make friends and return together the next week.
“Sometimes, you see the same adorable dogs every Thursday,” Mehta said. “It’s a party, really.”