Friday Happy Hours remain on the rocks, but Thursdays are suddenly hopping, as hybrid work produces mixed results for SF bars’ economic recovery.

Last week was a banner week for the recovery of San Francisco’s nightlife and entertainment scene. The Game Developers Conference returned in-person to the Moscone Center, and with it the litany of afterparties. The March Madness Sweet 16 was at the Chase Center, and with it the litany of drunken sports fans. It recalled the old pre-COVID glory days of everything happening in San Francisco this weekend that we hope to see duplicated many, many times.  

But these days are not pre-COVID, and we are certainly not post-COVID either. Downtown is not the ghost own it was throughout the pandemic, but it’s not back to full power, and office workers are more likely to return on hybrid schedules that are not five days a week. The Chronicle reports this is reflected in sluggish Friday happy hours, but with one bartender saying “Thursday is the new Friday.”

“Last Thursday it was popping,” one regular at Third Street’s The Lark (formerly Dave's, RIP) told the Chronicle. “On Friday, it was dead.”

A Stanford economist's data explains this change in happy hour behavior above, and it’s more than just happy hour at play here. “Offices are still only 40% full while leisure activities have returned,” writes Prof. Nick Bloom. “Office occupancy will eventually flatline at about 60% once the return to office is complete (3-2 hybrid for the average employee).”

The squiggly colored lines and tiny text in his graphic may be hard to interpret. But the gist of it is that people are currently eating out, going to shows and sports events, and traveling at about 80-95% of pre-pandemic frequency. But nationally, people are going back to the office at less than 40% of pre-pandemic levels, and San Francisco lags behind this. So for downtown bars and lunch spots, the recovery is far more elusive than for other business sectors.    

Moreover, anyone offered work-from-home days is far more likely to use them on Mondays or Fridays. That’s just human nature. For a downtown or Financial District business, this limits your revenue opportunities on Mondays and Fridays.

Mayor London Breed’s solution to this is to ask businesses to order employees back to the office. But that’s not going to work. Markets adapt, because they have to, and no amount of arm-twisting from Breed is going to change that. Some normalcy is returning, but it won’t look like it did before. Businesses like bars that rely on the Monday through Friday workaday crowd will have to learn to mix it up.

Related: Beer Shortage Hits SF Bars Amidst Supply Chain Hiccups [SFist]

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