MILWAUKEE (AP) - This year's calendar offers no comfort or joy for restaurant operators. That's because Christmas and New Year's fall on the weekend.
"Did you have to remind me?" asked Marc Bianchini, operator of Osteria del Mondo, Coa, Cubanitas and Indulge, as he looked ahead to the holiday schedule for his restaurants. "It's just two lost days."
For restaurant owners, Friday is the worst possible timing for Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. Ditto for Christmas and New Year's days on Saturday.
"It's kind of the perfect storm," said Ed Lump, executive director of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association in Madison.
The two days of Christmas kill a restaurant's business on the busiest days of the week when they fall on a Friday and Saturday. Nearly all restaurants are closed on Christmas Day, and most operate with short, early hours on Christmas Eve.
New Year's Eve, on the other hand, is a huge day for restaurants. But when it falls on a Friday, which would have been busy anyway, it eliminates the potential for two big days during the holiday week instead of one.
Restaurants typically make 60 percent of their revenue on Fridays and Saturdays, Lump said. So closing on those days is a big financial hit.
Many restaurants are open on Christmas Eve, but family gatherings and church services that start as early as 3 and 4 p.m. put a damper on evening business, Lump said.
"Even if you're open, you try not to have the traditional fish fry," Lump said.
"The best time for us to have Christmas and New Year's is on a Monday or a Tuesday," said R.C. Schmidt, owner of the Water St. Brewery, Rudy's and Louise's restaurants. Mondays and Tuesdays are the slowest days for restaurants, so closing for Christmas and New Year's Day is less of a loss.
New Year's Day is good for casual restaurants and sports bars, because plenty of people are out shopping or getting together to watch football. Having it on a Saturday will make it very big, Schmidt said.
The Bartolotta Restaurant Group's fine-dining restaurants normally would be closed on New Year's Day, said John Wise, director of operations. But this year, they decided to open most of their locations on New Year's Day because it's on a Saturday, and it's not a religious holiday, Wise said.
"We knew it wasn't going to be as big as a normal Saturday," Wise said. But now that the Badgers are going to the Rose Bowl, their hopes for the evening of Jan. 1 are even lower, he said.
Eddie Martini's, in Wauwatosa, will close at 3 p.m. on Dec. 24 and remain closed through Dec. 26, the restaurant's website says. But Martini's will be open on New Year's Day.
The challenging holiday calendar this year comes at a time when the restaurant industry is trying to emerge from a couple of painful years. For only the second time in nearly a half-century, the industry lost jobs in 2009, as consumers pulled back on restaurant visits, according to a report from the National Restaurant Association.
Restaurant revenue was expected to increase by 2.5 percent this year, which would mean flat revenue when adjusted for inflation, according to the association.
Ron Paul, chief executive officer at Technomics Inc., a Chicago restaurant research and consulting firm, said sales bottomed out this year for the industry and began to grow in the third quarter.
"The downturn started in early `08," Paul said. "It's going to take a couple of years to get back to where they were."
It's difficult to quantify the effect of the every-seven-year Saturday date for Christmas on the restaurant industry as a whole, Paul said. It's just one of a number of uncontrollable factors that can affect individual restaurants, including the weather, he said.
Paul is seeing a trend for more restaurants to open on Christmas Day, mostly for brunch or lunch. The biggest challenge for operators is to find employees who are willing to work on that day. People looking for a place to dine out on Christmas Day will have the best luck by looking for hotel restaurants, which typically are open to serve guests, he said.
Restaurant operators say that because of the recession, it's easier these days to get reservations for weekends and for New Year's Eve. But to get your first choice restaurant for New Year's Eve, it's best to call before Christmas.