Best friends Sandy Torres and Kurstin Montero plopped down their morning's shopping bags to enjoy their annual Black Friday lunch ritual with their daughters and did their part to drive Friday's restaurant sales before battling their way back into the shopping fray.
"This is halftime," Torres, of San Jose, said just before a glass of Champagne arrived at her table at Santana Row's Pizza Antica.
Just as Black Friday sets the tone for retail sales of TVs, handbags, clothes and other consumer goods for the holidays, restaurants can get a sense of how their year will close out based on Friday's traffic, said Angelica Pappas of the 20,000-member California Restaurant Association.
But Black Friday business can offer a misleading economic indicator. Restaurants located in or around major shopping areas typically do better on Black Friday, such as Pizza Antica which sits in the middle of Santana Row within walking distance of Westfield Valley Fair.
But even restaurants located in ground zero of the Black Friday chaos can struggle during the height of one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
It all depends on price point and the time it takes shoppers to refuel and recharge.
For instance, while the tables were full at Pizza Antica, where Torres and Montero ordered a $60 meal for four -- including cocktails for the moms -- only three tables were occupied just a few doors down at the much fancier LB Steak restaurant at the
As he stood in front of an impressive display of marbled and aged meats in LB Steak's entrance, general manager John Hanrahan said, "We market to the savvy diner looking for quality."
The California Restaurant Association does not have specific Black Friday sales numbers for its members. Nationally, however, Black Friday restaurant sales account for $1.3 billion in revenue and rank 134th out of 365 days based on data from MasterCard Advisors, Pappas said. (Mother's Day remains the No. 1 busiest day across the country).
"Black Friday falls somewhere in the middle," Pappas said. "It's a big day for coffee shops in the morning and it's a huge day for food courts and restaurants around shopping centers. They can get slammed."
Even restaurants nowhere near major shopping centers that cater to dinner or cocktail crowds can still see a 10 percent bump in Black Friday business, said Andrew Hoffman, general manager of Berkeley's Comal restaurant along Shattuck Avenue.
"We are in downtown Berkeley, where I don't think it's thought of too much as a shopping destination with the type of traffic you would see on Black Friday," Hoffman said. "But we're always busy on Friday nights, especially during the holidays. It's not so much to do with shopping. Families are in town and, especially after Thanksgiving, people don't want to do any cooking."
During the height of the Black Friday lunch rush Friday along Santana Row, Allison Morgan, of Gilroy, managed to grab a table outside busy Village California Bistro, then set down $400 worth of her morning's purchases.
Morgan, a self-described "high-tech refugee" who now home schools her daughters, proceeded to order a Manhattan, a plate of calamari and a pear salad while enjoying the sound of caroling from nearby Girl Scouts.
To Morgan, it was the ultimate break before jumping back into the mania of Black Friday.
"Right now I'm listening to Christmas carols at a perfect table for one," she said. "So I'm having a fantastic day."
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.