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What’s for lunch?

3 min read


In the late 1990s, lunch outside the office or at least away from the desk was still part of most work days, but it was already starting to change, with the advent of always-on technology and startups that brought in food so workers could spend more time on the job without worrying about lunch plans.

At the time, it sounded like luxury to many of us who dined on our own dime. Then, of course, the dot-com bubble burst, and many big-spending startups quickly learned that there really is no such thing as a free lunch. But that doesn’t mean workers suddenly got their lunch hour back. Indeed, in the years since, working through lunch has become such a normal thing that McDonald’s tied an ad campaign to workers standing up for their right to take a midday meal break, The New York Times reported. The tagline? “It’s your lunch. Take it.”

“Work-life balance is really at a tipping point. People don’t have a break for lunch, and they feel like they can’t take one for whatever reason,” said Geoff McCartney, vice president and creative director at DDB Chicago, the agency that created the campaign.

While commercials might push the idea that it’s the boss keeping workers tied to their desks, the reality might have more to do with employees’ desire to get work done rather than take a break. In a survey, 62% of people said they “dine al desko,” The Denver Post reported, despite many companies’ preference that workers step away for lunch.

“We have become a nation of multitaskers; we are all multitasking all the time,” said Cynthia Fukami, a management professor at the University of Denver, who frequently eats at her desk. “It may look like you’re getting more done, but eventually workers burn out, so breaks are good.”

Consultant and QSRWeb blogger Darrel Suderman has dubbed the trend “desktop dining,” saying it represents a growth frontier for restaurants savvy enough to cater to it. “I believe there are millions of hungry consumers that daily dread the noon hour hunger pains, with no flavorful and nutritious food to stimulate their senses for a long afternoon of work,” he wrote in a blog post.

These days, food trucks that pull right up to the curb offer workers a greater range of options without going off campus, and several big companies have upgraded on-campus eateries. So where does that leave traditional restaurants?

What have changing lunch trends meant for your restaurant? Tell us in the comments.

Image credit: diego_cervo, via iStockphoto