Have we seen the death of the takeout lunch?

For decades, many restaurants and food retailers have done great business at lunchtime, due in no small part to the vast influx of workers stepping out of their office and into a foodservice establishment, whether that is full-service, quick-service, or grocery store.

That daypart, naturally, was near-eradicated during the height of the pandemic given the myriad health concerns and restrictions and the absence of office work.

However, recent data from the NPD Group found that the market is picking up again with lots of workers back in the office and students back in school.

Visits to restaurants during lunch hours — both online and in person — rose four per cent in the year ending September 2021. It’s not much, but it’s something: during the same period a year ago, those visits were down 11 per cent, and early in the pandemic, 78 per cent of lunches were being made at home.

But is that indicative of a return to the pre-pandemic lunch rush? The short answer is likely not.

The NPD data showed that lunch traffic is still eight per cent lower than it was in September 2019, and the forecast is that while restaurant visits may rise by double-digits between now and 2024, those gains will still be 2.4 per cent lower than before the pandemic.

That will mean that many of the restaurants that previously relied on the lunch rush may have to mitigate lower revenues, shift operations including opening hours, and even go through some painful restructuring or closures. But it’s all part of the “new normal” that is already proving to include a sharper focus on mobile orders for takeout.

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