Why People Aren't Going Out to Lunch As Much


Does the fridge in your office kitchen seem more crammed with brown bags than ever? Is there a long line to use the microwave? Are more and more of your colleagues hunched over their desks, scarfing down home-packed sandwiches and leftovers from last night’s dinner, instead of breezing out the door to an eatery to grab a bite? Doesn’t anyone go out to lunch anymore?

As it happens, people are actually eating lunch in restaurants less frequently, and the industry is feeling the effects. According to a recent report by the market-research firm NPD Group, the total number of restaurants in the United States decreased 1 percent between spring 2015 and spring 2016, when the number stood at 624,301 nationwide. Independent restaurants are taking the biggest hit, according to NPD, with a 3 percent decline, while the number of chain restaurants remained flat. And growth from here doesn’t look to be in the cards, the group reports.

What gives? It’s all about a lack of give in our wallets. In recent months, restaurant prices have climbed, while grocery prices have held relatively steady, Money magazine reports. Americans are concluding that eating out — especially for lunch, where prices have increased about 5 percent, on average, in the past year, according to NPD — is just too pricey a proposition.

Speaking to Nation’s Restaurant News, NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs attributed the downward trend, which is most pronounced at fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle and Panera Bread, to a variety of factors. “It’s political, concern about the economy. It’s uncertainty, food safety, social unrest,” she said, “But probably the biggest thing is sticker shock.”

Riggs said people just don’t feel like they’re getting enough value for their money when they eat out at restaurants, particularly at lunch, where restaurant visits have declined 4 percent in the last year. “Consumers have cut back,” she told Money, “because they can’t afford to go out for lunch every day.”

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