- According to new research from Tork, 37% of millennials don't feel empowered to take a lunch break while at work. Further, millennials are nearly three times more likely than baby boomers to believe they would be judged negatively if they took a regular lunch break.
- Despite these statistics, 62% of millennials say they would opt for a longer or more regular lunch break if possible, compared to 46% of baby boomers, while nearly 90% said a lunch break helps them feel refreshed.
- This year Tork partnered with TV personality Joy Bauer to help spread the word about the health, wellness and workplace benefits of taking a lunch break. It also will award a $250 OpenTable gift card to be used toward a free office lunch on June 21, which Tork dubbed National Take Back the Lunch Break Day. Last year, Tork established this day to occur on the third Friday of June to encourage employees to step away from their desks every day for a lunch break.
Predictions about the lunch break going away began popping up more than a decade ago, and KFC actually commissioned a study in 2007 that showed 60% of corporate employees in the U.S. consider the lunch hour to be the biggest myth about working in an office. That same year, another study found that 55% of workers take a half hour or less for lunch.
The stigma millennials feel about taking a break may be compounding the issue even more, and the lunch-desk trend itself has led to strained lunch sales, particularly at sit-down restaurants. The issue came to a head in 2016, when The NPD Group found that Americans made 433 million fewer trips to restaurants during lunchtime, resulting in about $3.2 billion in lost business. This translated to the lowest level of lunch traffic in at least 40 years, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Conversely, the time-constraints and anxiety consumers feel about taking a break could underscore a big opportunity for restaurants to heavily promote their delivery and takeout options. Some chains have already taken advantage. Earlier this year, for example, Dig Inn moved away from third-party delivery to in-house delivery to ensure a faster and more efficient process to tackle the lunch crowd. Sweetgreen launched its Outpost kiosks specifically in corporate headquarters to feed time-crunched employees looking to eat better. Chipotle has introduced smart shelves and the Chipotlane to facilitate faster service times for digital customers, and Cava is piloting a new Pick-Up By Car option that allows customers to circumvent the drive-thru line if they order ahead.
Catering is also a major opportunity here, and plenty of restaurants are leveraging this channel as well. The catering market grew 6% last year, twice as fast as the entire restaurant industry, to $60 billion, according to Technomic data. Regular business catering clients also spend about $4,000 per month with an average check of $275.
Also, because the workday makeup is also changing — 9-to-5 doesn't really exist anymore and working from home is more common than ever — dayparts are somewhat blurring and more chains are taking advantage of the growing demand for in between offerings and snacks. An analysis from NPD Group's CREST information service finds that snacks account for 19% of total food service occasions.
However, these opportunities for restaurants don't solve the broader issue of the mental health implications of not taking a meaningful break. That is perhaps another area restaurant brands can leverage, particularly as stress, depression and substance abuse persist throughout the industry. Burger King focused on mental health earlier this year with its Real Meals campaign. Perhaps joining Tork's campaign, or embracing something similar, can help facilitate more awareness about the benefits of taking a break, and position restaurants favorably as champions of the worker, millennials and beyond.