- Manhattan employers expect 29% of employees to return to the office by the end of July, a number that is expected to rise to 62% by the end of September, according to a survey of employers by the Partnership for New York City emailed to Restaurant Dive.
- Over 70% of employers said they plan to adopt a hybrid model, and 63% of those employers will require their workers to be in the office three day a week. A quarter of employers said they will require employees to be in the office full time, and 4% won't require workers to return to the office at all.
- During the height of the pandemic, Manhattan office buildings were left empty as a bulk of workers telecommuted, leaving restaurants without lucrative lunchtime traffic. As of January, at least 1,000 restaurants in New York City had closed.
While customers have been returning to restaurants nationwide and demand for dining out is up, many people still have yet to return to offices. This trend is causing many restaurants to see repressed lunchtime sales, Kelli Valade, CEO and president of Black Box Intelligence, said during a webinar in May. Lunch daypart sales were down 8.4% during Q1 2021 versus negative 14.1% during Q4 2020, according to the firm's data.
Many employers, particularly in the tech industry, have adopted more flexible work-from-home policies. Employers expect about 2 in 5 employees will still be working remotely at the end of the year, compared with 57% who currently work remotely, CNBC reports. Manhattan isn't the only major city contending with near-empty office buildings, either. Washington, D.C., Seattle and San Francisco have also lost much of their daytime work populations during the pandemic.
"[The returning office population] would be the last thing that we think will really help line up that strength for restaurants," Valade said.
While Partnership for New York's survey shows there is progress, these estimates still don't come close to the pre-pandemic office population.
"It's quite concerning to restaurants and bars that rely on office workers if only 62% are expected to return to the office by September, and only a few times a week," Andrew Rigie, executive director at the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said in an email.
There could be other bright spots ahead for Big Apple restaurants, however. Broadway, which has been shuttered since the pandemic hit, is expected to open in September, when shows can run at full capacity. This could help bring back the city's 70 million annual tourists. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Monday that he would remove virtually all of the state's remaining COVID-19 restrictions once New York has given 70% of the adult population at least one vaccine shot. As of June 7, 68.6% of New York adults were vaccinated.
"Hopefully as all the restrictions are lifted and the city reopens, more companies and workers will be encouraged and incentivized to return by then," Rigie said. "Clearly we need a comeback campaign and a great way to lure people back is with great food and drinks."