Who is going to save the business lunch?


Who is going to save the business lunch?

Who is going to save the business lunch?

Managing Director, Steven Pike, explores the changing lunchtime trends across the hospitality industry.

Despite more than a quarter of workers admitting business lunches are a huge resource for obtaining and retaining clients, the business lunch (in steady decline since the 80s), seems to be gasping its last breath. Nearly half of all workers in the UK are too busy to leave their desk at lunchtime, let alone spend a few hours wining and dining in the middle of the day.

Every measure seems to make clear that the business lunch is on its last legs. The average expenditure has dropped by £6, the average number of drinks has all but halved, and those who do manage to fit in lunches spend less than one hour at the table. The only number that isn’t dropping is the percentage of people who think business lunches are key to a company’s growth – that remains at a substantial 40%.

In contrast, the lunch industry as a whole is growing at a steady rate. Over the last five years, restaurant site numbers have grown by 21.3%, even as pub and bar sites dropped by 9.9%. Research from the Market Growth Monitor suggests that it’s fast-casual brands, the last bastion of the business lunch, who are responsible for this uptick in figures.

The “food-on-the-go” market, characterised largely by quick service and low prices, is also doing well, particularly thanks to the emergence of brands like tossed, itsu, and LEON bringing a fresher, healthier lunch approach to the market. And food-led pubs are outperforming wet-led pubs at all times of day.

With all other lunch trends on the rise, and a large percentage of workers acknowledging the value of a business lunch, it’s difficult to explain the continued fall in business lunch popularity. Often the 2008 credit crunch is blamed for speeding business lunches along the path to oblivion, but the fault can’t be laid here entirely – most performance indicators have returned to, or exceeded, pre-Recession levels.

What hasn’t been the same since 2008, though, are the workforce generation demographics. 2008 was the year that Millennials, primarily born in the 1990s or later, began to come of age and enter the workforce en masse. Millennial dining habits differ drastically to those of previous generations. As an age group they drink far less than their parents and grandparents, particularly out of the house. Traditional eating habits are being eschewed, as they pass over three square meals a day in favour of frequent, light snacking. Face-to-face meetings are losing ground to the quicker, less personal email. Given all of these factors together, it seems clear that a long business lunch has nothing to offer the Millennial market – and they’re expected to be the workplace majority by 2020.

Yet if Millennials are causing the slow death of the business lunch, they may be its only hope of resuscitation, too. A survey from MCA showed that Millennials are dining out, on average, 28 times per month; three times as often as those over 50. Likewise, the Greene King Leisure Tracker revealed that Millennials are the only generation reporting eating out more frequently now than two years ago. The appetite for restaurants and foodservice remains undiminished.

In addition, flexitime in the workplace is one of the highest priorities for Millennial workers. Unlike the current crop of employees who are too busy to take lunch breaks, Millennials prefer a more elastic working day, which could potentially accommodate longer lunches again. As more and more Millennials enter the workforce and progress through the ranks, their enjoyment of eating out and looser schedules may see a resurgence in business lunches.

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