Nobody goes out to lunch anymore—Here’s why

We made 433 million fewer trips to restaurants for lunch last year.

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Here’s some good news for those of us who have been brown-bagging our lunches to work for years to save money: Fewer people are going out to lunch.

Last year, restaurants saw the lowest number of lunchtime visits in 40 years, according to NPD Group Inc. a market-research firm that recently shared its findings with the Wall Street Journal.

We made 433 million fewer trips to restaurants for lunch last year, which means restaurant lost $3.2 billion in sales.

Those statistics are interesting enough on their own, but what’s behind this shift?

For one, people just don’t have time for extended lunch breaks anymore. People are eating at their desks, or ordering catering for meetings with clients.

 

“I put [restaurant] lunch right up there with fax machines and pay phones,” Jim Parks, a 55-year-old sales director, told the Wall Street Journal.

 

Saving money is also a motivating factor behind the shift. Restaurant prices have gone up while grocery prices have gone done. The average price of lunch at a restaurant has risen 19.5 percent since the recession—it’s just so much cheaper to make your own lunch than visit a restaurant.

According to some estimates, the average markup for common restaurant food items ranges from 155 percent to 636 percent, which is mind-blowing.

The workforce is also changing, with more people doing at least some of their work from home (or all of it). Plus, since people are doing more of their shopping online, they’re spending less time at the mall or out shopping entirely.

So, what does this mean for restaurants? They’re struggling to attract customers and some have even started offering lunchtime specials. Even so, restaurants are facing a ‘restaurant recession.

But, though this decline in lunchtime visits is bad for restaurants, ultimately it’s good for budget-savvy eaters who want to save money by bringing their lunch to work everyday. Less peer pressure is good for all of our budgets.

Looking for some sack-lunch inspiration? Here are seven recipes food experts swear by—and they’re all under $7.

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