Working from home (WFH) is a type of flexible working approach where employees are able to work remotely either full-time or for a couple of days a week and is fast becoming the preferred method of work for many professionals. In fact, a third of the US population plans to work from home (WFH) more often following the pandemic, according to a Q2 2021 survey by GlobalData. However, what does this mean for the industries such as foodservice, which often rely on morning coffee runs and the lunchtime rush?

The continuation of flexible working has the potential to reshape foodservice in the US. With the value of takeaway coffee and tea shops in the country having declined by 23.5%, from $47.7bn in 2019 to $36.5bn in 2020, and a number of operators forced to permanently close some of their premises during the pandemic, it is possible that operators will opt to relocate or branch out into suburban or rural areas when reopening in a bid to follow the working crowds.

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Businesses that depend on commuters’ morning coffee runs or the lunch-time frenzy were hit hard during the pandemic and the new normal isn’t looking like a return to pre-pandemic conditions. The pandemic has proven for many that remote working is not only possible but preferable to the office, with as many 58%* of 35 to 44-year-olds in the US seeing an uptick in WFH prevalence at the start of 2021. As rush-hour traffic reduces in urban centres, cafes and restaurants looking to bring in the lunch crowd will need to adapt their models and follow the crowds to town centres and residential spots.

This migration, however, may be mitigated somewhat by the emergence of delivery models. Over 2020, pick-up and delivery-only formats provided a vital lifeline to cafes and restaurants during lockdown periods, enabling them to maintain operations and as a result, it is likely that e-commerce and partnerships with delivery companies will become a permanent fixture in the modern cafe and restaurant culture going forward. Working professionals can still get their favourite coffees delivered to them, which should provide some relief to those operators who were banking on the ‘return to office’ rush. This also fits in with consumer’s preference for the online world as over a quarter of US consumers are now spending time online more frequently.

In the long-term, restaurants and cafes should look to a balanced approach. Not all rural and suburban areas are in reach of delivery services, where the outlets themselves or delivery drivers may be limited. Having one or two premises in suburban areas will provide greater reach and access for delivery services as well as encourage on-trade visits. Over the next decade, the heart of the city may transform from busy urban centres to more family-orientated suburbs, which have the potential of becoming self-contained hubs themselves. One thing that will never change is the appeal of eating and drinking out. Reading a book with your cappuccino in a quaint coffee house has been romanticised in books and films since the 1920s and this desire for escapism and retreat from the mundane rituals of ordinary life is precisely what operators should be considering. Emphasising experience and atmosphere over occasion may encourage footfall in a post-pandemic world in which the home has become the centre of one’s life.