The death of lunch
America has turned lunchtime into errand or work time. 'People are expected to produce so much that they forget to live,' one restaurateur laments.
Forget the fact that she comes from a country where a leisurely lunch is considered a cultural birthright.
These days, when Marianne Fabre-Lanvin, a native of France now living in New York, heads out for her midday "meal," she’s more likely thinking in terms of a haircut, facial or manicure -- or better yet, all three -- than steak frites and a glass of Bordeaux.
"I have so little time for myself to do the things that are necessary," says Fabre-Lanvin, executive director of the U.S. office of Sud de France, a trade group that promotes the southern France region.
And sure enough, Fabre-Lanvin is a regular at New York's Julien Farel Restore Salon & Spa, a high-end house of beauty that specializes in "Power Hour" lunchtime sessions (starting at $155) that combine multiple services, all with the busy executive in mind. If time is really of the essence, the Farel salon will also see to providing a quick lunch during the appointment: After all, salon customers still need to eat, the Farel staff notes.
Or do they? America has become a country that has turned lunchtime into errand or work time -- and a rushed one at that. A recent survey by OfficeTeam, a staffing agency, found that 48 percent of employees say their typical lunch break is 30 minutes or less. And another survey of the general workforce by office-supply giant Staples (SPLS) found that 19 percent of employees say they don’t break for lunch at all.
Not unexpectedly, restaurants, especially higher-end, sit-down eateries that helped make the three-martini lunch a mainstay a few decades ago, are the ones feeling the pinch. Some report declines of 20 percent or more in lunchtime sales over the last few years.
Adding insult to injury: The Great Recession prompted a cutback in personal and corporate spending, restaurant executives say. "The big lunches on business accounts are a thing of the past," says Jean Goutal, who runs Le Colonial, an upscale French-Vietnamese restaurant in New York.
At the same time, shifts in lunch-hour habits and behaviors have benefited many businesses. Indeed, salons and spas are seeing plenty of customers like Fabre-Lanvin who are forsaking that leisurely lunch so they can tend to life's multitude of chores. And the "Power Hour" concept of piling on treatments only ups the appeal of a midday trip to the beauty parlor, explains salon owner Julien Farel. "People want more in less time," he says. (The concept isn't limited to women, either: Farel has express packages for men, as do other salons.)
Another new wrinkle -- or anti-wrinkle -- to the trend: specialty salons that focus on one area of service, but in super-speedy fashion. Consider how Lydia Sarfati, founder of the Repachage skin-care line, has been behind "Facial Bars" that offer "age-defying treatments" in 30 minutes or less. Sarfati has overseen the opening of more than 40 such bars nationwide and plans to launch another 250 in the coming year. The bars are "the future of the skin-care industry," she has written.
Of course, as much as the lunchtime squeeze is hurting high-end eateries, it's actually boosting the bottom line of other restaurants and food-service providers -- namely, those that can offer a quick bite. For example, grocers have seen their lunchtime business for prepared food (think salads and sandwiches) jump by 28 percent since 2008, according to market researcher NPD Group. (By contrast, there’s been only a 2 percent uptick in prepared food sales for breakfast during that same time.)
The boom in lunch-on-the-go has also been one of the major drivers in the rise of fast-casual restaurants like Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) and Panera (PNRA), which are seen as a quality alternative to the fast-food chains that pioneered the speedy midday meal. (The fast-casual category grew by 13 percent in 2012, according to the most recent data from Technomic, a research firm that tracks the restaurant industry.)
In other words, fast-casual is like full-service dining without the hour-plus commitment. The category "exists today because it does a better job at lunch than full-service," says Darren Tristano, a Technomic executive vice president.
Which is not to say full-service restaurants are giving up all hope. Many are trying to level the lunchtime playing field by offering their own speedier options. A case in point: Reserve Cut, a steakhouse in New York's financial district, now has a "$40 @ 40" lunch deal -- a three-course midday meal for $40 that's served within a guaranteed time frame of 40 minutes. "It's brought in a lot of business," says Reserve Cut general manager Rick Bruner.
Additionally, some high-end restaurants are starting to offer lunchtime delivery service. Such is the case at Le Colonial, the French-Vietnamese eatery in New York. Proprietor Goutal says he's happy to do it if it will help his business regain some lost midday revenue. But the French native does express a certain sadness that lunch is losing its place in the culture as a necessary respite -- not just in the U.S., but even in France. It goes contrary to everything he was taught about food and work.
"People are expected to produce so much that they forget to live," he says.
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It's all thanks to companies becoming so big that they will fire someone who looks at someone the wrong way and replace them with someone who will work for less.
Big companies created this disaster of an economy and it's exactly where they want it.
People clawing and scratching at each other for the same job for as little as possible wages.
Companies working people to the bone also not allowed to have any life outside of work...or barely any.
"More Shoddy News" strikes again.
Power Hours? At a salon? That is SERIOUSLY the stupidest thing I've ever heard of. First of all, the cost is mind boggling. Secondly, who would want those kind of services in an hour? I certainly wouldn't get very much work done after a massage/manicure/facial/whatever.
Incidentally, lunch is not dead. Every day I get up 5 minutes early (yes 5 minutes) and make myself a sandwich. If my boss is going to be a p---- about me leaving for lunch, I have a sandwich at my desk.
There is NO WAY he would let me leave for an hour to "do chores and/or errands".
Maybe the people who can afford these power hour lunches should quit griping. Wait until AFTER work to primp like the rest of us.
(Of course once noticed by co- workers, they will complain resulting in an office edict dictating hours. The conclusion being some folks don't want to go home).
I feel that because of all the downsizing you just don't have time for lunch in order to finish the additional task allocated (thrown) at you.
It's horrible the way the American Worker is treated with no compensation whatsoever. Just a simple...be grateful you got a job...
This will blow up in Corporate Americas face, and it will not be pretty.
It's a shame that this is accepted in corporate culture. Look at the most recent mistake by GM with their President new hire. She's set women back in that industry by decades!
i leave the office every day, shoot some hoops, take a walk, do something, anything
that is not at my desk for an hour or there abouts.
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