WFH may see a return to local high streets and suburban hearts for restaurants and cafes in the US, says GlobalData

A third of the US population plans to work from home (WFH) more often following the pandemic, according to a Q2 survey by GlobalData. The leading data and analytics company notes that the continuation of flexible working will reshape foodservice in the US as we know it. For example, the value of takeaway coffee and tea shops in the country declined by 23.5% from $47.7bn in 2019 to $36.5bn in 2020. We are likely to see such operators relocating to suburban or rural areas, as well as relying on partnerships with delivery companies as we move forward.

Carmen Bryan, Consumer Analyst at GlobalData, comments: “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 68%* of 35-44 year olds in the US seeing an uptick in WFH prevalence at the start of 2021. As rush-hour traffic lessens 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.”

Over 2020, pick-up and delivery only formats provided a vital lifeline to cafes and restaurants during lockdown periods, enabling them to maintain operations.

Bryan continues: “E-commerce and partnerships with delivery companies will become a permanent fixture in modern cafe and restaurant culture going forward. Working professionals can still get their favorite 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, we may see restaurants and cafes looking to serve the lunch crowd relocating to suburban or rural areas. While historically, city centres have been synonymous with coffee culture, the slowdown seen by the pandemic may encourage operators to open new branches in suburban hearts.

Bryan adds: “Over the next decade, the heart of the city may transform from busy urban centres to the 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 romanticized 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.”

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