Welcome to the battle for workday share of stomach
(Yes, that's a real metric.)
A few years ago, a couple of San Francisco supervisors proposed an ordinance that would ban companies in the city from constructing new in-office kitchens and cafeterias for employees. The goal was to instead encourage workers in large offices to venture outside into the neighborhood for lunch. It was proposed with a specific part of town in mind — a spot where Twitter, Square, and Uber offices, each with a self-contained cafeteria, stood a stone’s throw from each other. The measure didn’t pass, and ultimately many restaurants that had opened in hopes of serving an influx of workers in the area closed. (Alta, I will always love you.)
Now there’s a new high-stakes lunchtime battle brewing. As workers return to offices — or, at least, as businesses hope workers return to offices, restaurants and tech companies alike are using technology to feed workers outside their homes.
I’m writing about office lunch, so I’ll start with salads — Sweetgreen really, really hopes people are heading back to offices. It was not quite a year ago when Sweetgreen CEO Jonathan Neman declared “Covid’s over” to the New York Times. Sadly, the ink was barely dry on the piece before the delta variant put a pause on the country’s great reopening. Neman’s words quickly turned to a hopeful but unlikely prediction ahead of the company’s November IPO, because, as the Times wrote, “The company and its meals are connected to the status of office workers in cities, particularly millennials and those in Generation Z.”
Three-quarters of a year and one newly public company later, Neman is still telling investors that the eventual return-to-offices — whenever that is — will help the company. (Sweetgreen is still unprofitable, losing $66 million in the last three months of 2021. But its restaurant-level profit margin was 13 percent over the same period, and same store sales are up, exceeding analyst expectations.)
Sweetgreen has a secret weapon of sorts in its Outpost program, a network of pickup locations — many located in office buildings — that encourage direct orders for timed, centralized pickup. In some cases, the program is offered as an employer perk, replacing in-house chefs and cafeteria staff.