Office traffic is bouncing back, but slowly

Foot traffic data shows improvements in the number of people in downtown areas and office buildings, but it remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
Office workers
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People may be returning to offices, but they are doing so slowly, with traffic down more than a quarter from pre-pandemic levels.

That, at least, is according to two separate studies on foot traffic data to urban areas and office buildings, and the data has implications for foodservice operations in these areas that have been slower to recover from pandemic-era losses.

According to the data firm Placer.ai, office foot traffic in New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Boston have shown “sustained growth in monthly office visits” compared to a year ago.

In June, for instance, visits to office buildings in New York were up 54% compared to a year ago. They were up 85% in San Francisco, 38% in Chicago and 31% in Boston. The numbers leveled out compared with earlier in the year but, the firm noted, that was largely due to more difficult comparisons in 2021 as people began returning to offices during the summer months a year ago.

The firm did note that monthly visits to offices in those four cities dipped in April and May as gas prices surged, but those visits have improved again in June as gas prices have come down.

Then again, offices remain far from where they were before. According to the data firm Springboard, pedestrian traffic in downtown areas was down 26.3% when compared with pre-pandemic levels.

But that, too, has been improving. Traffic was down 27.8% in May, the report noted. And in January traffic in downtown areas was down 43%.

Urban areas have been slow to return to pre-pandemic levels largely because many workers have grown accustomed to working from home during the pandemic.

According to CNBC, only 65% of workers said they were back in the office full-time. Hybrid work environments have become commonplace, with many people opting to stay home some parts of the week. Other workers have remained at home full-time.

This has significance for downtown restaurants, as well as onsite foodservice in the business-and-industry segment. (B&I eateries were some of the hardest hit during the height of the pandemic.)

Though Florida Blue’s corporate campus in Jacksonville, Fla., fully reopened earlier this year, the number of employees in the office each day has been “very fluid,” with more workers coming Tuesday through Thursday and fewer on Monday and Friday, Damian Monticello, director of enterprise hospitality and event services at Florida Blue, told FSD in May.

To accommodate these fluctuations in traffic throughout the week, the dining team switched to more of a fast-casual restaurant model, eliminating batch cooking, finishing dishes to order, and offering online and kiosk ordering.

Other companies have worked to beef up food amenities as they aim to get workers back into the office more often. Real estate company Vornado, for example, recently partnered with third-party deliverer Sharebite to drop off restaurant meals for workers in Vornado-owned office buildings throughout New York City with no delivery fee.


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