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Post: The Margin: Grubhub is giving NYC office workers free lunch — but who’s still in the office to get the deal?

Could giving people free food work up the appetite to return to the office?

GrubHub has been trending on Google throughout the day on Tuesday for offering a free lunch up to $15 for NYC office workers between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Workers in the Big Apple’s five boroughs, as well as parts of Long Island and New Jersey, can redeem the deal by using the promo code “FREELUNCH” on the delivery service’s app or website during the promotional period, and they’ll get a $15 credit on qualifying orders. And for those who miss the three-hour window, GrubHub will still dish an additional one-time $5 off for NYC office workers until May 31. 

Of course, remote employees who have the luxury of working from home could already be enjoying an almost free lunch today from what they’ve got on-hand in their own kitchens. And while companies including Google

and Goldman Sachs

are asking employees to return to the office, they’re being met with some resistance. And many office buildings in major cities are still reporting plenty of vacancies. 

In NYC, for example, only 38% of Manhattan office workers are in the workplace on an average weekday as of late April 2022, according to the Partnership for New York City, a nonprofit group representing local business leaders. And just 8% of Manhattan office workers report to the office full-time, five days a week. The group surveyed more than 160 major employers between April 21 and May 4, 2022 to gauge how many of Manhattan’s one million office workers are returning to their workplaces regularly. The verdict: remote work is here to stay, with almost 80% of NYC employers anticipating a hybrid work model moving forward. Compare that to before the pandemic, when just 6% of NYC employers said that a hybrid model of mixing remote and in-office work would be their predominant policy.

Less than half (43%) of white-collar workers in America’s biggest cities (including NYC, Chicago, Dallas, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.), have returned to their offices, according to Kastle Systems. The office security company tracked workers’ badge swipes and keycard usage at more than 2,600 buildings that it manages in 138 cities across 47 states. And New York, San Francisco, San Jose and Philadelphia are well below that 10-city average, with return rates below 40%.

So, many employers are trying to whet workers’ appetites by offering them free food and other benefits. The Partnership for New York City reports that nearly two-thirds (64%) of the employers it surveyed are offering at least one incentive to people who return to the office. The most common include social activities (50%), free or discounted meals (43%), subsidizing transportation (13%) and offering child care support (10%). 

And 30% of companies told the Partnership for NYC that they are offering extra remote work flexibility during the summer, such as summer Fridays (when employees get to knock off early to get a jump on the weekend) and permitting remote work in August. 

Some tech companies have also been enticing employees to return to the office with some major perks, such as Google giving employees a private Lizzo concert at its Mountain View, Calif. headquarters in April. The chip maker Qualcomm

hosted a happy hour at its San Diego offices when workers returned last month that featured free food and T-shirts. It also started hosting free weekly events like group fitness classes and pop-up snack stations. 


also greeted employees who returned to work in February with “appreciation events” that featured lawn games, basket-making classes, and plenty of free food and drinks. 

Perhaps it is better to offer employees the carrot (rewards for working in-person) versus the stick (penalties for working from home.) Two-thirds of the workforce said they would find a new job if required to return to the office full-time, according to a survey of more than 32,000 workers by ADP Research Institute. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that of those who quit their jobs during 2021’s Great Resignation, 35% said it was because they wanted to move to a different area. 

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