Back to the office? Get ready for ‘lunch inflation’


Employees returning to the office will experience sticker shock during their lunch breaks.

New data from San Francisco-based payment processor Square shows that average costs for sandwiches have increased 14 percent year-over-year. The same goes for salads, 11 percent more than in March last year. Soup rose a whopping 28 percent, while tacos also shocked 19 percent during the period.

Restaurants are raising prices to cope with higher costs, fueled by record inflation, rising labor costs and the Omicron variant. This “lunch inflation” is quickly becoming a pain point for companies looking to encourage employees to return to the office, but it’s not insurmountable — and how you respond can make your business more competitive and help employees get back to the office.

An opportunity to consider? While meal allowances are often offered at a slew of investment banks, given the long hours, some sort of lunch allowance would certainly be well received as well.

You can also help employees offset other costs, freeing up money for lunch. According to Joe Alim, chief of product and customer experience at the software platform Compt, which helps companies offer stipends, more employers are interested in health and wellness benefits. While Alim says early in the pandemic he saw a big rise in snack and meal reimbursements, “those numbers quickly dissipated over the following months of the pandemic.” He explains that he now sees employers offering more inclusive benefits for other spending categories, such as general health care. Alim has yet to see meal allowances rise, but adds that a majority of Compt’s clientele is still at a distance.

And for employers who can’t afford to subsidize employee lunches, this move has the added benefit of being something they’re likely to spend money on anyway. After all, healthy employees keep healthcare costs low.

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