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Downtown restaurants rely on the office lunch crowd. Can they survive the move toward hybrid work?

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Like many downtown business districts across the U.S., Newark, New Jersey’s central business area is full of restaurants catering to the office crowd. With negligible residential populations to serve, these restaurants follow the daily drifts of workers’ coffee breaks, lunches, and early evening happy hours. Without workers, though, these restaurants would wither. And during the pandemic, many did.

“When the pandemic hit, it was basically tumbleweeds,” says Josh Miller, who co-owns two restaurants in downtown Newark, Robert’s Pizzeria and La Cocina. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that more than 150,000 restaurants closed nationwide in 2020. “We were doing everything we could to stay in business and continue, but there was very little that you could do. There were no people. Our community went home.”

Now, that community is coming back to the office, albeit gradually and/or for only a few days a week. In an office landscape radically affected by the pandemic, hybrid work is posing a new kind of challenge for restaurants like Miller’s. Lunch crowds are returning, but in far fewer numbers than before the pandemic. So in an effort to add some consistency to office-serving restaurants’ operations, Newark-based Audible has created Newark Working Kitchens Delivers, an app that redirects some of its corporate cafeteria budget to credits that workers can........

© Fast Company

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