The Not-So-Leisurely Lunches of Working Women

With its image of leisurely meals in fancy restaurants, the old phrase “ladies who lunch” probably leaves a bad taste in the mouths of today’s working women as they grab a bite to eat in the midst of a hectic day. An online reader poll by Working Mother, in tandem with Oscar Meyer, takes a detailed look at how these working women view and use their workaday lunch break.

The outlook is mainly utilitarian. Picking from a short menu of choices to describe how they feel about their lunch time, just 9 percent termed it “a delightful break during my day.” Reflecting the time crunch that afflicts these women, 36 percent said their lunch break is “a time to catch up on my personal tasks.” Twenty-three percent characterized it as “a time to mentally recharge” and 33 percent as “a time to satisfy my hunger.” (The total exceeds 100 percent due to rounding.) When asked to say which of four factors is most important to them when they eat lunch, respondents gave a plurality to “convenience” (37 percent), putting it well ahead of “nutrition” (27 percent), “taste” (20 percent) and “price” (16 percent).

Going out to a restaurant for lunch is more the exception than the rule, with 19 percent of respondents saying that’s what they usually do. Sixty-six percent said they bring something from home, and 15 percent buy food from the company cafeteria.

What do the brown-baggers bring? Among respondents who bring lunch, 40 percent said it’s usually something they “assemble at home,” such as a sandwich or salad. Twenty-seven percent bring leftovers; 18 percent tote a “pre-packaged meal,” such as a frozen entree or soup; 15 percent bring “a variety of items to eat throughout the day.”

When the respondents do go out for lunch, it’s not a lavish feast. Asked how much they typically spend on lunching out, the women gave responses averaging a bit under $7. Just 8 percent said they usually spend $10 or more when going out for lunch.