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Lunch may be one of the most important events of the workday, but a surprising number of workers give little or no thought to where they will go to eat until they are actually headed out of the office.

Cleveland-based marketing services company WorkPlace Impact conducted a survey of the lunching behavior of working women that found 9 out of 10 make that decision on the fly.

“Not only are working women spending money frequently on lunch, but they are making last-minute decision on where to go,” said Tara Peters, director of marketing at WorkPlace Impact.

A 2012 survey by finance recruiting firm Accounting Principals found 50 percent of the American workforce spends an average $1,000 a year on coffee, with many shelling out twice as much for lunch. Two-thirds of those surveyed said they buy lunch instead of bring their own, spending an average of nearly $2,000 a year on the midday meal.

WorkPlace Impact focused its survey on women workers because the company’s clients — many of the nation’s leading restaurant brands — are interested in data related to women, who typically control many of the spending choices in the average American household.

The online survey of 3,435 people conducted in late June and early July did not examine the lunching behavior of working men, but Peters said she could only assume that much of the data would also apply, although that is only an educated guess.

According to the survey, slightly more than half of the respondents — 51 percent — purchased lunch outside of work at least three times a week. The most important factors for deciding which restaurant to visit for lunch were quick service (79 percent said this was important), low-cost menu options (68 percent); and healthy menu options (57 percent).

Lunch isn’t always a social activity.

Those surveyed divide their time dining among colleagues and friends or eating alone. While 92 percent said they regularly or occasionally eat out with co-workers, 86 percent regularly or occasionally eat lunch by themselves.

“When you think about restaurant marketers — whether it’s a McDonald’s around the corner or an Applebee’s or any other type of restaurant — much of the lunch traffic comes from people working around those locations during the workweek,” Peters said.

“If I’m a marketer for a McDonald’s location, and we know working women eat out three times a week and make those decisions on the fly. What that tells me is if they are making that decision on the fly, I have the opportunity to influence that decision if I can get my message in front of them at the moment they are making that decision.”

Peters said WorkPlace Impact helps restaurants reach consumers during the workday through a nationwide network of 1 million businesses that represent 71 million employees.

Many restaurants reach workers by sending coupons directly into workplaces within close proximity to their restaurants. The large chain restaurants who use WorkPlace Impact send coupons to nearby employers who distribute the coupons to their employees either by hand or in their paycheck envelope.

“The great thing about this is that the brands’ materials are delivered by the employers to the employees, and it’s effective with influencing dining decisions,” said Peters.

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