November 6, 2020

Coffee on the Go & the Pandemic “Fake Commuting” Phenomena

You have seen it in Vancouver~long lines of vehicles  in the drive-in lanes at McDonald’s in Kerrisdale when there’s no one inside the quick serve restaurant. You may have wondered why there were so many people  idling in a queue, and just assumed it was an anomaly. But apparently it is not, and as News 1130’s Monica Gul reports Dr. Sylvain Charlebois who is the director of Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University is studying this phenomena. Dr. Charlebois has called it “the fake commute”.

It does make sense in that Tim Hortons and McDonalds have been reporting a doubling or tripling of business at some drive-in locations, and the locations that expected a 30 percent drop in revenue quickly gained ground. Sadly the drive-in quick service chains have been able to adapt well to the pandemic and will emerge with healthy profit margins unlike the independent retailers and restaurants that are not set up for quick serve window accessed meals.

There is a psychological reason that people are leaving home to pick up a coffee whether by foot, bike or vehicle. As Dr. Charlebois notes, people don’t just get up in the morning and sit to work at the home office station, and leaving to get coffee elsewhere creates a regularity and a “commute” to the home office.

Which means that even though people aren’t necessarily going to work, physically, or going to some place, people are still basically driving around or busing around to get their morning fix…A lot of people are struggling to physically distance themselves from their work.

If they’re working from home, it’s very difficult to create that physical division between your personal life and professional life.”

Dr. Charlebois thinks this trend will intensify in the winter months as people set up a regularity and pattern to their work day, and that includes a cup of coffee from somewhere else than the home office.

You can hear some of the research in this YouTube video belo


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  1. Interesting article. I started deliberately fake commuting the first week of my new work from home regime during the lockdown in the spring. I typically bike to work so initially it started as a 1/2 hour on my fixed bike trainer before and after work to mimic my morning and evening commute. Then when the weather got better I decided to ride my bike outside. Not being particularly creative I just rode to my office and back most days. Its been a great way to keep moving and transition between work and non-work. Now that the weather is getting worse its hard to rationalize going for a ride in the rain for fun every day so I’ll probably be back on the trainer. This winter I may get a Zwift account to keep things interesting.

  2. I have noticed this myself, cycling to work along 16th to UBC. There’s a spot around the Starbucks at 16th and McDonald that I jokingly refer to as door alley, not like the fun one in San Francisco. I would have thought that the pandemic would have cut the traffic to this area, but I still have to be alert as ever to avoid sleepy people throwing their car doors open to get a coffee. I know that at least one cyclist has died here from a dooring.

  3. This concept was so interesting to me when I found out about it. I started doing it and decided to launch A platform where fake commuters can post a pic of themselves fake commuting. Sign in with their professional LinkedIn profile.

  4. I suspect it’s a lot of walk in traffic as well. Independents can just as easily take advantage of this business. Behind every shop are folks with jobs and paycheques.

  5. This is so weird, and must correlate with morning people. It helps to explain all the people who are really pushing to get everyone back to the office even as the pandemic intensifies. It also makes me wonder if work from home initiatives will do much, if anything, to cut down on congestion seeing as people love to drive, even when they have nowhere in particular to go.

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