Are we going to see a boom for workplace catering?
After the Government guidance to work from home for the last 18 months, restrictions have now been lifted and employers have the opportunity to bring people back to the workplace. It has been a topic that has caused much debate in recent months. Will office workers ever return to ‘normal’ ways of working or will employers continue to encourage staff to work from home? From my conversations with people in the industry, I think there is a real appetite to get back to the office for many companies. Workers have missed those connections you make in real life and are fed up with the Zoom and Teams calls we’ve all become so familiar with during the pandemic. However, there is still a mixed bag of views with some employers worried about the continued high numbers of COVID cases and the ‘pingdemic’ affecting employee productivity and wellbeing.
Competing with the high street
One of the ways you can entice people back to the office is with a strong food offer and an inviting dining venue that will inspire creativity and efficiency. You could be competing with high street restaurants and cafes, but whilst many employees still want to limit contacts, encouraging everyone to stay in-house for food and drinks brings additional benefits. The food you offer needs to be high quality as the days of the traditional staff canteen are over and consumers expect so much more these days. We are seeing an increase in the choice of food in the office venues we work with. Caterers are regularly changing menus to add variety and mimicking food trends, such as street food, as well as ensuring they are catering for all diets. Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options are becoming the norm on workplace dining menus, rather than something employees have to request.
Due to the restrictions and reducing the spread of the virus, we’ve seen an increase in pre-packaged foods and I am hoping as we learn to live with COVID-19, we move away from this again. It’s important for consumers to be able to get something that is fresh, healthy, tasty and meets their needs.
Creating adaptable designs
Some of the clients we work with are purely head office sites where the dining venue only caters for their employees. However, we are seeing more catering establishments being put into serviced offices which also have a high street entrance open to the public. This provides more opportunity to drive sales. We always design kitchens to allow for flexibility in operations so from a design point of view, our clients have been well equipped to cope with changing demands. Throughout the pandemic we’ve given advice and support to our clients as and when required using our many years of experience in commercial catering design and build.
A safe and comfortable environment
Creating an enticing work environment is about more than the food offer. Staff need to feel safe and comfortable in their place of work. In recent months, we have seen a greater emphasis on good ventilation from the Government and its scientists and this will be more important as we head into the winter months when staff may be less keen to have the windows open. Good ventilation in an office is paramount and we’ve really enjoyed advising clients in this area and installing powerful ventilation systems in venues such as Ignite Gym.
The future for workplace catering
The B&I sector has shown real strength and innovation during the pandemic. We’ve seen caterers quickly scale down their offer and then ramp it back up to suit worker’s needs. Food has been delivered to desks to reduce risk and the industry has worked together, rather than against each other. We hope it’s now time for caterers to bounce back. Whilst I do feel we’ll see more balance and flexibility in working from home, I think everyone is ready for that face-to-face contact which helps to improve relationships, drive new ideas and increase productivity. It’s time to get back to normal, but in a new and safer way.