Workplace canteens take a leaf from healthy food outlets
Today’s employees expect more from their workplace canteen than in previous years both in terms of what’s being served and when it’s available
Once known for its limited choice and stodgy food, the office cafeteria is undergoing a major makeover with healthier options and all-day dining increasingly on the menu.
Global companies such as Google and Apple have long set the bar for in-office eating with on-site luxury restaurants and healthy snacks at free or heavily subsidised costs. Now businesses across the board are investing more into the workplace canteen – from the space itself to new menus and how they’re served.
“The desire to improve workplace restaurants has taken off,” says Adam Griffin, director at JLL Foodservice Consulting. “At larger company campuses, a great food offering has long been about wowing talent, while smaller offices are recognizing the necessity of satisfying employees with a better range of foods and healthy options.”
Catering for modern tastes
The rising consumer concern for healthy diets and sustainable eating is reflected on the high street, where dozens of chains have upped their plant-based offerings. Many workplace caterers are now looking to the high street as a barometer for how to modernize their menus.
“Workplace canteens need to provide such a wide range of options to cater not only for various diets but for people wanting to eat and drink at various times of day,” says Griffin. “On the high street, these needs are easily met by fast-casual chains.”
Along with full meals, for instance, workplace foodservice is increasingly including light breakfast items and fruit or sweet snacks for mid-afternoon. And the benefits are there for employees as well as operators. When Elior Catering added Vita Mojo to the staff canteen — a healthy eating chain which allows people to design their own meals — site sales doubled.
“Traditionally there hasn’t been much blurring between workplace foodservice and high street food chains – but the explosion of flex-space has allowed high street operators to cross into these spaces,” says Griffin.
Flexible working, flexible eating
The popularity of flexible working spaces is changing conceptions of when people work and take breaks – and the impact on their eating patterns is driving many of the changes in staff canteens.
“The traditional 12-2pm lunchtime is eroding and on the high street, operators are trading later and longer. This is increasingly being adopted by workplace canteens,” says Griffin. Where company caterers might once have taken inspiration from the executives’ restaurant at Morgan Stanley’s New York City office or the Michelin-star eats at Yeo Valley headquarters, modern firms are following in the footsteps of coworking spaces by trimming back on full main dishes in favour of high-quality, easier to eat options like sushi or burgers, supplanted by barista coffee and fresh juices.
Operators are coming up with ways to serve customers faster too, speeding up transactions while reducing operational costs.
“The biggest advance has been in chip-and-pin and contactless payment, which is driving cashless canteens,” says Griffin. “Customers are moving through more quickly, while operators save time and costs without having to count cash at the end of the day.”
Staff cafeterias are also offering apps for employees to pre-order and customise their lunches in a race for speedy service mirrored on the high street. Platforms by Vacherin, for example, underpin workplace canteen apps with a loyalty scheme and feedback function.
More than a canteen
The layout of workplace canteens is also changing, as operators look to drive use from their real estate outside of peak eating times. “Part of the evolution is about redesigning the space so it can be activated throughout the day,” says Griffin. “Seating areas, for example, will become smaller and more lounge-like to encourage informal meetings and all-day use.”
Other spaces may enjoy new life as eating areas as foodservice incorporates snack stations scattered throughout a workplace. Farmer’s Fridge, for example are part of a growing breed of health-conscious vending machines offering grab-and-go options for snacking beyond the canteen.
As the movement towards healthier, sustainable eating continues to gain ground, some companies are even aiming to set the agenda for their employees through the workplace foodservice. Kaiser Permanante doesn’t stock sugar-sweetened drinks, while WeWork doesn’t serve meat at any of its foodservice outlets. Google distributes free snacks throughout its campuses, spotlighting items such as fruit and nuts, and discreetly displaying options such as candy in out-of-the-way locations.
“With the structure of the office evolving towards flexible space and hot-desking, the staff canteen will modernise its provisions to fit more flexible schedules,” concludes Griffin. The traditional lunch hour might be on the way out, but there’s more on the menu than ever.