As offices prepare to open back up, a group of caterers explain how foodservice at work has been adapted for the post-COVID world
What have been the biggest issues for caterers in preparing client’s workplace food services for reoccupation?
“The most significant challenge has been navigating timescales. Given the complexity of some buildings, it has been more difficult for some clients to determine when and how their teams return. Multi-tenanted buildings, for example, need to consider the movement of people from across businesses so it has been a logistical challenge in some areas.
As far as our operations go, we are ready to go. Our teams have been preparing to increase volume and have already put robust measures in place to support the transition. Of course, uncertainty around volumes is an issue but we are adept at moving very quickly so we are confident we can meet any operational demands quickly and thoroughly.
It is worth mentioning that there are numerous sites which have been open in some capacity during lockdown so we have worked through different scenarios with these clients already.”
“With the uncertainty around office occupation, anticipating volumes will naturally be a significant challenge for caterers across the country.
Whilst we know that work patterns are likely to be different, we are working with our clients to determine what this looks like for them and whether they are taking a phased approach. There are decisions being made about when and how employees return to the office which are largely dependent on outside factors. We know that these could change at any given moment so we are doing whatever we can to ensure that we have agile processes in place to enable us to move and shift operations as and when required.
Building logistics are also a major consideration as we work with our clients to navigate social distancing requirements. The movement of people in buildings will play an important part of how we all return safely.
Outside of this, our food offer itself is something we are working hard to develop and adapt. For example, open counters and self-serve style of catering may be paused for a while.”
“Given the COVID-enforced restrictions, maintaining the hospitality experience and everything that goes with it has been a big challenge. As a caterer, we want to do everything we can to bring people together over food and drink to support and develop company culture.
We’ve worked hard with our clients to ensure the experience for customers as they come back to the office is every bit as enjoyable as before they left back in March last year.”
What interior design changes are required to ensure social distancing and reduce bottlenecks in catering/hospitality areas?
Prentice: “One of the most significant issues we feel businesses need to consider is queue management. Clearly, buildings will be restricted and we can’t change footprint and spaces dramatically, but it’s more about creating processes which enable us to manage flow better.
Floor markings, barriers and apps are all likely going to continue to play a role in this. Additionally, we are working with our clients to help them implement strategies which will control the flow of people in their workplaces.
We know that there will be an element of ‘staggering’, be it people in the building on any given day, or even phased lunchtimes. Whilst we won’t necessarily get the usual ‘blitz’ of people coming down for lunch at once, we know we have to put measures in place to control what we can.
This is where the use of apps and tech are going to be vital. We have an app which helps with pre-order and collect, either from the restaurant or a safe space. We are also offering ‘click’ and ‘deliver’ services where appropriate.
There are other ways in which we are working with clients to utilise space. For example, if there is any unused space (such as a reception area which no longer houses visitors due to restrictions), we are seeing whether these can be temporary collection points.”
Mahoney: “The fabric of buildings are not likely to change in the short-term as many of the measures being introduced are not likely to be permanent, however, wayfinding is going to be crucial as we move into the next phase. We are working with clients to ensure we have developed good comms on where to go and when to do it. This will largely be dictated by how they see their workforce behaviours changing and what measures they are putting in place with regards to attendance.”
Hurst: “This has actually been pretty easy to achieve in most offices as the reduced headcounts deriving from distancing requirements and hybrid working models, has allowed for novel use of space. This includes breakout areas, training rooms and even previous desk space to be turned over to create additional staff restaurant seating areas in many cases.”
How can caterers provide varied and nutritious food choices to consumers when self service delivery methods are currently limited?
Prentice: “We will continue to be provide healthy, well balanced menus, but just delivered differently. As part of any menu cycle, new dishes will be introduced but our offer isn’t going to fundamentally change in terms of healthy balance, other than how customers and guests receive it. For example, salad is still being offered, just not an open self-service style of delivery.”
Mahoney: “It’s simply about good planning and thorough execution. Caterers are very agile and can amend their propositions quickly to meet the needs of the customer. On the whole, we expect to have our usual nutritious menus available but offer the customer a choice of how they can order and receive it, depending on the structures and mechanisms put in place by the client.”
Hurst: “We’ve increased the range of grab and go items packed in 100 per cent plant-based packaging for customers to choose from, along with replacing self-serve counters with fully staffed counters.
Moving more and more transactions online has also allowed our customers to browse menus, order and pay from the comfort of their desks or mobile phones before collecting from staff restaurants.”