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To support hybrid working patterns, contract caterers need to shift gears says Hugo Santos, General Manager Gophr

Hybrid working – with days split between home and office – is set to become the norm for many UK workplaces, with more than eight in 10 of those who worked from home during the pandemic planning to work hybrid, according to the ONS.

This might well be great news for a lot of people’s work-life balance, but it’s another big challenge for FM providers. For a contract caterer, a workforce that is only at their desk three days a week could mean losing two fifths of revenue from that client.

“Could” is the key word there – because businesses that can adapt when circumstances change can find a way to thrive. And for FMs and their contract caterers, dealing with the new world of hybrid work, that means thinking about offering products where it’s needed – by arranging a delivery service for home workers.


This might seem a bit of a scary prospect. It can be daunting to try something new but it doesn’t have to be. The first thing to note is that we’re not talking about delivering hot meals here. Making hot food delivery viable while offering a consistent service is hard enough for Deliveroo and UberEats, two highly innovative companies founded for exactly that purpose. And nobody wants a lukewarm burger and chips, or an artistically reconfigured pasta bake.

Instead, think about what you can do within budget that takes advantage of your existing facilities. The time in a kitchen that would have been spent catering for staff in the office can be used to prepare meals that can be delivered frozen or chilled to employees at their homes. Deliveries could be organised weekly, with a menu and simple instructions for preparing each meal made available in advance. The frequency you are able to offer and the flexibility you offer for employees will of course depend on a number of factors, so you need to think about how you’re going to plan all of this out. Do you have the technology to allow staff at an organisation to let you know where they will be working each day, and then to plan efficient delivery routes? If not, it would be a good time to make that investment or research a partner who can support you.


However you decide to coordinate deliveries, it’s important to think about the final touchpoint. If staff aren’t happy about your service – whether that’s the food or the delivery then that lucrative contract might be on the line.

You don’t need to offer a special experience but you do need to make sure it’s a painless one. You can do this by making sure recipients can track their order and contact the driver, and of course that the delivery arrives in good condition. Consider your packaging too. This might be the only physical contact a person has with their employer on a given day; how does the employer want to represent itself to its employees in these circumstances? That might be the sort of conversation you’ve never had to have with them before.

You’ll also need to consider how much flexibility you want to and can afford to give for amending orders. Offering flexible same day delivery could give a competitive advantage by providing a service that fits seamlessly into people’s working lives. This does have the potential to increase costs, but that’s where your or your delivery partner’s delivery planning tech comes in: when a change is made, it can automatically adjust drivers’ routes to minimise the disruption to the existing schedule.


Finding the right courier partner for any delivery operation can be a challenge. Your choices should be influenced by the geography of your clients: the size of the metropolitan area a workplace is based in, and how close by its employees live, will affect how many you can cater for, and the routes and types of vehicles you will require.

Learn from the experience of other businesses who’ve already taken the plunge. Or speak to companies like those in the recipe box sector who were pioneers and will be able to advise on things to watch out for such as variations in quality of coverage and service levels in different postcodes/parts of the country. Large logistics companies can’t always prioritise smaller customers, and don’t always offer the best customer service to bigger ones.

You should make sure any delivery partner you choose is clear about exactly what they’re offering, and can let you know what’s going on at all times. If the relationship isn’t working for you, it’s probably not working for your customers and clients either.

For all the hassle and cost of commuting to work, we should be glad that we’re once again free to work alongside our colleagues, with the benefits that it brings when it comes to sharing ideas and building relationships. But the past isn’t coming back. Hybrid working is here to stay – but it doesn’t need to be last orders for contract catering.

About Sarah OBeirne

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