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Refreshing change

As organisations compete to attract top talent, the quality of the office coffee has become a major talking point, finds Sara Bean

Whether or not an organisation runs a full in-house catering service, there is still a need to provide staff with convenient access to tea, coffee and cold water points throughout the workplace. But today’s workers expect more than a shared kitchen, a kettle and a jar of instant.

At Dell EMC, for example, the larger facilities provide coffee docks, which offer paid-for barista-style coffee, complementing a vending offer that includes confectionery and crisps alongside a healthy offer of fruit and muesli bars. “The provision of quality drinks is key,” says Bruce Barclay, Senior Manager, EMEA Real Estate & Facilities. “Our employee surveys are always full of comments about coffee, both good and bad. The number of people who walk past the free filter coffee and pay for a barista coffee is quite staggering. People do like barista coffee.”

This impression is echoed by the suppliers, who have seen a marked upsurge in demand for high street-quality drinks at work. Says Simon Cross, Marketing Manager at FreshGround: “People expect a certain quality now, from the high street, their workplace and even at home. The boom in coffee makers for home proves that people desire a higher quality product than instant provides.

“Good coffee is actually one of the most important morale boosters in the office,” he continues, “and is consistently ranked as one of the top five most important aspects of the workspace. With such a competitive market when it comes to hiring the right talent, office perks are a big thing. When talent is competitive, smart employers realise the importance of things like barista-style coffee.”

However, the quality of the coffee and tea supplied is dictated in part by practical considerations, such as available space. Offering a barista-style service is not practicable at a tea point. In addition, Martyn Bell, Category Marketing Manager UK, Jacobs Douwe Egberts Professional, argues that while some areas of a business may require a premium offering, “a canteen or larger catering facility may need a solution that serves drinks quickly to meet the demands of a busy, high-footfall location.”

In areas such as these, bean-to-cup machines are increasingly popular as everything is automated and no operator action is needed, aside from simply adding beans and milk. In less busy areas such as tea points, organisations may opt to install pod machines. But these, argues Simon Cross, cannot achieve the quality and consistency of a professional-level bean-to-cup machine.

“The truth is, these units are meant for domestic use and are only designed to cope with one or two brews a day, as you might use at home,” he says. “Anything more than this and these types of machine struggle and eventually break, needing replacement. It makes much more financial sense to lease a fully maintained machine than having to buy two or three pod machines a year because they are always breaking or struggling with capacity.”

Within a corporate café setting, however, there is the opportunity to install a high-quality service using skilled baristas and the best quality coffee. Says Barry Moore, Performance Director for Gather & Gather: “We often say to clients, keep your drinks offer simple on your floors and we’ll do an amazing offer in the café, as that’s where everyone will collaborate and come together. Machinery is important, but a good barista in terms of attitude is as important as their skills.”

Having spent several years in Sydney, Australia – acknowledged as the coffee capital of the world – Moore saw how the popularity of its independent coffee shops translated into a burgeoning café culture within the country’s corporate offices. There, buildings will typically be fitted out with lobby foyer cafés, where visitors and staff can grab drinks before they go through reception. Moore reckons the UK is catching up with Australia’s coffee connoisseur trend, and as people’s understanding of good coffee grows here, they are demanding access to better quality drinks at work.

This, he argues, should extend to the boardroom: “I’ve visited so many boardrooms in the UK where so much has been spent on the design, yet the coffee served is nowhere as good as that being served by a bloke outside in the street. However, the great thing that Starbucks and Costa have done is getting everyone to drink espresso of some description. And the next wave is the speciality roaster.”

This is still an immature market in the UK, which is why Gather & Gather has teamed up with specialist coffee suppliers the Roasting Party, where co-owner Kirby Sinclair has brought his expertise over from his native Australia. “We’re in the game of providing people with an aspiration,” he explains. “They want more than what they’re getting now and to feel like they’re getting value every day. The quality of the coffee is a very big pull, but there has to be a balance with the level of service.”

Adds Moore: “The reason we like Roasting Party is because they come from a mature market and they’ve dealt with the workplace, so we can use their help in designing our café environments, including the music we put on and how to engage the customer.”

Visiting a couple of Gather & Gather’s corporate cafés, one of the first things to note, after talking through the coffee options with the enthusiastic barista, is the music, which gives the impression of a more relaxed high street coffee bar than a traditional office canteen. That, says Moore, is the intention: “What most clients want to achieve is to offer staff an environment with great coffee, where they can meet and collaborate.

“We’ve found that a bit of music in a workplace café has a really positive effect. People say ‘you can’t do that, it’s a workplace,’ but we’ve found that what music does is not only help with the ambience, but in practical terms it means you can’t overhear other people’s conversations. So when we design these cafés we’re helping corporates sweat the asset by encouraging people to use the space. When we’re doing a tendering exercise, we say we’re not really here to talk to you about drinks or sandwiches, anybody can bring you a great sandwich. What we’re interested in is the why, where are you going and what kind of design do you need?”

According to Moore, providing speciality coffee isn’t necessarily a high-cost option. “If you strip everything out and look at one of the big brands, and compare them to the independent roasters, and you also look at all the consumables, the sizes and how much milk you need, at the end of the day it all washes through as very similar in terms of cost.”

Of course, not even the most ardent coffee aficionado drinks coffee all day. It’s important to ensure employees have access to plentiful water as well. Explains Russell Owens, Marketing Director, Zip Water UK: “While different recommendations apply in hotter climates, in the UK we should drink approximately 1.2 litres (six to eight glasses) of water a day to stop us getting dehydrated (advocated by the UK government). As the majority of us spend a large proportion of our day at work, the office is a key place to hydrate.”

The ubiquitous water bottle is an obvious solution for many people, but Owens argues that this is not a sustainable solution, particularly for FMs who want to ensure they’re encouraging green practices within the workplace. “In Britain, our consumption of packaged water mounts up to over 3.3 billion litres a year. Often up to 1,000 times more expensive than tap water, it’s an obsession that’s not only become a strain financially, but also environmentally. For each bottle of water manufactured, its production uses three times the amount of water than what’s in the actual bottle. Not to mention the hugely damaging impact of plastic waste on our environment.”

He says that as businesses become more aware of the shocking impact of bottled water, the UK demand for mains-fed instant filtered drinking water systems is gaining momentum. These filtered drinking water appliances, as sold by Zip, Billi and BRITA Vivreau, offer instant filtered, chilled, sparkling and boiling water.

Aside from keeping people hydrated and caffeinated, drinks points also play an important role in helping to promote engagement and interaction among employees. “There is lots of commentary within the industry that suggests that casual interactions lead to innovation and big ideas, though this is not something that is easy to measure,” says Dell’s Bruce Barclay. “But from the perspective of office design, we are definitely designing in these casual meeting spaces as part of the work environment and overall workplace experience.”

About Sarah OBeirne


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