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The reawakened workplace

Paul Smith, Director at Montfort Consultants says both caterers’ and clients’ mindsets will need to change to meet long-term workplace catering needs

While at the time of writing there are a plethora of news articles indicating that staff will not be rushing back to offices in the immediate future, sooner or later more organisations will be looking to ‘reawaken’ their offices and workplace environments. As such, attention is turning to how these environments will need to change in both the short and longer term. Much has been written and applied in relation to, what we all hope, will be the short-term COVID-19 requirements for workplace catering, including delivered and grab and go menu choices, increased health and safety, shift based lunches, technologically enabled operations etc. But what about the longer term and ensuring the future workplace food and beverage experience is agile, customer centric and commercially sustainable?

From discussions with corporate clients and colleagues across the industry there are some common themes and considerations in relation to their future workplace environments. Specifically, office populations are unlikely to be at full occupancy any time in the short to mid term. Of course, there are exceptions with some office jobs that cannot be undertaken remotely as well as a number of organisations that have seen the benefits of increased permanent remote working and are looking at rationalising their office accommodation and wider portfolio, not least to reduce operating costs.

This radical change in how offices may be utilised In the future has a wide reaching impact on food and drink in the workplace. Specifically, less workforce on site means less opportunity for workplace catering. To compound this the frequency that employees and occupiers may be on site or within offices may well be less consistent, which will make predicting catering demand more difficult. As such, for all on-site catering facilities, and particularly larger ones, increased catering costs would appear likely. But does this really have to be the case?

Depending on whom you talk to there are a few different opinions, and we have set out some of these broader views below:

What is the future of workplace catering post COVID-19?

  • Organisations will want to invest more in their employees’ wellbeing now and a quality workplace foodservice provision is essential to this.
  • The workplace catering environment is a much more controlled environment than the food and drink operations on the high street, and therefore, it will be essential to maintain an in house catering provision for the safety and wellbeing of employees.
  • Ultimately, the new environmental conditions, combined with potentially lower building occupancy is going to cost more and staff catering subsidies will need to increase.
  • The old workplace contract catering model is broken and will need replacing.
  • A substantially increased cost base for the long term is not a viable commercial proposition. Caterers will need to be much more agile.

These are just a few views we have heard, and for some organisations with workplace catering services many of these views may be relevant. However, we believe that the current conditions have presented an opportunity for many organisations to review not just their workplace catering provision but also their overall workplace strategy and how the food and drink experience is integrated within it. Due consideration will also need to be given to who will operate this remodelled environment along with ensuring they have the relevant competencies, appropriate infrastructure and importantly, the correct cultural mind-set and attitude to agile working.

Our work over the years has strongly embraced the introduction of more agile, integrated operating concepts and management models able to flex to changing daily demands while also reflecting wider eating, drinking and social trends. Integrated, agile work and social spaces enabling rapid connection and collaboration with peers combined with an all day food and drink experience, is becoming the norm in a great many workplace environments. In fact, the shift was well-established pre COVID-19 and will, in our opinion, become the new model for many workplaces. These multipurpose coworking locations provide a ‘win win’ for employers and real estate owners by optimising space and costs as well as providing employees and occupiers with a service that mirrors how they live and spend their time out of work. Although this is just one model…

A number of business parks have been at the forefront of recognising the importance of placemaking to enhance the occupier experience with ‘hospitality’ a significant part of the DNA. While the nature of many of these businesses’ permanent on-site food & beverage offers is changing so is the overall ‘foodservice’ strategy, with revolving street food trucks now a carefully orchestrated, regular feature at business parks up and down the country. For those locations with smaller populations this type of offer may be sufficient on its own, while for larger business parks it is part of the broader strategy to provide choice and experience.

A number of companies already provided a delivered in catering offer, pre COVID-19, however, the pandemic has resulted in some contract caterers re-examining their models and introducing quality delivered in catering as an alternative to the main staff dining offer. High street operators are also now looking to get a bigger piece of the workplace action partnering with delivery companies to offer a delivered in service.

Fully automated self-help and self-pay micro-markets provide further flexibility for those workplace locations not just with low or inconsistent footfall or as an out of hours provision but can also form part of a wider food and beverage strategy, providing increased choice for locations with higher populations.

While it is appreciated that some organisations may be prepared to pay higher costs and subsidies it is unlikely to be palatable or sustainable for many others. The future is about a lot more than ‘foodservice’, it has been for a long time. Now really is a good opportunity for organisations to re-evaluate and redefine how the workplace eating and drinking experience is integrated into their wider workplace strategy and occupier experience.

About Sarah OBeirne

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