By Caroline Fry, Deputy CEO, CH&Co Group
The cost of office space has been steadily increasing and facilities managers often find themselves under growing pressure to ensure that every square foot is used effectively throughout the working day to maximise investment.
With any under-utilised space under scrutiny, catering services can find themselves in the line of fire. Traditional staff restaurants have, in the main, demanded a large space allocation to house kitchens and serving and seating areas, but this can be disproportionate to its overall usage. Add to this the fact that dining areas are often empty outside of the core eating occasions, and the luxury of excess catering space has become too costly for many organisations and unsustainable.
A challenge for facilities managers is therefore this: How do you offer the catering services that employees expect and demand, whilst ensuring the allotted, expensive office space is utilised and maximised throughout the working day?
The answer to this dichotomy, and seemingly logistical nightmare, could lie in the changing eating preferences of the customer.
The changing face of workplace catering
It’s clear to see that customers are eating differently in the workplace across many industries, and this reflects the changing food trends across the eating out market.
There is a clear shift from the defined, regular lunch break of old, when a full hot meal was enjoyed over the course of 30-60 minutes. Snacking and all-day grazing has become the mode of choice for many, and as the work day becomes more flexible and pressurised, meals are increasingly taken at desks rather than in a set dining area; the traditional ‘lunch hour’ is becoming a thing of the past and the parameters of ‘the lunch period’ are ever expanding.
The High Street is certainly an ever-growing competitor for many onsite caterers, with exciting, on-trend offers just a stone’s throw from the office block, or even in outlets within offices. And, the Street Food phenomenon is fuelling the consumer desire for constant change, diversity and new food experiences, whilst increasing their knowledge of and desire for the different global food types and flavours available.
As casual dining continues to grow at pace and dominate the eating out market, contract catering must constantly reinvent itself to stay ahead. Probably all caterers have experienced a growing informality in the eating preferences of customers, with traditional main meal sales reducing, and snacks, café-style service, grab and go, street food and the likes, all on the ascendency. It’s not unusual now for operations with a deli bar and restaurant, for example, to be doing 50% of their sales through the deli.
Hospitality is also not exempt from the effects of the casualisation of contract catering, and styles are changing in some client companies, moving from a demand for ‘Michelin quality’ lunches, to wholesome, exciting, yet simpler dishes. This is driven by factors such as hospitality users are getting younger, as are their customers, and ‘casual’ is often the style of food they want. Speed is now of the essence as lunches are shorter, and rarely boozy, as cost and time awareness is king as economic uncertainty reins.
The opportunity for catering services
So, how can the afore-mentioned changes in consumer eating preferences turn costly workplace catering services into profitable (or at least less costly) hubs, giving facilities managers and their catering partners the opportunity to effectively maximise the office space allocated?
By responding to the changing trends and consumer demands and replacing the traditional staff restaurant with an all-day café, the usability of the catering space instantly extends to embrace a variety of eating out occasions and occupy the full working day.
The space can be used throughout the day for informal meetings, which presents the welcome opportunity to increase sales. And, with higher sales leading to more profitability, the cost of providing the catering service can be offset – that’s what you call a win, win scenario!
When transforming the catering space to an appealing all-day café, it’s vital that the pre-planning is meticulous – from the consumer research, menu development and suppliers engaged, through to the kitchen equipment and café layout and furnishings – to ensure it appeals to your customers and becomes their food and beverage destination of choice, over and above the High Street.
Food for thought:
Café culture has gripped the UK and is showing no sign of subsiding, so a good quality coffee and hot beverage offer is essential.
Introduce a limited number of exciting hot options that change daily to generate interest – providing you have the right catering equipment, Street Food is the perfect choice for this and bang on trend.
Health and wellbeing is important to customers and they expect a varied choice of healthier options. A good range of quality and healthy grab-and-go items is recommended.
Choose catering equipment wisely. Maximise space and efficiency with fast-production, multi-use equipment, such as induction hobs for stir fries, griddle plates, and counter-top ovens for jacket potatoes and fresh-baked baguettes.
Create an inspirational environment with clever décor and ensure the right combination of furnishings to allow for impromptu meetings, creative sessions and even incorporate furniture such as enclosed seating pods, at seat chargers and USB ports, comfy sofas and a TV for casual dwell time.
It also pays to think outside the catering box. What other services can be incorporated into the café area to maximise space usage? Perhaps a staff shop, the printer/photocopier, IT or office support? By making the café area more of a ‘destination’, you enhance and maximise the available space, whilst also creating a productive hub for the workforce. And, with more traffic destined for the area, the opportunity of increasing catering sales is there for the taking.
It’s vital for facilities managers to engage their catering provider from the outset. They are, after all, experts in catering services and consumer and food trends – and you can be sure that they know a thing or two about maximising the use of available catering space, whatever the size. Their knowledge and experience will be invaluable in creating the right environment, ambience and food and drink offer that maximises space, creates cost efficiencies and reflects your culture and customer.