Redesigning Food at Work
Turning Challenges into Opportunities
As employers and property managers plan to reopen during COVID-19, office safety is at the top of everyone’s minds. Countless articles have been written about the topic in general, but very little information is available as it relates specifically to corporate dining and workplace food programs.
In our new reality, people will still need to eat and all employers should have a plan for making sure meal breaks are handled in the safest possible way.
Below are food related considerations and ideas for keeping offices safe and healthy during COVID-19.
Employees are stepping outside of their comfort zone in order to enter the workplace. They will not only need to feel secure, but also appreciated. Food can play an important role in keeping people happy and engaged. It just needs to be handled correctly. Luckily, the food service industry is already heavily regulated and well positioned to supply your employees with meals that they can look forward to every day.
COVID-19 is not a food-borne illness, as stated by both the FDA and CDC. But how people behave around food is critical. In the back and front of the house, clear guidelines promote healthy behavior and office safety.
In the back of the house, strict adherence to safety procedures has always been the modus operandi in well-run kitchens. The food service industry is heavily regulated by the government and teams are accustomed to following strict procedures. New rules related to COVID-19 are relatively simple additions to the foundation of back-of-the-house discipline.
During the uncertainties of a pandemic, there is comfort to be found in structure at the front of the house. Trader Joe’s, for example, is great inspiration from another industry. Associates and customers partner in following procedures that are clearly spelled out from the moment one approaches the front door. In much the same way, a well managed food-at-work program should instill confidence in a workforce with trained staff proactively promoting a safe environment through set guidelines.
The following are generally found within the broader category of protecting people inside the workplace, however they are still important to highlight as components of food-at-work best practices:
Commonly accepted social distancing practices should, of course, be applied consistently throughout the workday, with broader policies addressing break rooms and dining areas. Specific mealtime considerations related to how and where food is served include the following:
Providing appealing in-house food options and subsidizing meals (even partially), are two strong ways to encourage team members to remain within the safe office environment your team has worked so hard to provide. As with any business decision, costs should be weighed against benefits and risks.
As clarified by the CDC on May 22, people can get the virus by touching a contaminated surface and then placing their hands on their nose or mouth. However “this isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” While somewhat reassuring for the general population, by no means should this be a reason to discount the importance of keeping surfaces clean (always an important practice). Surface contact should still be limited too, whenever possible. With that in mind, we recommend the following:
In addition to keeping everyone in the office as safe as possible, these practices can instill confidence in a post-quarantine world.
From how we interact with others to what we appreciate in life, we return to the workplace with a changed perspective of the outside world. Food, which often triggers sense-memories, is no exception. When handled correctly, mealtimes can be an opportunity to positively engage employees and boost morale.
After cooking at home for months, people are craving quality and variety in their meals. Employers should ask their food service providers to offer meals that people will genuinely look forward to.
As there is still so much up in the air in the coming months, no plan should be written in stone. Workplace population will fluctuate, as not everyone will return to the office at the same time. Your food service provider should be flexible and creative as they scale service up over time.
Full-service cafeteria relaunches in the workplace will not be feasible until returning population levels are back to “normal.” That being said, people still need, and more importantly, want, to eat. There are solutions to this problem, including temporary Popup stations, bulk orders of delivered food, and boxed lunch catering, to name a few.
The global pandemic is forcing every organization in every industry to make drastic changes to how business is conducted and how to keep their employees safe. Food at work will continue to evolve, despite the circumstances, even after COVID-19 is no longer a threat.
How to Plan for Food at Work in the Post Quarantine World: Keeping Safe and Boosting Employee Enthusiasm about Returning