Redesigning Food at Work
Turning Challenges into Opportunities
Corporate dining isn’t a new employee perk, but it’s gotten a lot of attention lately. And rightfully so—it’s a big business. Many employers want to pick up part of the lunch tab to show employees they care. Corporate dining services let them do that.
But corporate dining has a lot more benefits, too, from increased productivity to improved company culture.
Whether you’re interested in starting a corporate dining program, want to improve yours, or are curious about how corporate dining works, we have everything you need right here.
Corporate dining is the process of ordering and serving food for your employees. It might be breakfast at an early meeting, lunch every day, meals for big meetings, or having snacks around the office. It’s a popular employee perk that’s great for company culture, recruiting, and retention.
Corporate dining services can look very different from one employer to the next, even if they provide similar options. For example, one company might order boxed lunches for employees so they can eat lunch on the go. Another might order food from a local restaurant. Large companies might hire a corporate cafeteria management company for an in-house cafeteria. They might also regularly bring in a food truck.
These are all different types of corporate dining. And there are many more options. We’ll look at those next. The point is that you, as an employer, are providing food for your employees.
While there’s no way to list every possible type of business dining, here are some common examples you might see:
You can provide one of these or a combination of several. You might switch at some point in the middle. It could change from day to day. And, of course, there are other options for providing food to your employees. But these are some of the most common.
Now, let’s take a look at why employers provide these options.
It’s not always easy to offer a prospective employee a higher salary or more benefits—but if you provide on-site food, you can set yourself above competitors when it comes to hiring
But will corporate dining really attract and keep top talent?
Robert Half, one of the largest staffing firms in the United States, lists free food (and good coffee) as one of the top five persuasive perks to enhance recruitment and retention.
A study found that 28% of people want healthy snacks provided in their workplace. Another one found that 56% of employees are “extremely” or “very” happy with their current job—but that’s true of 67% of people who have access to free food.
And how many companies are offering these kinds of perks? Not very many. SHRM found that less than 30% of companies offer an on-site cafeteria and about a third have free snacks. (But 81% offer free coffee, which is nice.)
It doesn’t seem like a big deal. And free food doesn’t often show up in the top three or five benefits that employees want. But it can be a powerful tool for boosting employee happiness and retention.
Stefanie Haussler, Spreadshirt’s global feel good manager, told Spark Hire that “Culture and work life balance are extremely important to the [m]illennial worker.” Investing in corporate dining is a sure way to show millennials that you care about your employees. And that’s the foundation of a great company culture.
If you’re serious about recruiting the top flight of millennial talent, you can go even further. Some corporate dining services let you work with local restaurants that serve food made from local ingredients. Millennials value ethical, sustainable practices. They also know that the best employers care about employee health. Show them that your company is making the world a better place by thinking carefully about your corporate dining menus.
Don’t believe it? One study found that employees with an unhealthy diet were 66% more likely to report a loss in productivity than those who regularly ate produce and whole grains. That’s a compelling reason to offer healthy foods to your employees.
But there are others.
For example, providing lunch at your office means employees aren’t leaving to grab something to eat. Instead, they’re sitting down with coworkers, where they can interact informally—often the best way to generate new and innovative ideas. It’s like the “serendipity” effect of open-plan offices without the social stress and lack of privacy.
This kind of interaction also promotes a positive work culture. And that kind of interactive, supportive culture can have big benefits for your bottom line. Less absenteeism, more engagement, and more loyalty all come with a positive corporate culture.
Healthy food options also help keep employees sharp. Replacing a heavy, greasy lunch with something lighter and more health-conscious can help your employees feel more energized throughout the day.
(And, of course, a caffeine boost in the morning helps, too.)
Offering free—or subsidized—food at the office isn’t just a great employee benefit. It also helps your employees perform at their best. And that’s good for everyone.
The pace of business is faster than ever, which means many employees are always moving. Whether they’re salespeople with a territory to cover, executives who are in and out of meetings all day, or particularly busy developers, a traditional corporate cafeteria service doesn’t work for them.
But just because your employees are highly mobile doesn’t mean you can’t find a corporate dining option that works for them. Portable meals, for example, work for just about every type of employee.
Boxed lunches are easy to pick up, bring along, and eat anywhere, from an employee’s desk to their car to the lunchroom. Sandwich platters make it easy to grab a meal and bring it to the next meeting without making a huge mess.
If you want to provide a bit more variety, consider bringing in a food truck. They make a living by serving people on the go, and they can feed your employees in the same way. (Plus a food truck day is always a blast for employees.)
The point is that just because you don’t run a business that seems suitable for an in-house cafeteria doesn’t mean you can’t feed your employees. There are options for every kind of business and every employee eating style.
There’s a wide variety of ways that you can implement corporate dining, so you don’t have to worry about finding something that works for your company—there’s definitely a way to make it happen.
Here are a few of the most common corporate dining models:
This is one of the most expensive options, but it gives you full control over your corporate dining experience. Your company will maintain, stock, and run its own kitchen. You’ll hire professional chefs, servers, and make sure you have all the equipment necessary for running a cafeteria.
In-house cafeterias are often used when employees want to pay for employees’ food and not pass on any of the cost. You’ll usually find them only at very large companies because of the high cost. You’ll also find that cafeteria participation has been dropping, making these ventures less profitable.
There are many food service management companies that you can contract to come in and run your cafeteria. You’ll sign a contract with one of these companies and provide the space for them to prepare and serve your food.
One of the big problems with this model is that it’s price-driven. These providers want to buy cheaper ingredients, train employees to make standardized meals, and keep costs down. As minimum wages rise, sustainable materials become more in demand, and international trade continues a complicated evolution, these companies need to make sacrifices to keep their services affordable. That’s a problem for these legacy cafeterias, especially as employees are starting to value artisanal options.
The days of food-as-fast-as-possible are over. Employees want fresh, local options that provide a lot of variety. By bringing in local restaurants, you can offer that service. We call this idea the corporate food hall.
We’ve helped companies replace their cafeterias with this new idea, and they’ve absolutely loved it.
A smaller version of the corporate food hall concept, a popup restaurant sees a local restaurant sending two or three employees to your lunchroom or breakroom. Employees can order food just like at the brick-and-mortar location.
Like most other catering options, there are many pricing models; you can pick up the tab and pay for the whole thing, let employees buy their own meals, or cover everything up to a specific amount.
Want to break free of corporate dining companies without running an entire cafeteria? Daily catering can help you do it. Local restaurants and caterers give you the flexible menus, fresh ingredients, and variety that you want. And it can save you a lot of money, too.
Of course, it takes a bit more work unless you hire an outside company to take care of it for you. And it’s much more difficult to partially subsidize this option than something like a popup restaurant.
Not all companies want to provide a daily lunch to their employees, but they still want to be able to get food brought in for special occasions. It might be a meeting, an event, or just a Friday that needs some brightening with a fun lunch.
One-off catering is usually pretty easy to get for your company, and choosing the right local restaurants can help you keep costs down. If you want to make sure you’re getting the best prices on great food, we can help.
Most offices have coffee available for employees. But if you’re ready to step it up to the next level, you can order high-quality snacks and coffee that tastes better than Folgers.
There are plenty of services that provide boxed snacks, and many restaurants and bakeries will deliver coffee, pastries, and other snacks that you can have on hand for your employees.
The catering and corporate dining options you’re used to might not give you the flexibility you want. Traditional corporate caterers and corporate cafeterias have some significant drawbacks, and new providers are offering better options.
Partnering with local restaurants is a great way to provide variety both in types of food and pricing options. Food trucks provide an authentic local experience. New catering companies can work quickly, meaning you can get a last-minute lunch for an unexpected meeting instead of ordering something every day.
And modern corporate dining providers make it easy to fit your budget. Whether you’re looking for an employer-paid program, a partially subsidized option, or a way for your employees to pay for their own food, you can make it happen.
The point is that you no longer need to work with big corporate cafeteria management firms. You can find a company and a catering style that works best for you.
Finding pricing information on anything other than individual catering meals is a challenge. Food service companies make you get a custom quote. Companies won’t tell you how much they’re paying.
One of the only times a corporate cafeteria price has been reported was back in 2012, when the Washington City Paper stated that a D.C. law firm paid up to $200 an hour for its in-house cafeteria.
No matter the cost, though, traditional corporate dining menus can be expensive. An in-house cafeteria is more about the bottom line than it is about providing a great dining experience—but that can result in menu fatigue and lower usage numbers. That means those operations might run at a loss, increasing the effect on a company’s bottom line.
More modern options, like popup restaurants and catering from local businesses, provide much more flexible pricing models. Want to save money? Get catering from a local deli instead of a fancy restaurant. Order buffet-style meals instead of different meals for everyone.
And companies can choose how much of their employees’ meals to subsidize. Big Silicon Valley companies provide it at no cost to their employees—but that doesn’t mean you have to. You can partially subsidize your employees’ meals or ask that they pay for themselves. Because you can get great prices through catering specialists, employees will be happy to oblige.
While traditional corporate dining options are expensive, they do have some great perks. Mainly that your employees get freshly made food that helps them maintain peak performance. But the boosts to company culture, recruiting, and retention are real, too.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could get those benefits without paying for the space and staff required by a cafeteria?
Fortunately, you can. New companies—like Fooda—give you the power to get what you need from the best local restaurants without paying a fortune. In many cases, meals can be purchased for less than $10 each.
But by partnering with local restaurants, you get the benefits of tons of variety, supporting local businesses, getting the highest-quality food possible, and the flexibility to change what you get when you need to do something different.
It might not seem like it’s that different, but catering with Fooda will change your workplace. Just look at what Jones Lang LaSalle, one of our clients, says:
“The difference between a traditional cafeteria and having the hottest local restaurants brought to you is night and day. With Fooda’s solution, we’re offering a much more attractive amenity while saving money.”
If you’re currently running a traditional cafeteria, it’s time to make the change to something better.
And if you’re not doing any corporate dining program at all, it’s time to start offering this amenity to attract and retain better talent.
No matter how you’re feeding (or not feeding) your employees, we’d love to help.