Preparing for a return to the workplace

The future is in your hands - sharing our tips to get ahead and ready for when you re-open.

As restrictions continue to ease, some home workers are hoping to return to the office by the summer, but how can operators prepare for this? Here are some pointers on what we are to expect from the ‘new normal’ in workplace catering as well as what businesses should be doing to adapt and prepare for this significant change.

The catering industry has undoubtedly been one of the hardest hit sectors by COVID-19. Workplace outlets, for one, have had to find new innovative solutions to not only support employees in assessing future working patterns and re-evaluating workplace strategies, but to stay relevant once the pandemic has passed.

It’s all about delivering solutions. With the likelihood that flexible working will increase post-COVID, it’s crucial that caterers make ‘flexibility’ their number one priority for customers. Talkington Bates is a prime example, with its new ‘The FLx Catering Solution’ which has been introduced to help support customers as well as the recent launch of Mosaic, a new subscription-based contract catering and facilities management model, initiated by Bartlett Mitchell. These are just a few examples of caterers finding innovative solutions to help clients maximise the potential from their catering outlets.

Vacherin, in response to the crisis, has also published a new document titled ‘Beyond COVID-19, The Shape of the Future Workplace Catering’, to assist clients in the reopening of their sites. Along with setting out its predications for the future workplace, the paper also identifies the following key drivers behind an organisation’s requirement for change – wellbeing, social interaction, convenience, flexibility and physical environment. With this in mind, what should we expect to see from workplace catering outlets going forwards?

With many staff expected to work more flexible days and hours, the workplace will change significantly in the foreseeable future. That’s a given. So, whether your catering operation includes an all-day full-service staff restaurant or a café or deli-style service, it’s about how you adapt as a business, while still offering a quality service and experience. How will you be operating employee dining and workplace catering to meet a COVID-19 environment? Here’s a few pointers to consider.

Shift patterns

Flexible working hours could mean people may opt for early starts and late finishes. We may even start to see compressed weeks. Whatever the new way of working, your catering offer must meet the demands of each and every one of your customers. As caterers, it’s your responsibility to ensure they all still gain from the overall workplace experience, whatever the time of day. Introducing all day opening hours could be a viable option and drive your footfall.

Food safety

Two thirds of Brits will boycott food businesses with a bad food hygiene reputation. That’s according to a survey conducted by JLA, a supplier of commercial laundry and catering equipment. Other figures show a huge 77% of the public now hold greater concerns for hygiene than a year ago due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although this comes as no surprise to many of us, it’s more crucial than ever that you put all measures in place to put your customers’ minds at ease.

Make sure specific training and development is put in place for all staff members, making cleanliness and food safety top priority. Packaged food for canteens will also be in high demand, so make sure that every product visually displays good hygiene practice to reassure customers that you have safe processes in place.

How to prepare new dining spaces

Ensure you follow current and relevant government guidelines when preparing your dining space/s. One of the biggest challenges facing caterers planning to re-open is coping with the demands of social distancing – both front and back of house.

Think about how you will adapt your catering space and how people will use it. Now is the time to also rethink your food and drink displays. Given a lot of people are more focused on their health following the pandemic, make sure you are showing a wide choice of healthier alternatives, the best you can. To avoid overcrowding, implement an advanced bookings service and also establish rules and code of conduct in the dining area. Keep thinking about how you can introduce new ways of working to ensure you remain efficient. For example, if you introduce a one-way system, think about introducing multiple impulse purchase points like drinks chillers and snacks stations throughout in case people have forgotten to pick something up and feel they can’t then go backwards.

Effective communication

Effective communication with your team, clients, customers and suppliers is crucial in keeping things running smoothly. Make sure you are talking to your team to reassure, encourage and guide them. Work with your team and your customers, and more importantly, listen to them and their concerns. Communicate with empathy and keep your messages very simple when it comes to serving your customers to avoid confusion about new processes.

Technology

Technology will play a huge part in the future of workplace catering. Platforms such as pre-order apps, online ordering and collect technologies are all safe and convenient ways of ordering food and drink, eliminating any close contact queues and dining halls. Why not extend your app ordering service to meeting rooms as well as canteens and dining halls? This could increase productivity as well as revenue. Digital menus could also be a hit, along with call buttons for table service.

Although COVID-19 has had a devastating impact on our industry, it has given businesses the opportunity to rethink their strategies. Going forward, we must all now embrace this new approach to the world of work. And with the workplace now considered a ‘destination’, it’s about how we go about creating that personalised and experience led approach to everything we do.