Part 2: Food for Thought, Healthy Habits in the Office

Food Influencers and Foodservice Strategies

In our previous installment, we focused on a specific topic, food and its link to social trends and wellbeing in the workplace. In this post, we will examine how food “influencers,” defined as factors that affect foodservice strategies, can encourage healthy eating practices at work. By considering these factors early in the design process, it is possible to integrate the various food strategies into project solutions. The objective is to create both an appealing workplace and an environment that guides employees toward healthier choices.

As referenced in our initial post, a HLW Discovery Session in February called “Food for Thought” brought together influential industry experts to discuss and debate the connection between cuisine, health, and the work environment. At the event, three individuals were instrumental in providing the audience with a broad, yet practical, understanding of challenges facing the foodservice industry. For this installment of our “food” series, we, again, turn to Mike Coldicott, Tim Axe, and Kate Taylor for interesting perspectives on food influencers and foodservice strategies.

Investing Wisely in Foodservice

Mike Coldicott, the managing director of Tricon, a leading foodservice consultancy, maintains that businesses have a social responsibility to invest in the health and wellbeing of their staff. However, this investment can make substantial contributions to a company’s financial viability by reducing sick pay and costs related to replacing employees. In the UK, the total annual bill for sick pay and associated costs is approximately £9 billion—payment due, employers!

 If the goal is to strategically engage with the workforce to create a healthy environment, how does one invest wisely in foodservice?

Coldicott explained that there are key influencers that affect foodservice strategies, such as geographic location in relation to competition, personnel demographics, average dwell time, style of service, and schedule. Will the foodservice venue function during business hours, perhaps, as an all-day business lounge, or is it more like a restaurant’s lunch shift, with a two-hour, mid-day window? Such practical concerns need to be addressed early in the process and fully integrated into the design, as the layout and feel of the area can have a huge effect on the success of the venture. For example, the style of seating should correspond with cultural habits and social norms. Similarly, smart technology, such as applications that permit a user to peruse the menu and order in advance, can enhance the overall efficiency of the operation and reduce wait times and stress.

If you can provide great dining spaces that also support agile working, your return on investment will be measurable. In addition to the convenience, collaborative spaces that also offer high quality, healthy food can improve employees’ productivity; such amenities encourage people to remain on site and fully engaged with their work. Significantly, foodservice on premises enables employees to enjoy a much deserved break, when it’s time to recharge after a long period of working.

Competing with the Destination Restaurant

Tim Axe from the commercial catering experts Baxter Storey boldly asserts, “No More A4” and avoid the typical contractor approach when marketing. He suggests removing the A4 printout weekly menu, with its predictable fish and chips every Friday, and replacing it with a more dynamic, more engaging online presence that changes each day.

The goal is to successfully compete with other dining options by creating a modern dining destination capable of capturing a customer’s interest. You want employees to come to work every day excited about menu options. Today’s consumers buy into brands, necessitating that in-house caterers develop and nurture interesting brands of their own. Local, trendy restaurants located in a neighborhood’s High Street section have set the bar high for simple, yet interesting, food styles. Convenience isn’t enough; in-house catering must also be the destination restaurant choice. This can be accomplished, in part, by using branding and interior design to create an environment that a client would want to visit and spend time.

According to Axe, monotony and boredom are culpable and key reasons why people often choose to not use in-house catering. Grab-and-go options, especially hot dishes to go, plus a variety of healthy food choices, and WiFi are just a few of the offerings required to compete with local restaurants and eateries. To avoid the “everyday,” the in-house selection must be up to today’s standards. From board games to tea, from pop-up eateries to concessions, innovative foodservice strategies need to reflect current trends in dining and entertainment.

Strategies, such as those described here, can drive customer uptake and, ultimately, sales. Technology can also help. For instance, energy dashboard monitoring can result in more happy customers, in addition to cost savings and improvements in how efficiently your facility is utilized.

Eating and Human Social Interaction

Eating is an integral part of human social interaction and is, therefore, connected to our emotions. The environment in which we eat can significantly influence food-related choices. Similarly, a food provider’s approach can impact their customers’ behavior. Kate Taylor, nutritionist from the corporate catering business Gather & Gather, advocates taking a proactive approach, one that is about implementing a comprehensive educational program on nutrition—a program that both shows and tells. Educate employees about making healthy choices, she says, but don’t only rely on packaging labels to provide sufficient information about a food’s nutritional benefits.

 Taylor explained that cultural practices tend to support eating high calorific and salty foods outside of the home, as this eating behavior is perceived as a treat and not necessarily a deviation from an otherwise healthy routine. Employers can challenge this mindset by challenging the food norms in the office. Many companies that are serious about affecting employee behavior will host healthy cooking demonstrations once a month or distribute recipe cards for easy prep, yet surprisingly healthy and tasty, meals. In addition, an employer who is supportive of a proactive approach to wellbeing at work will find ways to display healthy and nutritious food in accessible, aesthetically appealing ways. Considering that nutritious food is naturally very colorful, such small touches can seem almost effortless.

 In the final installment of our Food for Thought series, we will discuss several more concepts associated with food strategies in the workplace. In an attempt to capture the end user’s perspective in investing in employee health and wellbeing, our focus will be on the innovative strategies employed by PRS for Music, the UK’s leading music collecting society and licensing firm.