Round Table Discussion: Food in the Workplace

“Food in the workplace” signifies different things for different companies. At the end of 2015, our team, clients, and other participants gathered in the New York Inscape Showroom to “dish out” the meaning and significance of one’s food experience at work. The discussion covered a broad range of topics, from reoccurring to new food trends, recommendations and best practices for food integration during the standard 9-5 work day, and ultimately, where food in the workplace is headed in the coming years.

A handful of noteworthy headlines emerged from the open forum—items that designers and strategists should keep in mind when planning the next pantry or café for companies of varying scales.

“These days, everyone is looking for lunch with a side of experience.

Gone are the days when eating is seen merely as a practical and physical need. The growing trends of retail, food trucks, and restaurants have infiltrated and changed expectations for many employees. Today, people want to make their breaks count, especially, during meal time. Lunch is now seen as a canvas to enhance the overall work experience.

Enable food literacy and customization.

With the rise of the Food Network and other food-centric educational platforms, food has transformed into both a learning and enabling tool. People want to be in charge of what they’re eating and be more informed regarding the sources of their food and how it is prepared.

Food has also become a means for employees to express a sense of autonomy and ownership, influencing many companies to implement food programs around “choice” and across all sectors of the corporate workplace. Investing in these programs is proving to be well worth it, as food-based perks have been found to boost productivity, morale, and overall work satisfaction.

Food can be a team experience. Places to eat can become an all-day environment.

Where you have lunch is also a big factor in the overall experience. Cafes are now used as secondary gathering spots, a flexible meeting location for teams to continue working over a meal or light snack. Today, a variety of settings and design-related features and functions within pantries and cafeterias allow employees to drop-in and out throughout the work day.  A key design principle for maximizing the flexibility of food spaces and for maximizing utilization is the incorporation of acoustical features that provide quiet zones within the larger space.  This increases intimacy so that quiet conversations can happen amidst the buzz during peak hours.  

You are where and how you eat.

Not every company needs a large café space. Smaller and more distributed food spaces throughout a building can do the trick. Depending on the culture of the company and intended end-users, food spaces should always be custom-built to maximize utilization and a great success story. Sometimes, the biggest impacts are created with small moves. A pantry with some seats and a coffeemaker can be all a company needs to bring together employees, enforce conversations, and foster collaboration.

Engage

People don’t choose to work for a company based on the food served on campus.  But serving a range of healthy food options in inviting spaces throughout the workplace can send big messages in subtle ways that the company cares about its employees and wants to keep them healthy and engaged, ultimately, linking to recruitment and retention strategies. The way you speak about food in your organization can be a proxy for core values around health and well-being, sustainability, and community.

Food is something to be shared. It is a conveyance for the sharing of ideas and stories that build healthy and sustainable organizations.