When commercial building owners are looking to attract corporate tenants, fast-casual concepts with a strong catering game could be the combination to have. According to research conducted by tech development firm Preoday, the overall office experience is what matters most now for employee engagement.
“While 2013 to 2017 saw the introduction of flash perks such as the office dog, at-desk massages or Friday prosecco, in 2018, companies will focus on improving the overall office experience,” according to Preoday’s white paper, Intelligent Office Catering. “It’s vital that workers feel as comfortable and productive in the office as they do out of it…One way such comfort can be achieved is through the addition or enhancement of in-office catering.”
And not just any food will do for today’s office population, the white paper continues: “Workers now have more awareness of the need to consume a balanced nutritional diet during work hours as a way of improving health and general quality of life.”
To compete in today’s corporate dining world, those serving the food must provide next-level food options (beyond grab-and-go sandwiches) and catering for clients that want the best, while facing design and budget challenges along the way.
It’s a tall order, but a fast-casual/catering-first dining philosophy has been working very well at Gaedeke Group’s One Legacy West, a commercial building in Dallas. Stir Café and its catering arm came about when an anchor tenant in the building requested a full-time caterer.
Chef Jenny Scott, a local caterer, was brought in for her catering-first perspective and ability to create top-notch options for office employees dining “al desko.” (Stir Café is also open to the public.) Texas-based interior architecture firm lauckgroup <link http://www.lauckgroup.com/ designed the high-end café, which required balancing function with space.
Scott’s primary business is catering; she’s owner of Stir by Kitchen Essentials, a well-known Dallas gourmet catering company. When the building plans were coming together, Scott had her work cut out for her.
“We knew that one of the tenants in particular was seeking five-star dining for their executive briefing center, where business leaders from all over the world meet,” Scott says. “We’re catering to them every day in addition to running our café downstairs.”
Menu items for both the catering and café menus are made from scratch, “from every pie crust to our sauces and dressings,” Scott says, a point she says differentiates her business from “most corporate dining cafes that offer basic sandwiches and grab-and-go food…our food is fresh. Nothing comes in a wrapper.”
So far, star menu items have been burgers and meatloaf made with a wagyu beef chuck roll (sourced from a Texas ranch and ground in-house) and classic chicken cordon bleu.
Catering options are divided into three menus: breakfast, hors d’oeuvres and corporate (salads, entrées and action stations).
The breakfast catering menu is fairly simple and includes biscuits, muffins, scones, quiches, breakfast casseroles and breakfast sandwiches.
The hors d’oeuvre catering menu gets playful with cute items like mini fried green tomatoes with aioli and bacon. Global items like chicken flautas with chipotle crema, chicken satay with peanut sauce and Korean barbecue beef skewers add flavor to the appetizer selection.
For bigger meals, the corporate menu includes taco salad bars, burger bars and classic entrees like King Ranch casserole (a Texas icon), chicken divan crepes and salmon with lemon-caper sauce.
While menus definitely change with the seasons, “we don’t always go with the latest fad,” Scott says. “Instead, we stick with what we know people love and what’s fresh and available.”
The design challenges
During the design phase, a push and pull emerged between kitchen space and seating space.
“The design was a delicate balance between allocating the kitchen space required for the type of high-end foodservice that Jenny and her team provide, while providing enough seating to support the necessary headcount, comprised of both tenants and outside customers,” says Matthew LoPresto, senior associate and project architect at lauckgroup.
The design team spent weeks working with a foodservice consultant, in what LoPresto calls “a game of inches,” to reduce the kitchen’s footprint without sacrificing functionality.
Necessary kitchen elements, like dry storage, were moved to a storage space in a mezzanine level built directly above the kitchen. This allowed most of the space to be allocated to “a variety of fixed and mobile seating options,” LoPresto says.
The budget is the first challenge that comes to mind from the chef’s perspective.
“Corporate clients typically have a set budget they need to stay within,” Scott says. “That means we have to be creative in developing fresh, delicious, five-star menu items on a budget.”
Another challenge that’s emerged is managing operations during lunchtime rush, in which the culinary team must simultaneously get catered lunches to office space upstairs while serving the guests in the café at the same time, all while sticking to the philosophy of “fresh food at a great price.”