Compass Group’s new Market Café powered by FoodWorks platform was developed to accommodate the shifts in workplace trends and what employees are looking for when they head back to the office in the wake of the COVID-19 induced shutdowns and work-from-home mandates. The modified program is illustrated by the transformation of the foodservice operations at the Houston corporate headquarters complex of energy products and services firm Halliburton, which had begun a phased reopening and hybrid work schedule at the facility earlier this year.
To meet the needs of the reduced count of employees on the premises there, Compass introduced its new Market Café powered by FoodWorks model that featured the latest mobile technology, 15 locally-owned restaurant partners that give employees more food options while helping the restaurateurs expand their reach, and an expanded premium coffee bar designed to make returning to work more appealing.
“Back in March 2020 when things began to turn upside down, we started thinking about how our traditional onsite café model may not be the way to go at least in the short term,” explains Susie Weintraub, CEO of Envision Group, a cross-market support unit of Compass Group that focuses on business development, innovation and scalability of programs across the company’s businesses and markets. “We were seeing a need, obviously, for convenience because people wanted to feel confident in the environments they were choosing to be in. They were looking for contactless experiences, but ultimately, they also wanted to control the end-to-end experience associated with food.”
Envision Group looked at those trends and examined what they meant for company operated cafes, she says.
“We decided to accelerate what we were already doing with digital and mobile to give folks a place where they could feel safe and comfortable—this was at a time when we were still thinking that this was a short-term thing, maybe a month or two before people returned to work—and enable them to customize that experience from beginning to end. The way I would phrase it is, ‘give them what they want, when they want it, where they want it and how they want to pay for it.’ That was kind of the premise behind Market Café, which provides that digital, contactless experience while still offering a wide variety of choices, a lot of it in grab and go format as that seemed to be what people were wanting.”
Another factor the Envision Group analysis found was a desire to support the local community, including restaurants, “and that is where FoodWorks entered the space, as they were looking at where local restaurants could be bought in on some kind of daily or weekly rotation.”
As the realization sank in that the pandemic would be an extended phenomenon that might force some significant long-term changes in onsite dining, the idea of scalability in terms of space and labor also entered the thinking, Weintraub says. It involved the use of attractive but inexpensive mobile partition walls, more retail and grab and go and a limited hot food option available by mobile order. “Then, as the population begins to return, we have the ability to scale back up as it makes sense.”
Another aspect of the emerging environment that onsite foodservice operations must deal with is a blur in dayparts as the traditional 9-to-5 workday erodes into more flexible schedules that have meal occasions more widely scattered over the course of the day. It was something that was already happening pre-COVID, but has now accelerated, Weintraub notes. “We had already seen a shifting from traditional dayparts to more of a snacking all day [model], but with folks being quite intentional about what they were eating, something that translates over also to the functional food conversation.”
The remote ordering emphasis has a number of benefits, one of which is the reduction of food waste through more streamlined, to-order production, she adds. “It also lets us be a little more flexible with menuing and ingredients—for example, if you can have an egg sandwich in the morning, why not at lunch?” as remote ordering reduces the need to have a pre-determined, limited number of choices set out for in-person counter service.
In Halliburton’s phased reopening, “they wanted variety, some hot choices, some grab and go and some kind of support of the community,” Weintraub says, “so Market Café joined up with FoodWorks to meet the challenge.”
What they did was leverage Compass’ Jack & Olive grab and go line of sandwiches, salads, sides, etc., supported with traditional retail beverage and snack brands as well as some grocery items to provide quick, safe, convenient service with plenty of variety, along with a meal program based on touchless mobile ordering.
“The coffee bar was definitely a big centerpiece of the offer with its automated, touchless coffee machine,” Weintraub adds.
The use of the partition walls to make the space more inviting without incurring major construction costs was especially important because the onsite population count varies literally day to day, “so this approach allows us to adapt quickly to whatever the population may be on a particular day.” Meanwhile, the Market Café platform with its automated checkout accommodates customers 24/7 so even minimal off-hours counts can be served efficiently and satisfactorily.
The local restaurant partners rotate in daily at Halliburton, predominantly during the lunchtime hours, offering everything from burgers and barbecue to Italian street food and sushi burritos.
“Our team did a lot of demographic market analysis research into the types of cuisine the population would want,” Weintraub notes. In addition to the mobile order function, the Market café app does have a component that allows designation of food pickup locations other than in the café but this has not yet been deployed at Halliburton.
Down the line as more employees venture back to workplaces, Weintraub says she sees the mission of the dining service expanding in its traditional role of socialization facilitator. “We feel that people are getting tired of Zoom and Teams and WebEx and want to get back to an environment where casual conversations, lunch meetings and afternoon happy hours can happen,” she says. “We’re very confident that this is not the end of the onsite café and that there is a real opportunity to bring people back.”