The growing remote work culture that the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated if not caused has challenged corporate B&I dining programs to adjust their services to the new reality if they are to prosper—or even survive. Among the strategies being developed are various ways to extend the onsite dining amenity to customers who are…well, not onsite.
A natural and relatively easy extension of the traditional dining program into this area is the take-home meal. While not strictly serving the remote worker as the customer has to be in the building to get it, this approach nevertheless offers a number of advantages—for the dining program, it adds sales while utilizing existing labor and infrastructure, while customers get the convenience of getting economically priced, high-quality take-home meals right at work.
A major foray into this service has been undertaken by CulinArt Dining Services at three T. Rowe Price facilities in Owings Mills and Baltimore and Colorado Springs, where CulinArt is currently providing five take-home dinner meal kits, each composed of center-of-plate selections such as herb-roasted turkey breast and vegetable/cheese lasagna plus side dishes and desserts. Especially popular are the chimichurri flank steak and rotisserie chicken dinners, and there is even a kit for children consisting of pasta and meat sauce, broccoli, garlic bread and chocolate chip cookies. Prices range from $13.95 for the kids’ meal to $15.95 to $19.95 for the adult meal. They all include enough to feed two or three individuals.
In addition to the set menu, CulinArt is offering limited time specials geared around holidays, such as a Christmas package featuring spiced sliced honey glazed ham with sides like stuffing, sweet potatoes and salads, plus apple, pecan or pumpkin pie; an appetizer selections for New Year’s Eve; and a five-course menu for two complete with roses for Valentine’s Day.
“We are also selling the items a la carte, if someone just wants to get their favorite holiday dish,” adds John Scheeler, director of dining services.
Launched last July, the program saw slow sales first, Scheeler says, as some T. Rowe Price associates started coming back to work on-site in late summer. A marketing campaign launched on the client’s intranet gave sales a big boost, as did promotional signage in the dining centers and the selling efforts of café managers.
“When the pandemic started, our client was looking for other ways to keep the associates still here to feel more safe,” explains Eric Smith, director of dining services. “This way they can work their day in the office, then get their groceries and meal kits and go home, so basically there are only two points of contact—work and home.”
Associates order the meal kits, as well as lunch meals and groceries-to-go through Nutrislice, a contactless menu and ordering app used throughout the T. Rowe Price campus. They can even order the meals from offsite, though they do have to go to the office to get it, where a curbside pickup service is available for maximum convenience.
“Right now, we only have cashless [transactions] and remote ordering through Nutrislice,” explains Smith. “At some point, we’ll have ordering kiosks but right now everything has to be preordered.”
The Nutrislice app not only reduces transaction contact but also serves as a facilitator of operational efficiency as it lets the dining team track sales patterns so they can adjust menus quickly at a time when the team is dealing with only a small fraction of its usual customer base; only about 10% of the usual population is onsite at any given time—mostly either necessary personnel like security and maintenance or employees who need to access the office’s support facilities or otherwise can’t work effectively from home.
“We are doing well each week in [meal kit] sales and we are getting stronger as more associates return to campus,” Scheeler explains. “The real success for us occurred when the team made a video about how to order the dinner kits and reheat them,” he adds.
The video portrays items included in the dinner kits, which include instructions on how to reheat the meals at home. Starring Executive Chef Mashaye Barr and Catering Manager Miri DeMastus, the video also gives a quick demo of how to prepare the meal.
The meal kits come in 12-inch-square boxes and have all items individually wrapped along with a marketing flyer. Orders can be placed up to five days in advance but must be in by 11 a.m. of the day they are to be picked up.
“That’s one of the reasons for the set menu,” Smith explains. “It lets up prepare and put the meals out quickly.”
“This really allows the associates to have a one-stop shop while at work,” Scheeler adds. “It’s easy for associates to order and pick up the meals in a secure-seal dinner kit box with all the instructions needed to reheat.”
Meanwhile, retail items available through the operation’s On the Go Groceries program include fresh produce, assorted salads, lunch meats and cheeses, pasta, sauce, and—given the popularity of such items during the pandemic—paper towels and toilet paper.
“This is a newer offering we have added for our client and it’s just starting to take off,” Scheeler says. “We get a lot of folks asking about the composed salads and the produce.”
The dinner meal kits, holiday packages and groceries help associates in the social-distancing effort and make it easy and convenient to participate in dining services. All programs “help associates feel better about coming back to campus,” Scheeler says. “They can order their lunch for the day with the Nutrislice app, and, at the same time, they can order a dinner kit to take home to feed their family—and any extra groceries they need for the home.”