The workplace cafeteria of the future might be an open, airy space with an indoor garden and lightning fast Wi-Fi. Or maybe it’ll just be an app.
Meet EAT Club, a corporate catering and office meal delivery service aiming to make lunchtime easier—and less expensive. Building and maintaining a traditional foodservice operation can cost several hundred thousand to even millions of dollars. “Since EAT Club operates as a virtual cafeteria, we can provide individualized lunches without the costly infrastructure of an on-site cafeteria,” says EAT Club founder Rodrigo Santibanez.
Here’s how it works: After a company chooses to adopt EAT Club for lunch service, employees are given the option to sign up via the platform’s desktop site or mobile app. Then they use the site or app to choose what they want to have for lunch from a curated menu of more than 25 meals. (Meals can be ordered up to a week in advance, or as late as 10 a.m. that morning.) After receiving the day’s orders, EAT Club preps and packs the meals individually and delivers them to the office at a specified time. Participating companies have the option to choose between a fully subsidized or a money lunch program, where employees can use money toward their lunches on a daily or weekly basis. The service is available for workplaces with as few as 20 employees, but can also accommodate teams of 1,000 or more.
EAT Club offers everything from butter chicken to boxed lunches.
Launched in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2010, EAT Club sought to make it simpler for time-strapped workers to enjoy a delicious midday meal while promoting a stronger employee culture. “We call it Lunch as a Benefit, or LAAB. It’s an employee benefit that powers organizations and completes a progressive HR benefits package,” Santibanez says. “Providing LAAB improves productivity, enhances team collaboration, helps attract and retain talent and builds company culture. Indeed, in an EAT Club survey of more than 1,000 professionals, 70 percent of respondents said that a curated, delivered lunch would make them more likely to recommend their company as a great place to work.
Food-wise, the service offers the kind of globally inspired meals that are trending today, especially among younger workers. Bold flavors are big, as is the use of wholesome, plant-based ingredients. Options include Mediterranean quinoa bowls with salmon, sweet pea grain bowls with chicken, tangy tofu vermichelli bowls and pomegranate chicken tagine. But there are plenty of classic options available, too. Think asiago turkey sandwiches with tomato cheddar soup, chicken and bacon cobb salad, and grass-fed brioche cheeseburgers. The company often partners with local restaurants to inject their menus with local flavor. Vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free diets can also be accommodated.
The company delivers tens of thousands of meals every day, according to Santibanez. Still, EAT Club won’t say much about how they manage to prep so many lunches in such a short timeframe. “Our food prep and logistics are what sets us apart, and is also our closely guarded secret sauce,” he says. “We have a talented and dedicated culinary team that includes expert chefs, research and development teams, buyers and kitchen staff that work to plan our menus, keep up with ever-changing food trends, and ensure freshness and quality of our food.”
EAT Club's "Urban Rabbit" is a chicken tostada salad.
Traditional foodservice management companies are paying attention. Last May, EAT Club announced that it had raised $30 million led by strategic investor Sodexo to expand to New York City. (NYC operations began in March of 2018.) “The workplace of the future is centered around technology and flexibility and increasingly employees are expecting their employers to adapt. We are trying to meet expectations of today’s and tomorrow’s workforce through creative solutions like investing in EAT Club,” says Mark Bickford, Sodexo CEO of corporate services in North America. And more than ever, employees expect convenience and choice. “The interest in companies like EAT Club reinforces that employees increasingly want access to a variety of food options,” Bickford adds.
As for whether EAT Club’s delivery model will one day be the norm everywhere? No one knows for sure, but Bickford acknowledges that the concept works especially well in urban markets. Though EAT Club only operates in three cities for now, it seems likely that they’ll eventually expand to other urban areas across the country. “Both Lunch as a Benefit and Eat Club’s way of doing lunch is quickly becoming the norm,” Santibanez says. “It’s the most delicious, cost-effective, and high-quality way to get satisfying meals at your office.”