While remote work, like remote learning, widely expanded its reach during the coronavirus shutdown period, its long-term effects may not be as severe for the B&I segment as for college dining because while most college classes could conceivably be offered online, only a fraction of work can be done that way. A 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that only 16% of the U.S. workforce works remotely in some capacity, so any return to a functioning economy is likely to mean a fairly general return to workplaces even if more work is done from offsite than before.
For the B&I community, the market niche least likely to be affected by continued work-from-home preferences is dining in large, company-owned facilities and corporate campuses, especially those in businesses expected to recover fairly quickly from the coronavirus disruption such as the gig economy complexes dotting the West Coast. These complexes not only represent heavy investments in infrastructure and real estate—not to mention prestige—but were designed to provide an environment that encourages interaction and collaboration—not least in the dining spaces—while also serving as a recruitment and retention tool, and those purposes won’t go away post-coronavirus.
There is also potential good news for a less glamorous but still vital B&I niche market—manufacturing—given the momentum the recent crisis has given to calls to bring more manufacturing back to the U.S. Manufacturing facilities generally require some kind of onsite foodservice given limited meal break windows, though those dining operations will have to navigate their way between the traditional lunch rush and whatever social distancing requirements remain in place.
The B&I market most vulnerable to long-term falloffs is likely to be dining operations in leased—especially multitenant—facilities, where tenant firms tend to be smaller businesses that the coronavirus shutdown hit hardest. Ultimately, though, the health of the B&I segment in general is dependent on the health of the overall economy, and therefore how quickly the economy comes back from the coronavirus shutdown will determine how quickly B&I recovers.
This is part five of an eight-part series on the future of onsite operations following the COVID-19 pandemic. The first part is on the impact of salad bar; the second is on the impact on colleges; the third is on the impact on hospitals; and the fourth part is on the impact to school nutrition programs.