Of all the markets Food Management covers, none have experienced such a lasting effect from the COVID pandemic as corporate dining. Yes, companies are pushing return-to-office policies and while some have required full-time attendance, many have compromised to some version of a hybrid model that has staff around for only part of the work week, generally resulting in offices looking like ghost towns on Mondays and Fridays—and even on the other weekdays, the counts are down from pre-2020 numbers.
In that kind of environment, the traditional full-size company cafeteria becomes an anachronism that struggles to justify the space it occupies. After all, even in the best of times, the typical cafeteria was only fully utilized for maybe a couple of hours at midday five days a week and sat either closed or mostly empty the rest of the time. Companies tolerated this because they saw it as both an amenity that promoted employee satisfaction and as a productivity enhancer that kept staff onsite and hopefully talking shop over their lunches.
However, with average daily headcounts down, companies are re-evaluating their space needs and looking to downsize. The bad news for their in-house dining programs—assuming they still exist—is that the full-size cafeteria is one of the casualties of the real estate contraction. The good news is that new, smaller and more flexible offices tend to be heavy on the amenities and the workplace environment as a way to entice attendance. While this may not mean the traditional cafeteria, it does mean some kind of food and beverage related service that, unfortunately, is a far cry from the lucrative mass feeding model of past years.
Over this past year, FM has covered the various initiatives undertaken by corporate dining providers to deal with these new realities, and here are a dozen examples...