In today’s perks-heavy office environment, companies go to great lengths to retain top employees and build an enthusiastic office environment. Corporate dining is one of the most potent tools available. Although free or discounted office food has been around for decades, creative meal plans and catered meetings are becoming more and more common for white collar employees around the country. In a recent interview with the New York Times, one corporate food supplier explained, “You reduce turnover because you have happier employees. It’s how you stay competitive for a certain sector of companies.”
As corporate dining preferences shift and expand, caterers need more highly-trained food service staff who can adapt to a wider range of client preferences and even, in some cases, work directly with office managers to meet new demands.
So, what exactly are these new demands? We lay out seven below. You'll notice common threads like a focus on wellness and sustainability, but above all else, these corporate dining trends are about elevating the daily work experience for office employees. Let's dive in!
1. It’s no longer just about lunch
Though the lunch-hour order rush will never go out of style, more and more companies are now offering food for employees at other points in the workday as well. Breakfasts, late-afternoon meetings, and in-office happy hours are just a few of the occasions companies are now looking to cater. Many of today’s offices also offer a round-the-clock fully stocked kitchen as a selling point for new employees.
By diversifying their menu options, corporate caterers can capitalize on this trend and up their delivery numbers for mornings and late afternoons. Play your cards right, and you can even try to develop longer-term relationships with local offices by signing contracts for standing orders. It’s not just about lunch anymore -- the office-to-caterer connection is an all-day affair now.
2. Virtual cafeterias
Offices don’t always have the space or staff for a fully stocked cafeteria. But what if their employees had access to a wide variety of food options all the same? Companies like EAT Club and Fooda provide employer-sponsored meal and snack options right at office workers’ fingertips. Employees can enjoy all the benefits of variety and exclusive food access in a smaller office environment.
These programs also cut down on the amount of time searching for lunch and links directly to one food services with dependable delivery. Though this practice first took off in the tech industry, demand is growing in other sectors as well.
3. Vegetarian initiatives
WeWork made waves in 2018 by announcing meat-free offices across the country for its offices and those of its subsidiaries. In essence, the rule said that catered food for WeWork events could no longer include meat products, making the company one of the most prominent to join the growing eco-conscious movement toward vegetarian and vegan diets.
Corporate caterers should take notice of this shift, and continue offering more vegetarian options, from individual items to fully-catered menus for large-scale events. More generally, caterers should also be prepared to answer questions about the sustainability of the food they’re serving.
4. Beyond the traditional holiday office party
The much-anticipated holiday office party used to happen only in the winter months, but more and more companies are now branching out into the rest of the year to celebrate more festive occasions. Some of these alternatives include Halloween parties, monthly
The much-anticipated holiday office party is branching out to other themes and festive times of the year. More offices are throwing alternatives to the holiday party including Halloween gatherings, company founder’s day celebrations, or even just summer barbecues. Holiday parties themselves are shifting as well. While some companies are taking a more elegant approach, many are scaling back and throwing more casual or even charity-focused gatherings.
Variety in party theme also means a variety in menu items, staffing needs, and year-round event management. Local restaurants may also want to consider rolling out catering menus to tap into this trend, especially if they can offer food items that fit with specific holiday themes.
5. Educational eating
The passionate foodie scene has inspired consumers to learn more about what they’re eating. They’re interested in where the ingredients came from, who made them, and what inspired the recipe. Healthy eating is often linked to understanding exactly what is in your food, which can be a bit tricky when attending a corporate catered event. Proper signage or an engaged catering staff can clear up any questions employees have about the meal.
Creative yet simple ingredients are making their way in passed and plated hors d'oeuvres. Consumers are also more willing to try inventive flavors from unique ingredients. Either way, education now plays a larger role in differentiating catering menus to office staff.
6. Sustainable packaging
Biodegradable food containers, cups, and napkins are becoming more and more popular. Easy-to-discard food packages display environmental responsibility and often create less of a waste management hassle for the office’s event team.
This eco-conscious touch also means that companies are less likely to request the full set of plasticware and disposable table settings. With full-fledged dining plans in so many offices, many companies now stock and wash their own permanent cutlery and napkins.
7. Visiting chefs and food trucks
When managers want to wow their employees, more and more often they’re turning to well-known chefs and food trucks to cater lunch, meetings, or other special events. It’s not hard to see why. Changing up employees’ everyday routines shows a deep appreciation of their daily dedication to the company. The made-to-order meal means more personalized choices and the chance to try a local specialty on the company’s dime.
Food-truck events may require a larger staff or a unique setup to streamline the experience. Not only must the office or outdoor space require a space for employees to line up, read the menu and order, but the company will often arrange a communal area for the group to eat together.
New trends mean new opportunities
Inventive companies are taking notice of today’s food trends and incorporating them into their daily culture. The more memorable the experience, the more likely an employee is to stick around for the long-term. These changes greatly affect the staffing and catering agencies that make corporate dining possible. Expanded menus, a larger delivery staff, and a focus on the more creative consumer can help you take advantage of these trends and differentiate from the competition.