Corporate Foodservice Operators Mull Post-COVID Dining

Professionals struggling to envision a comfortable return to a bustling workplace dining hall are not alone; those in corporate foodservice have concerns, too.

With many larger office buildings seeing significant population declines amid COVID, interim dining adaptations have been made, but, for some, a more-permanent vision is not fully realized.

That dilemma was top of mind Wednesday, April 21, during a MAFSI and NAFEM webcast entitled “Navigating the Road to Recovery Together.” SHFM President Damian Monticello, senior manager of corporate hospitality services at GuideWell, and SHFM Immediate Past President Rob Gordon, vice president of workplace services at American Express, shared what they have been up to while employees have been out as well as how they’re preparing for an eventual return to a “normal” office environment.

For Monticello, the downtime has been well spent. Menus were rehashed, and equipment changes have taken place on production lines, with charbroilers, flat tops and fryers allowing GuideWell’s cafeterias to operate more like a QSR and deliver on multiple menu concepts.

“There really hasn’t been a slowdown for us in terms of any capital projects, because we know we have to get ourselves set up for when that return to the office does happen,” he said.

Currently, the couple hundred on-site employees can order food through an app, but some still want to see what’s available in-person vs. online. Some also want to pay with cash, which has Monticello mulling kiosks with built-in cash recyclers to appease those employees.

Innovations like food lockers and touchless items (such as the sauce dispenser honored in this year’s Kitchen Innovations awards) also are intriguing for corporate setups, Gordon and Monticello said. Both agree that self-serve areas are going to be a high priority in the near future, but they could use guidance on what that looks like.

“The thing that most operators are still betwixt and between is how to solve that discussion,” Gordon said. “… Most of us have self-serve places that are set up, and it’s not so easy to just rip them up and start all over again. So, can you retrofit it; what can you do?”

Gordon and Monticello are optimistic that real estate and equipment investments are coming down the pipeline, though timelines remain a bit murky. Monticello anticipates office leasing opportunities in GuideWell’s future, however, putting it in a pretty good spot.

“We could end up in the end with a larger on-site population even than what we had pre-COVID, so those are encouraging things for us to look at,” Monticello said.

For more on corporate foodservice trends, see our coverage from the April issue.

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