Changing workplace eating habits

Walk into an office canteen or casual high street restaurant and you will see a noticeable shift in the food service, atmosphere and dishes on offer. Say sayonara to stuffy, fried, beige foodstuffs and bonjour to global cuisines, food and drink stations, contactless technology and superfast lunch queues.

A generational shift is transforming the office lunchtime as organisations and caterers recognise that employees – particularly millennials – are more conscious of the food they purchase and consume. These Gen Y diners are more educated and informed about their food options, where their ingredients come from and how sustainable and healthy it is (for the planet and our bodies).

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Whether at home, dining out or at work, younger demographics are choosing to eat with more authenticity and purpose. Influenced by what we see on the high street, scroll through online, and in publications we read, millennials are challenging the norms and changing the way we eat at work.

Many of today’s consumers trust the brands they buy from and need to resonate with them before parting with their hard-earned cash; when it comes to food, they’re not only buying into a product but into the welfare of its producers and sustainability of the ingredients. In the last year we’ve seen on average a 20% uptake on alternative milks for instance.

Millennials are most in tune with technology and we’ve become so accustomed to having choice at the touch of a button and pre-order applications that speed of service and variety is the benchmark for office eating habits.
It’s important for workplace catering to deliver more health conscious and international cuisine options (the fast-casual revolution) to fight against the urge for fast food lunchtime takeaways or Deliveroo binge order.

The enhancement of wellbeing offices is on the rise to offer all day grazing options, food pop-ups and activations, to seasonal treats for staff to engage with and enjoy. This might be anything from a complimentary breakfast bar offering healthy snacks to an ice cream bike or lobster dogs served outdoors during summer, while North African Khobez is becoming a popular meal of the day.

Today’s food conscious consumers see the value of good food and prioritise time with colleagues or friends in the workplace café over a communal dining table. Many employees are time poor during their working day and can see lunch as an inconvenient break, which is why many have lunch at their desks; therefore, every minute of a lunch break counts and the catering options need to be served quickly and on the go. Delivering a healthy and productive boost to get people through the remainder of their day is imperative.

Millennials (in fact, many consumer groups) are known to eat out more, the cost of dining at a restaurant is often seen as negligible compared to the time and cost spent cooking in the home kitchen. Such a requirement is being tested by encouraging staff to join their colleagues for a communal meal where they can switch off and socialise. The market hall atmosphere for instance is an attractive ‘vibey’ environment where colleagues can go to clear their mind and focus on something other than work.

We want the option to make our own informed choices, being highly aware of what food is available to us continues to challenge the culinary food choices on offer up and down the high-street, but also in our office spaces. In a busy working environment where sometimes things can get heated and stressful, being managed in your workload and then having food choices managed for you at lunchtime isn’t an inspiring or entirely relaxing situation to be in so it is vital for the productivity and wellbeing of a team to have variety and choice in what they eat and when.

People are placing more importance on what they put in their bodies and will go the extra mile to get what they perceive to be better quality and value. More workplace environments and premium-casual chains are taking inspiration from market trends such as farm-to-table and plant-based dishes. There is also an increasing desire for nutritionist input to help guide our food choices that we are supporting, particularly sports groups such as cyclists, gym goers and runners.

Tailoring the eating format to match the style of working that is preferred, whether it’s street food pop-ups or more traditional café style dining, is all about creating an offering which works for the ever-changing needs of the end user.

By Anthony Bennett, co-founder and director of catering company Bennett Hay

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