Spotlight: Food Service
When a plastic tray slid along stainless steel rails 20 years ago, the food that was slapped down on it was far from gourmet. The stainless steel remains, but not much else resembles yesterday’s company cafeterias, which have undergone a dramatic transformation for the better.
“Cafeterias aren’t just about food. They serve an important role for employees to discuss and conduct business in an informal setting.”
Marketing Tool. Food is yet another weapon in a company’s arsenal to attract and retain top talent. Several companies, such as SAP, Dreamworks and Google, provide free meals and fully stocked snack areas around every corner. Yahoo!’s coffee bars serve up gratis lattés and gourmet muffins round-the-clock. Keeping the engine fueled is good business. “We’re seeing facility managers invest increasing amounts on cafeterias to a make them more appealing,” says Greg Gotlib, Project Manager at Reel Grobman & Associates.
Menu Reflects Cultural Diversity. “You have a captive audience who’s served breakfast and lunch five days a week at the same restaurant everyday,” explains Steve Marshall, President of The Marshall Associates, Inc., an Oakland-based food service design and consulting company. “Companies are going to greater lengths to keep it interesting and keep employees on site.” For instance, there are over a dozen types of Asian cuisine, and menus are reflecting the diversity of the workforce. Not feeling Pan Pacific? Try the made-to-order burrito station or the panini sandwich press. In today’s corporate melting pot, the soup is on (and it’s creamy asparagus and mint).
Green & Healthy. Employers are motivated to not only recruit and retain the best staff, but to keep them healthy and productive too with the finest and freshest ingredients. Chefs from companies such as Guckenheimer and Bon Appétit secure long-term contracts to buy non-antibiotic and grass-fed meat and organically grown produce daily from local farmers and then write their own menus. These are no greasy spoons. “The trend is toward ‘Show Kitchens’ where food is prepared in front of customers, made to order, so they know it’s fresh,” says Marshall. “Cafeterias are employing green design with greater energy efficiency and better use of natural light.”
China service is replacing disposable plates, which means more space required for dishwashing areas. Styrofoam is hard to find, replaced by materials made from recycled content. “You can even have forks made of rice,” says Marshall, “but they cost about three times as much as petroleum-based utensils.”
Staying Connected. “Cafeterias aren’t just about food. They serve an important role for employees to discuss and conduct business in an informal setting,” says Gotlib. “We design eating and sitting areas with infrastructure in place for wi-fi access.” Cafeterias can also double as auditoriums. Large projection screens, adjacent A.V. rooms and storage for stackable chairs can turn a lunchroom into an all-hands meeting in a matter of minutes.
Staying Caffeinated. “Coffee corners” that mimic a Starbucks environment are also becoming popular workplace fixtures. Less-harsh lighting, comfortable lounge furniture and soothing music create a relaxing informal meeting area; the sound of grinding espresso beans is outweighed by its rich aroma. Coffee corners typically have longer hours of operation than the cafeteria to help fuel late-night work.
Cafeteria Costs and Size. All this multi-ethnic cuisine, connectivity and caffeination comes at a price. The average cost to build a corporate cafeteria from scratch is about $350/sq foot, which includes the servery area, kitchen equipment and all associated utilities. The dining room costs about $100/sq foot. Reel Grobman & Associates works with food service consultants like The Marshall Associates to develop the architecture and design which ties the varied components of cafeteria projects together. This is critical as about 50% of employees will dine in at lunch. Says Marshall, “If you have 1,000 employees, and a natural turn over of two times, 250 seats is adequate to serve them.”
But make sure it’s on china.