Sustainability, customization, experience (and deliciousness!): Daily corporate catering trends for 2019

When WeWork—the global shared workspace giant—banned meat for all of its daily catered corporate meals and events last year (fish is still on the menu), not to mention prohibiting employees from expensing any meals that included meat, many online commentators wondered if this was a trend that would take hold across large organizations. Not quite. For caterers like us, it was just another example of a company taking a different approach to the free (or subsidized) meal programs it delivers to employees.

“New research indicates that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact, even more than switching to a hybrid car,” WeWork co-founder Miguel McKelvey said when the company announced its meat-free policy.

It turns out that most WeWork employees didn’t seem to have a beef with the move and blowback seems to have been limited, even though it likely left a bad after-taste for some of the company’s meat-loving minions. Nor has the company changed course, reportedly holding firm on the policy—there’s no word as to how (or even if) it’s been enforced.

Of course, the WeWork ban wasn’t strictly a moral stance against eating meat. It was really another step towards advancing the company’s goal of changing the world. In that sense, WeWork jumped on an ethical bandwagon long ridden by the likes of Facebook, Starbucks and Google. Yep, it seems like every leading employer is out to make their benevolent mark on the planet.

At a time when companies—particularly those hoping to attract, retain and engage top Millennial talent—are working harder than ever to buttress their brands, attach meaning to their actions and live and breathe their corporate values, a we-are-what-we-eat policy makes perfect sense. More so when you consider that as companies began offering meals as a corporate perk, they were also able to exert some control over the menu. We saw that play out (albeit in an extreme way) with WeWork’s meat ban.

This is all indicative of a daily catering trend we’re bound to see more of in 2019: meal time as corporate branding tool.

What else is on the menu for companies bent on offering free (or inexpensive) food to keep their workers happy and engaged? Let’s take a look at some of the more significant trends in corporate catering that are bound to gain momentum in 2019 (and yes, we can cater to them all!):

Meat-less meals or just less meat?

Don’t expect a majority (or even a slim minority) of companies to follow in WeWork’s veggie-and-fish-embracing food steps. As many commentators have noted, taking efforts to ban meat not only at the company cafeteria, but even on expensed meals, is a financial and human resources logistical nightmare. It also runs the risk of alienating a large pool of prospective employees.

What we are seeing are corporate clients requesting a greater number of meat-less options in their daily catered meal programs. Some are doing so with environmental concerns in mind—which was WeWork’s stated goal—while others acknowledge the fast-diversifying culinary preferences of their workforces. That’s why our corporate catering menu is filled with veggie-filled favourites such as our Butternut Squash Ravioli, vegan Cauliflower Rice Stir-Fry, Hungarian Cabbage Rolls and Quinoa Stuffed Peppers. They’re all scrumptious options for companies looking to mix up their menus.

That doesn’t mean every company is promoting meat-less eating, but many are encouraging employees to eat less meat by stacking their meal options with more veggie favourites. Watch for this trend to gain momentum in the year ahead.

Sustainability every step of the way

According to a CBC report, “WeWork’s meat policy may be unique, but the company is joining a group of companies that have recently looked for ways to reduce their impact on the environment. Coffee chain Starbucks, airlines including American and Alaska, and the Hilton and Hyatt hotel chains have all recently announced that they will stop using plastic straws so they produce less plastic waste. Some cities have banned the straws as well.”

Yep, it’s true. Organizations continue to look for ways to minimize everything from waste to their collective carbon footprints. We’ve long used recyclable and reusable dishes and service ware in our catering programs. If it’s at all possible to offer plated meals on china rather than serving up our deliciousness in takeout containers, we absolutely will. That includes working with organizations such as Liftovers to donate some uneaten food from catered events to local charities and homeless shelters.

The good news: sustainability is here to stay. Corporate procurement guidelines require it and progressive caterers have made it a matter of practice. What’s great for the planet is also great for business—what’s not to love?

Corporate catering goes custom

There was a time when a daily catered corporate cafeteria consisted of about five choices, most of them deep-fried, with maybe one vegetarian option (if employees were lucky). The bad news is that the situation hasn’t gotten much better across some organizations. For others, like those who work with innovative caterers, it’s a different world of dining options. The most noticeable difference is the emergence of healthy, customizable dishes.

Maybe we can credit this trend to the growth of fast-and-healthy chains such as Freshii, but today’s employees—especially nutrition-conscious Millennials—want to be able to build their own customized meals. That’s why we’re seeing a resurgence in demand for old-school options such as build-your-own-salad bars stocked with everything from yummy kale and our unforgettable five-bean salad, to curried hummus, freshly-grilled veggies and delicious and nutritious grilled meats such as organic chicken and ocean-wise salmon. Our bowl-based food stations are also in heavy demand, as employers look to put mealtime decision-making back in their employees’ hands.

Give me an experience!

One of the biggest complaints about daily catered meal programs is that they’re boring. Cooks serve up the same, uninspired fare on a rotating schedule. Employees line up and fill their plates, forgetting what was on the tray about an hour after returning to their desks. That was until dynamic companies such as Google and Facebook decided to take their corporate catering to the next level, seeking employee input on what they wanted to eat—rather simply offering cheap menu items that offered the best profit margins.

Part of that meant giving employees an experience. Here at Kiss the Cook Catering, we’ve made it our mission to offer increasingly-innovative experiential food stations, from palette-pleasing poutine and tempting tempura, to our Deluxe Nacho Station and our famous Hawaiian Poke and Sushi Bars (the latter in partnership with the amazing team at Roll This Way. Healthier options such as our cold-pressed juice and smoothie bars are also all the rage. The point is to give employees a bit of a show with their catered lunch; a side of culinary theatre to accompany their delectable dishes. Make no mistake, the experiential trend is here to stay.

So, too, is the push to give employees a greater say in the kind of stations featured in their cafeterias. An additional benefit: Putting staff in charge of deciding what food they get served is also a handy tool for improving employee engagement. You see, everyone wins when we get a little bit more creative with the corporate meal program!

Best of all, feeding heathier, more interesting food makes for happier, more productive employees—and that’s always good for business.

Fia Pagnello, Founder and CEO

Contact us now to design a daily catered meal program for your team!