Today’s workers want more from a corporate cafeteria. Here’s how to deliver a nutritious staff meal program
Our recent blog on why Fortune 500 companies use free employee meals to help attract, engage and retain top talent apparently struck a nerve with our corporate clients across the Greater Toronto Area. From executive assistants to procurement managers, their reaction to the piece was unanimous and immediate—they agreed with its premise—but also wanted to know more about how they could deliver healthy and nutritious staff lunches at a reasonable price.
It’s a great question, and one that flummoxes so many corporate managers who seem to be stumped when it comes to serving waistline-friendly meals. They’re concerned because Millennials now make up the majority of the workforce and, generally, they’re more likely to want to eat clean when compared to previous generations. In fact, they tend to view the foods they consume as an extension of their own personalities, values and lifestyle preferences. That often translates into specific preferences such as eating an organic or vegan diet, for example, or opting for fair trade fare whenever possible. Their relationship to food is very different to that of their parents, and employers have taken notice.
That’s great and all, but they still need to find creative approaches to feed socially-conscious workers, while keeping them happy at the same time. Because many leading employers are offering free or subsidized meals as a workplace perk, choosing the right food to serve has become a part of their employer brand (or the value proposition they put forward to attract and retain their industry’s best and brightest). Some are even incorporating employee weight-loss or detox challenges as part of their wellness strategies.
We’re often asked to help our clients navigate this tricky culinary landscape in a way that puts a smile on the faces of employees, and helps protect cost-conscious employers’ bottom lines. Here’s the advice we usually give them:
Set a reasonable budget—The first step is to determine the exact level of funding your organization can commit to a corporate meal program. Not surprisingly, this will determine exactly what kind of food you can afford to serve. Many organizations get overwhelmed at this early stage and abandon their benevolent nutritional plans. Why? Because they think that serving healthy foods must be expensive. They’re wrong. We’ve catered delicious, nutritious meals for as little as $10 per employee, per day. And as budgets increase, you could introduce more exciting fare including food stations and customized menus featuring exciting bites like Hawaiian poke, Buddha bowls or even Korean barbecue.
Hire a boutique catering firm—We’re not ones to knock our much larger competitors, so forgive us for doing exactly that for just a moment. For decades, big corporations have outsourced their corporate cafeteria catering to equally large food services providers. Inevitably, these specialists in mass food service offer up menus that feature a LOT of fried food, some quick-cooking pasta dishes and maybe a few salads to keep up healthy appearances. These foods tend to be processed, prepared in advance or fried where possible and, generally, laden with sodium, fat and unhealthy carbohydrates. But man, they’re profitable! That’s a big problem, and a leading reason many Millennials pack their own lunches and choose not to eat ‘work food.’
That’s why it makes sense to work with a boutique catering firm that can better address the specific nutritional preferences of your workforce. That could be a catering firm like ours (we’d really love to work with you!), or one of our boutique competitors. The advantage of working with a right-sized firm such as Kiss the Cook Catering is that we can focus on building a strong working relationship with your management team, staying in close contact and working with you on a daily basis to tweak service styles, communicate new menu ideas and, generally, deliver the best food possible. The point is that it’s important to choose a catering firm that’s not focused on maintaining profit margins at the expense of your staff’s health and wellness. A high-impact catering or cafeteria program needs to be managed closely with potential adjustments made on a daily basis, not only at quarterly meetings.
Think seasonal and involve your employees—So, let’s say you’ve chosen your corporate caterer and you’re ready to kick your company meal service into high gear. That means it’s time to start designing menus that make sense for your workplace culture. This is the perfect opportunity to involve employees in the process. Don’t just serve the food that you think they want to eat. Ask them what they’d prefer! This can be done through a simple online survey or by setting up a dedicated email address to accept suggestions. Employees—but especially Millennials—want their opinions to heard and respected, nowhere more so than around the lunch table. You may have a diverse workforce, or one that appreciates and expects a range of international cuisine to be on offer at their cafeteria. Get their ideas and give ‘em what they want!
And why not? In our view, variety is the spice of life. Your food service provider should be able to offer an ever-changing menu that incorporates traditional and new faves to make employees feel like they’re eating at a new restaurant every day—and with the same five-star quality and unwavering preparation you’d expect from a top eatery, thanks to working with a single provider who’s focused on consistency. In our case, for example, we also have the benefit of having a group of chefs on staff with extensive international expertise, and who can infuse their menus with exciting, healthy tastes from around the world.
“Building delicious, nutritious and tempting menus is our specialty,” explains Kiss the Cook founder Fia Pagnello. “You can trust us to bring some truly unique options to the table, while ensuring that our selections suit your employee’s preferences and fit nicely with your company’s brand. We’ve even been known to surprise our clients by infusing added branded touches that only leave employees wanting more!”
Be sure to work with your corporate caterer to develop menus that use fresh, local and seasonal ingredients wherever possible. This not only helps to cut costs, but addresses employee preferences for ethically-sourced meal options. The best part: it helps ensure that the food you serve remains as flavourful and satisfying as possible, no matter the season. We make a point of highlighting key ingredients in our special menu items, not to mention their point of origin when possible, which is important at a time when your staff expect greater nutritional transparency.
Make time to eat together—One of the major reasons employees eat poorly while at work is because they grab unhealthy, overly-processed foods on the fly. They’ll eat at their desks, wolf down whatever fast food they’ve purchased and dive straight back into work. A simple culture shift can help buck the trend. Ask your employees to step away from their desk at lunch time and share a meal together. We know that when major deadlines loom and work needs to get done, this isn’t always possible. So, set a goal of eating together a few times a week. And make sure that meal time is booked in for at least 45 minutes, an hour if possible, either in your cafeteria or lunch room. The aim is to get employees away from their desks, interacting over great food and even sharing ideas to help build stronger team bonds.
Be careful at snack time—How many times have you walked into an office break room only to see a big box of Tim Hortons Timbits staring back at you? Probably a lot. Serving a healthy staff lunch can also involve providing a couple of healthy snacks—maybe veggies and hummus, some raw nuts, smoothies or a small sandwich tray that employees can munch away at between meals. Again, this doesn’t need to be a costly endeavour. It’s just another signal to your staff that you’re committed to their health and wellness, while striving to help them be as happy and productive at work as possible.
And remember, we’re one of the few caterers in the Greater Toronto Area that can incorporate a beverage program into your daily catering or cafeteria program, including fresh-made smoothies and cold-pressed juices that are all the rage. We can even pour them into company-branded bottles to remind your employees how much pride you put into helping them stay healthy.
Now, you may be wondering what your employees will expect from your new and improved (and nutritious!) cafeteria or catering program. Here are the top 10 healthy corporate menu trends that are winning the hearts and tempting the taste buds of employees across Canada:
- Cold-pressed juice bars
- Super-food buffets
- Chia breakfast bowls
- Keto diet-friendly items
- International flavours (such as Hawaiian poke, ramen, shawarma, Korean barbecue)
- Buddha bowls
- Modern-day build-your-own salad bar
- Jarred salads
- Soup buffets
- Vegan/plant-based diet plans
Planning to launch a corporate meal program for your staff? Contact us now to learn about our corporate catering program.
Fia Pagnello, founder