As more companies strive to recruit and retain the best and brightest employees, they are making a renewed commitment to business and industry foodservice operations. Once an afterthought, these operations now embrace major foodservice industry trends including farm to table menus and kiosks that support flexible beverage and dining options during non-peak periods.
Major changes are afloat in the business and industry foodservice (B&I) segment, particularly in the Western United States. With companies like Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Adobe and others rapidly expanding — both in terms of employee growth, new building construction and foodservice offerings — it seems as if the dot.com era is experiencing a mini-revival.
"I think B&I is booming again, especially in the Bay Area," says Nahum Goldberg, LEED AP, senior associate with Cini-Little International in San Pablo, Calif. "Companies are competing to get the best engineers and young talent they can." Foodservice plays a role in the recruitment and retention of good employees, says Goldberg, an FCSI associate member. "We're working with a number of clients who are revamping their foodservice offerings with a whole new approach. There are many companies actively building new campuses and cafeterias right now."
Steve Carlson, FCSI, LEED AP, president of Robert Rippe & Associates, Inc., has also seen some growth in the corporate feeding sector. "For a long time there was not a lot of work in this area, especially around the time of the financial crisis, but business has picked up somewhat," he says. "The trend in this segment is to have a main serving area designed for high volume, weekday lunch with a lot of choices, including a deli, grill or chef's special station where you can choose your ingredients and cooking preference."
Most of these spaces also include at least one other retail operation, such as a bakery, coffee bar or to-go space with pre-made sandwiches and salads, Carlson says. More and more in this sector Carlson's been asked to create a separate coffee and/or to-go station with a Panini grill and some small equipment just offset from a main line so it can remain open in the early morning, evening and night even after the main servery closes. "We've been designing these coffee bars so that we can close off the main entrance but serve out of a common area, or we'll add a service window for after-hours service," he says.
Health and special diets represent growing areas of emphasis among B&I operators. "A lot of people are vegetarian or vegan or have allergies or gluten intolerances," Goldberg says. "All these things are becoming more applicable, especially with a younger workforce." In fact, he adds, countless customer research surveys have found that a vast majority of employee diners, at least in California, are looking for some healthy options. "This doesn't mean they don't want French fries, but the point is most everyone wants at least the option for fresher food. One survey found that 65 percent would use a salad bar regularly during the week if available."
Farm-to-table is another growing area in the B&I menu development world, particularly the intersections of local food and the culinary arts. "At least as from a design and operational view, if you don't create something that has potential for farm-to-table dining and culinary creativity, you're not going to succeed," Goldberg says. "Chefs don't want to do rotating menus anymore. They want to work with seasonal menus, and constantly be able to bring new ideas to the table." Creating flexible kitchen work stations that any incoming chef can easily manipulate is important in that regard.
In multi-building/campus environments, location is an important design consideration. "Not only do you need to create a space that's inviting and looks great with good food, but you also have to make sure the space is in a good location," Goldberg says. "If there is no parking, or they know they can't get back in time, employees are not going to take their car out. They will go somewhere else or just bring their own food."
Goldberg says he's helping some B&I clients learn how to incorporate "just in time" cooking methods to speed up their service and enhance throughput, especially during peak lunch hours. "One thing we saw at a quarterly review with one client was that the main grill station was one of the highest ticket items per order, but sales were lower despite there always being a line of people there," he says. "We've looked into cutting proteins slightly thinner to cook quicker or adding a small warmer to just speed up to one or two plates ahead."
But therein lies one of the biggest challenges B&I operators face: finding a balance between a made-to-order menu with fresh tasting food and the need to maintain speed of service during busy lunch periods. Pre-paying through an online system also helps speed up service.