5 trends driving corporate dining
Corporate (or business & industry) dining has undergone significant changes in recent years. As some companies have downsized, foodservice has played less and less of a role in overall corporate culture. At the same time, however, other firms—particularly tech companies—have begun using foodservice as a drawing card. For these firms, what once was considered a necessary evil has become a coveted perk. Companies such as Google and Microsoft are the trendsetters in this new corporate culture. This is creating new jobs in corporate dining, especially for talented chefs who also have business acumen.
Here are five trends driving this segment of the foodservice industry:
1. Food transparency
Millennials coming into the workforce are bringing with them the passion for food they exhibited in college— not only demanding high quality and authenticity, but also wanting to know more about the entire farm- to- table process.
“Our customers want to know everything about the food we serve; where it comes from, what’s in it, how the farmer treated the land, etc.,” says Mark Freeman, senior manager of global dining services for Microsoft in Redmond, Wash. “They also want to be supportive of social causes and make sure that the products they buy are supporting the right things.”
2. Health and Wellness
More and more companies are taking steps to promote the overall health of their employees, seeing wellness initiatives as helping to improve productivity and reduce healthcare costs. Foodservice programs are playing a vital role in this push by offering healthier foods and providing nutrition information on most, if not all, the foods they serve.
“We are getting a lot of requests in the arena of health,” says Christine Rankin, corporate services manager for Hallmark, in Kansas City, Mo. “Customers are looking for fresh, local, clean food. They want gluten free items, more veggie variety and cooking methods like roasted vegetables, more grain dishes.”
Mark Broadhurst, vice president of corporate dining and retail development for Parkhurst Dining, the Pittsburgh-based contract foodservice arm of Eat ‘n’ Park Corp., agrees. He says Parkhurst accounts are honoring customer requests for “more veggie-centric dishes and plant-based proteins, and more and more use of dried beans, peas and lentils” in recipes. He adds that customers are clamoring for more nutrition labeling of menu items.
Chefs are now out in front of customers in a growing number of B&I operations.
“We are seeing an increased demand for exhibition/action stations, where the dish is prepared in front of the customer,” says Damian Monticello, senior manager for corporate hospitality at Florida Blue, Jacksonville, Fla. “This type of cooking allows the customer to see the individual ingredients, and their freshness. Second, this type of cooking lets people customize. Being able to tweak something to their own personal taste preferences is an added perk, especially for our younger employees.”
Monticello adds that he is currently working with one of his foodservice providers to set up a wellness action station, which would combine the benefits of exhibition cooking and customers’ desire to eat more healthfully.
At Microsoft, Mark Freeman ads his own twist on this trend by bringing in local restaurant chefs to do cooking demos. He says not only does this give customers a break from the daily dining offerings, it also supports the local community by giving nearby restaurants exposure.
4. Portable foods
Even though customers are sometimes willing to wait for foods that are prepared fresh, to their specifications, they also are busy people who often don’t have a lot of time to sit down for meals. So foodservice operators also are investing in space for self-service grab-and-go items. These “micro-marts” offer a variety of packaged foods—some prepared and wrapped on site—for employees who want a quick snack or a meal to take back to their desks.
“Because we are a daytime operation, we do get requests for smaller-sized items which suit eating on the fly, or eating at your desk,” says Hallmark’s Rankin, whose operation has six self-serve kiosks.
5. On-site gardens
As Millennials in particular continue to clamor for more local foods, some corporate dining entities are setting up their own gardens, growing everything from herbs to tomatoes and cucumbers. PNC Bank’s Pittsburgh headquarters sports a rooftop garden. Microsoft has a series of indoor hydroponic gardens that grow a variety of lettuces and other greens.
But the most ambitious corporate garden may be in Louisville, Ky., where the foodservice program of whiskey distillery Brown-Forman includes a barrel garden—60 or so half-barrels set out on a piece of otherwise unusable property and filled with topsoil, from which are grown tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, strawberries and other produce.