As we enter a new decade, we’re even more conscious of the food trends which face us within the new year. If the past year alone is anything to go by, we need to be prepared to accommodate all kinds of diversity in design to meet the expectations of employees when it comes to the foodservice offerings within the workplace.  Food is increasingly becoming an incentive which attracts employees, away from close competitors and into the desks of the more on-trend workplaces.

An everyday sandwich or basic ‘canteen’ offering simply won’t make the cut in this market; the current generation of employees expect more substance to sink their teeth into, they even want to know where the food on their plate came from, if it fits into their diet plan and if it was sustainably sourced. Options are everything and that means exploring them all.

Of course, technology is on the menu, and with the latest apps and tablets employers can ensure employees are informed of today’s menus, promotions, calorie information and allergens, before they even get to the employee restaurant, making their already busy lives easier and increasing productivity in the process.  They can order at their desks and run down to pick up their specially tailored lunch and enjoy it either in the restaurant or back at their desks.

Research suggests that catering operators would benefit from these kinds of systems.  A recent survey found more than half of employees would use employee catering outlets more if they offered such things as loyalty schemes and personalised deals.  The same survey, for loyalty marketing platform Yoyo and digital ordering technology provider Preoday, also found that 26 percent of employees would use the employee restaurant more if they could simply pre-order food and collect it. This is assisted by how easy it is to pay for these items, whether it’s from your desk or in the restaurant you can use your smart phone and even smart watch now to pay for food with a quick tap, making it easier than ever to grab your lunch.

With these concepts already underway, what’s next in planning for the future of technology?  Well, it is possible, even today, to get personal DNA analysis that uses your genetic make-up to suggest personalised nutrition and fitness plans to help you lose weight, or diet and lifestyle guidance to improve health.  Once this becomes reliable and more widespread it could mean caterers will have a DNA profile of every customer and be expected to use it to offer suggestions about the best foods for them.  Whole workforces could be signed up if employers incentivise employees to eat more healthily, either directly through bonus schemes or indirectly by subsidising health or medical insurance.  When they do, caterers will need the technology and expertise to handle sophisticated DNA information and act on it.

This also brings attention to employees’ interest in their healthy eating and wellbeing, something that has become even more prevalent in recent years with healthy, vibrant and colourful foods taking the forefront over less nutritious options.  Employees want to have the option of having nutritious breakfast and lunch options as well as snacks and drinks, this can be encouraged and incorporated into the design by using frosted glass to keep sugary drinks out of sight but having bottles of water and healthier options clearly displayed, so that employees would naturally go for those options first over the unhealthy alternatives.

We’re also seeing, in some workplaces, where serveries are designed to showcase healthy food counters at the front so it’s the first thing customers see as they enter the employee restaurant. The less healthy options can often be found in the back corner or somewhere a little more out of sight, meaning that you instantly drift towards healthier choices. With the WELL Standard being a desirable accreditation for businesses to secure health and wellbeing considerations are becoming more and more prevalent to both design teams and catering contractors.

So, how do we plan to improve health beyond what we are already offering? In 2017, a survey by the Health Food Manufacturers Association suggested that 65 percent of adults had taken some form of vitamin or supplement either daily or occasionally over the previous 12 months.  That’s 30 million people who take supplements to improve their overall health.  There is clearly an interest here which needs to be explored and this is certainly encouraged by the Government to stem the spiralling NHS costs needed to treat the effects of poor diet.  Not only that, but supplements are also marketed to aid concentration or combat stress, issues that employers and employees alike can see the benefit in.  They also address wider health and wellbeing concerns such as reducing antioxidants, easing stiff joints or keeping skin looking youthful. It’s a lucrative market well worth exploring and implementing into the workplace.

This kind of forward thinking will likely appeal to the interest of the employees who are from the Millennial and Gen Z generations, who place a great deal of value on being part of health conscious and also socially responsible workplaces. They’re interested in everything from health to sustainability and that includes sourcing humanely raised meat to offering more plant-based alternatives, as well as reducing food waste through composting. Paying attention to sustainability in the workplace is essential and it’s likely that caterers will have to consider this throughout their offerings to maintain the appeal to the newer, more health-conscious generation of employees.

Diversity in the workforce also encourages the representation of different cuisines on the menu with influences such as Asian, Italian, Spanish, Mexican and such, popping up in the workplace. And why pick one cuisine to run with when you can offer them all through a ‘pop-up’ style street food counter with the ability to change weekly.  This brings a fresh vibrancy to the workplace where employees can be satisfied with the preparation of their food and never be bored of the same lacklustre options being churned out day after day.  These pop-up counters can even be utilised to support the local community, giving independent restaurants and cafés the opportunity to come in and serve their dishes to customers.

The existing trend towards more and smaller serving stations in employee restaurants will likely continue.  They will go on to provide a mix of manned, theatre-style counters and pop-ups together with a range of unmanned merchandisers.  But for those in the office unwilling or unable to make it to the restaurant area, there will be the development of robot delivery vehicles taking food orders to desks and break-out areas.  JustEat has been trialling these in Milton Keynes for takeaway deliveries on the back of international trials in which they have travelled 5,000 miles and delivered to 400,000 customers, without an accident.

Using cameras and sensors to find their way around, these machines can deliver up to ten kilograms in a compartment that can hold both hot and cold food. If these machines can negotiate their way around Milton Keynes, then making their way around an office building should be a piece of cake.  They can also be remotely monitored, and human operators can take over if they need to.

For a growing number of companies battling against one another to secure new talent, these kinds of considerations need to be made looking forward. Food is certainly becoming an effective weapon to differentiate a good workplace from an exceptional one.  A strong, future-forward organisations workplace shows innovation, consideration and dedication to impress and take care of their employees.