How lunch can fuel your company culture

Food and drink expert Carol Raithatha discusses how what you give your staff to eat reflects what you think of them.

by Carol Raithatha
Last Updated: 12 Oct 2018

The French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, ‘Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.’ As such, aligning food and drink policy with mission and values can help to create authenticity in the modern workplace, as well as motivating employees.  

Does the food fit your culture?

Free or subsidised food and drink is a benefit, but does it match your brand, mission, and values? All elements of the organisational culture and demographic of the workforce should be considered. These include formality of the workplace, diversity, age and gender of employees, as well as key issues within the CSR agenda.

For example, in July this year one of the co-founders of WeWork announced that, for environmental reasons, meat will no longer be served at company events.

When it comes to setting the tone, trending cuisines such as Hawaiian and Mexican, as well as vegetarian and vegan offerings, can add to the ‘finger on the pulse’ credentials of a company.

Eating to live

Providing tasty, affordable, customisable and healthy options helps employees into good habits and provides reassurance that management really does care. According to Adrian Evans, Food Transformation Director for Sodexo’s Corporate Services, ‘The new generation of workers are very discerning and they generally take their health and wellbeing seriously and expect to be looked after in their workplace.’

Healthy food, and the perception of what is healthy, can vary. So, exploring what diners want is key. London-focused corporate catering firm Vacherin makes sure to employ catering staff who engage with diners. The company has also developed a customer app that provides information about menus and allergens and can ask for feedback and suggestions. It’s important to help those eating make appropriate choices and this is achieved by using branding and imagery that categorises food as for example energising, superfoods, food & mood, or well-balanced.

Optimising certain elements in the food and drink repertoire will boost employee motivation and productivity. Vacherin's commercial director Zoe Watts identifies coffee as ‘absolutely key’. She believes that coffee provided can be a ‘real perk’ and must rival that of the high-quality independent coffee shops, as well as being tailored to the company itself.

Let the sunshine in: where you eat

Food and drink can be at the heart of interaction and socialisation throughout the day, so physical spaces should reflect this. US company Café Services considers a focus on employee engagement as one of the top corporate dining food service trends, explaining that the office cafeteria is often now the hub of the organisation and is designed to invite people in and encourage mingling. Modern touches like floor-to-ceiling glass walls and high-top tables may feature.

Demographics can matter. Younger workers, for example, tend to graze and work more unconventional hours. According to workspace design company the Penketh Group, ‘Workcafes’ can become flexible ‘third places’ that promote collaboration, social interaction, and a sense of community by giving a feeling of being between home and work.

The work canteen of the future will be carefully appointed and use technology to nudge employees into making better food choices while having fun. For instance, the Nordic foodservice company Fazer has explored concepts such as gamifying food choices.

Take time to make time: when you eat

According to a Total Jobs study, one third of UK employees never leave their workplace after they arrive in the morning and more than half don’t take their full lunch break. It seems that people surveyed realised they should take a break but reported feeling too overwhelmed with work tasks to do so.

Peer pressure can be extreme, so managers should set an example. There is nothing more demotivating than mixed messages. It’s sad that there is often a lack of encouragement when we know that taking time in the middle of the day is likely to reduce stress, improve physical health and increase productivity.

Nurturing culture with a pinch of freedom

Although it’s important to optimise food and drink behaviours in the workplace, keep in mind there is really no such thing as a free lunch. External relations can be negatively impacted if staff are so well catered for that they never venture out. Take the case of San Francisco, where there is a proliferation of tech companies providing most of their employees’ needs under one roof. Hoping it could help the local economy, legislators there have recently proposed a ban on new employee canteens.

The core dilemma in winning stomachs, hearts and minds is how to motivate, encourage and express values without creating a Big Brother environment. Watts says, ‘We know that people want healthy options, but it’s all about giving people choice. We will never dictate what people are going to eat.’

Enforcing restrictive or unaligned policies without consultation would be a mistake: Although workplaces are not democracies, employees like to believe they all have a place set for them at the company dining table.

Carol Raithatha is the director of the food and drink research consultancy Carol Raithatha Limited.

Image credit: Pixabay/Pexels

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