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  • Writer's pictureIvan Weiss

How Our Team is Helping Feed Yours - Part Two

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

This post is part two of a two part series. It shares a variety of implemented foodservice project solutions that have helped activate spaces in corporate offices. Part one provides a look into the healthy and sustainable menu options, and the equipment solutions that can be utilized in your corporate dining location -- or any commercial kitchen.


It’s been nearly three years since the world shut down due to the pandemic and, as New York Times author Kim Severson explained, the American office is just waking up from its slumber. This article (sorry you may need a NYT log in), discusses how the corporate cafeteria is changing from shifts towards healthier and more sustainable menu options to the dining environments and office amenities.


We broke down our response into two posts because there’s a lot to cover and our team had different takeaways from the article. Most importantly, for the team at elite|studio e, we want to elaborate on the variety of solutions that are available to fix the “broken cafeteria.” And, even better, there’s more to come from our innovative team that’ll help achieve the same goals.


 

If I could choose one sentence from the article that caught my eye, it’d be, “So companies are blowing up the cafeteria.”


It’s a bold statement, but yes, we’re seeing a lot of this in the world of foodservice design. However, unless you’re doing a complete renovation or building a new headquarters, hitting the office café with a wrecking ball isn’t the best option. That said, companies are finding ways to incorporate dining amenities that may not involve utilizing the traditional café.


I think it’s important to note companies are facing a variety of challenges, and they differ depending on the industry, region, etc. Some companies are down to a four-day work week with a varied population each day; some have downsized their office population; some are now leasing offices temporarily; and some have large cafes that are not being utilized. The list goes on and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

Being that elite|studio e was founded on developing innovative foodservice project solutions, I thought, in response to the Times article, I’d share some of the ideas we’ve been implementing recently. Our team is collaborating with operators, clients, architects and others to activate dining spaces and improve the employee experience – and I promise, some of them are more budget friendly than that wrecking ball. Here are a few examples of these projects.



Hybrid Experience

One of my favorite projects (pictured above), is a small site solution that we designed and built just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. The concept features a market bar, rotating restaurant station and a 24/7 micromarket. Utilizing multi-functioning equipment and flex wells (like Chad mentioned in part one of this series) decreases menu fatigue and increases the options. The use of technology provides an all-day and night offering too.


Hybrid experiences can include a variety of configurations, but the ones we work on most often include a combination of a micromarket, market bar, rotating station and a barista bar.


Multipurpose Spaces

We’ve had the opportunity to design foodservice offerings for multipurpose spaces. These larger rooms are often used for meeting and conferences, events, and lunch. Our team has developed mobile solutions for a variety of concepts, including salad, coffee and action station.


Recently, we completed a project in Boston, Massachusetts, utilizing this very idea. The existing foodservice amenity was a Micromarket offering, so the addition of a café offering expanded the menu without major construction. Our designers and the manufacturer were even able to customize the carts, utilizing the brand colors and logo in the millwork shape.


Expand Your Menu

Let’s say your company only has office pantries … we can work with what you have, to enhance your offering. Those mobile solutions previously mentioned are just one way to do this. For example, you can add a mobile barista bar to a pantry, and if you’re ok with some structural work, you could convert a pantry to a micromarket or expand the existing pantry to include both concepts.

Another way to achieve this is by incorporating pop-up concepts. Utilizing those same mobile concepts above creates a perfect, scalable solution for those days where there is a larger population in the building. Plus you can relocate them in the building or campus to where the additional support is needed on any given day. For example, in this rendering, there's a mobile salad concept in the pantry and micromarket.


If your office doesn’t have any foodservice amenities and you want to incorporate an offering to entice people back into the workplace, we can work with you to find the space for that too.


Decentralized Dining

Prior to the pandemic, there was a need for differentiation in the workplace dining experience. Our team developed decentralized dining, and shortly before 2020 had begun the design/build of our first site in Stamford, Connecticut. In this case, there were two towers and several smaller environments spread throughout both buildings. The offering included two micromarkets, pantries, a deli and salad concept, a high-end barista and event bar, and a grill concept adjacent to a salad island.


The pros to decentralized dining are tremendous. For example, if your in-office population decreases by 50% on Fridays, it would be a waste of supplies, energy and labor to open all of those concepts. Maybe on Fridays only the deli and salad concept are open; the barista bar shortens its hours so it’s open from 8 to 10 a.m.; and, of course, the micromarkets are 24/7 providing a varied menu despite other dining locations being closed.


Another benefit to decentralized dining is it provides consumers with different locations to enjoy their lunch. In our example, an individual can enjoy a quiet lunch at the barista bar; a lunch among friends at the deli; or just pick up something quick at the Micromarket to eat at their desk. Having spaces designed to different aesthetics in a singular office building or campus means the consumer is leaving the workplace less, offering benefits to the employer and the operator.


On other projects we’ve provided foodservice project solutions for, we’ve even taken it a step further and implemented guest restaurant spaces. Bringing in local partners supports the community, provides authentic rotating cuisines and enhances the menu offering.

There are many more pros to decentralized dining. If you’re attending the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management’s Critical Issues Conference next month, we’ll be sharing additional details there ... and of course, you can always reach out to us for more information before then.


Repurposing the Large Café

Yes, I went there. How do you handle the large café that served 2,000 people and now only 1,000 people are coming to work every day? Taking the dining room and creating a collaborative space is the easy solution, but how do you handle the serving area? Here are a few ideas, but again, the solutions we provide depend on the challenges you face.


  1. Some of your stations can be dedicated to order pick-up. Individuals can utilize a mobile app or ordering kiosk, and a station or two in the café will be responsible for fulfilling those meals. With some minor modifications, this solution looks great and provides a variety of improvements for the operator and customer.

  2. Create engagement with your local community by partnering with local restaurants. Giving real estate to these restaurants invites offerings that people may leave the building for. In addition, you'll have supplemental opportunities by pairing beverages and snacks. Without introducing additional labor, these stations can remain open.

  3. Post pandemic people are craving social opportunities. Bringing the seating and food concepts together into more of a food hall experience allows the social and culinary activities to meet in the middle for a dynamic experience. This creative use of space also allows us to return dining space to the building owner which is easier to convert to meeting space and other hybrid function uses.


The images below illustrate some of the food hall experiences we've conceptualized or provided foodservice consulting solutions on.


Food plays a central role in the lives of people. It has become such an important recruitment tool supporting company culture and creating engaging and inspiring employee experiences. The reality is, in my opinion, we’ll always be serving food in the workplace, but the environment may change. One of the best things we can do as a foodservice project solutions firm is provide companies with timeless renovations so you don’t think about blowing up the corporate café every few years.




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