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  • Writer's pictureGarin Wong

Reimagining the Corporate Café; Introducing The Café Restaurant

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

The smell of bacon in the morning. The sound of meat and vegetables sizzling. The sight of a big flame or a stir fry being flipped in the air. As diners, we’re amazed by the sights, sounds, and smells emanating from a kitchen and mesmerized as we watch chefs work.

For the past decade (and more), the trend in upscale restaurants has been to bring guests into the kitchen with a Chef’s Table. In corporate cafes, we’ve been bringing the kitchen out to the guest in the form of grill lines and action stations where you can craft your order as it is made in front of you.

The images above illustrate examples of how restaurants and corporate cafes have been bringing food forward.

Gartner, Inc. states hybrid work schedules are becoming an employee expectation.

Hybrid work schedules becoming an employee expectation, according to Gartner, a management and consulting firm. As a result, there are many corporate cafés that are busy on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but have little to no guests on Monday and Friday. On those quieter days, the traditional café can feel like a ghost town. Many café stations are shut down for the day; there is minimal staff to attend to stations and guests; or there is self-serve food available that eventually gets thrown out. Economically, the café operation incurs large costs from wasted food, café staff to prep and cook the food, and the associated electricity and gas.

One solution to combat the ghost town effect has been to bring restaurants to Corporate Dining. Aside from guest restaurants and chefs hosting a pop-up station for a day, elite|studio e’s team has been reimagining the corporate cafe by consolidating stations with the kitchen and creating concepts with a single large station and an open kitchen that’s fully visible to guests.

Coupled with the increase in online or app ordering, guests can pick up their meals at the counter of our “restaurant” from a “waiter” with a smile or from a pick-up cubby for a contactless option.

Consolidating the multiple stations seen in traditional serveries into a large single “restaurant” pick up counter results in a smaller footprint requirement for the café. The separate cooking lines in the café and kitchen are combined into a Cooking Suite configuration in a fashion that reduces the footprint and some construction costs. (See rendering below for sample idea.)

elite|studio e’s team has been reimagining the corporate cafe by consolidating stations with the kitchen and creating concepts with a single large station and an open kitchen that’s fully visible to guests.

The menus that were unique to each café station can be consolidated and produced from the restaurant’s cooking line, including cold items traditionally served at a deli and/or salad station. This consolidates labor as well since the foodservice operator doesn’t need to pay for a cook at each station. Instead, this model features culinary staff working hot and cold lines and an Expediter. Just like in an independent restaurant operation, the Expediter’s role is to assemble orders and hand off to guests. Meals are made to order so the guest won’t experience premade food from a steam table drying out or getting cold over time.

The Foodservice Operation is no longer about simply serving food to guests; instead, it is taking a holistic approach that includes the entire guest experience. The Café Restaurant allows guests on the outside (of the counter or through a glass wall) to look into the kitchen. Everyone loves to watch chefs work so bringing the cooking line closer to guests creates the feeling of being in the kitchen next to the chef. The client benefits from lower construction costs and operational costs. It’s a win-win and practical solution to address some of the challenges facing the foodservice operation with the hybrid work schedule trend.

Previously, my colleague, Ivan Weiss shared a variety of implemented foodservice project solutions that help activate spaces in corporate offices (check out that post). As the workplace continues to evolve, the elite|studio e team will continue to develop innovative ideas for our clients.


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