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  • Writer's pictureRaquel Weiss Fusco

That "Ahhhh" Feeling

Refreshing the Dining Experience

I’m sitting down in January to write this piece and the word refresh keeps coming to mind. It’s no wonder when there are more than 777,000,000 results for the word on Google in a half of a second. My guess is many of those are recent articles about refreshing your mindset, your fitness routine, your meals, and your home.

We can take this piece about refreshes in hundreds of directions but for now, let’s focus on the monotony of going to the same place every day. I’m sure I’m not the only person who walks into their living room one day (after several years of it looking the same) and winds up rearranging furniture, replacing some knickknacks and buying new throw pillows. The result of a few simple changes gives me that “ahhh” feeling and for a while, it’s exciting to come home and experience the new environment.

Now let’s apply that same mindset to the workplace. If an employee desires, every day, he or she can visit the same office café and dining room. If the building hasn’t undergone construction in recent years, odds are there’s a deli, salad bar, grill and possibly pizza concepts available. And if I had to guess, most of the dining room consists of traditional tables and maybe some booth seating.

The above photos show a corporate café refresh that turned around the employee dining experience. On the left is the new space featuring bright and airy colors, new counter fronts and other small changes that made a big difference. Previously, the space was bland and dated (see photo on right).

But if your office is in a place like New York City and an employee finds the whole company dining experience tired, there’s a world of options available a few floors away. In one direction there could be a chopped salad bar, sushi and coffee. While the other direction might offer smoothies, pizza and tacos. Let’s not forget the array of food trucks that share location via social media and could be in the neighborhood any day. There are options to suit every person and palette, and odds are, if your company café is dated, it isn’t filled. So, what can you do to bring that “ahhh” feeling to your corporate café’s consumers and to your staff that doesn’t require a gut renovation?

The first thing you might want to consider is changing the aesthetics. I’m not saying tear up the floor, but a fresh coat of paint, signage, new counter front fascia and food view windows all contribute to a new look with minimal downtime and budget.

Now, think about taking it a step further. Maybe some of the equipment is older and it’s affecting your food presentation and taste. Consider replacing some of it. When you do that, you may even create the opportunity for a more flexible menu.

Speaking of the menu ... Remember that menu offering I mentioned earlier? How can you bring some of those outside trends to your café? Maybe your deli only has a cold offering. Consider incorporating a rapid cook oven allowing you to prepare some hot sandwiches at breakfast and lunch. Bring in a mobile cart on occasion with a chef’s special or feature a pop-up restaurant. Maybe it’s that neighborhood juice bar making smoothies or a create your own omelet station. Small changes like these will refresh your menu and, if publicized well, can help increase traffic.

I’ll give you an example, not from a client at elite|studio e, but from my town on Long Island. There’s a typical strip mall where every storefront looks exactly the same and one restaurant in there has changed hands several times in the past two or three years. Obviously, something wasn’t right because it went from a sports bar to a burger joint to another burger joint. But there’s something different about the most recent occupant. People were posting about their positive experiences all over our local Facebook page. I decided to venture over there to check it out, but honestly, I was expecting your typical burger and crazy milkshake dining experience.

From the time I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed the change. The restaurant stood out! It wasn’t the same white concrete that the rest of the strip mall was finished in. The façade was red brick with black painted trim. The owners were clearly trying to indicate there’s been a change from the previous owners. And just to prove my point, the new owner continued to differentiate by not just serving burgers and crazy milkshakes. There were a variety of salads, sandwiches and other quick offerings like quesadillas, wings and grilled cheese. A few small changes to the menu and décor can really bring that “ahhh” moment. Now it's your turn.

What can you do to your corporate foodservice operation to provide a refresh to your menu, café décor and/or dining experience?

Want to talk it out? I’m there for you!

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