27 May 2020

Five trends shaping the future of foodservice – by Pete Champain, Sales Director

Working in business development, I get to see first-hand how the catering and hospitality market is changing; what clients are talking about, what’s worrying them, and what’s getting them excited.

Over the last 12 months I’ve noticed a real shift in what people are looking for. Health and wellbeing have both moved to the top of the agenda, with meat-free meals and sustainability becoming mainstream concerns.

The Covid-19 crisis has now given us all a reason to pause and reflect. After a flurry of planning for the immediate response, clients are now looking ahead and thinking about how to future-proof their operations. Employer Value Propositions are also centre stage; how can businesses engage employees at home as well as in the workplace? With strong EVPs reducing attrition by 69% according to Gartner, it’s not surprising these discussions are urgent.

Here are the top talking points.

Technology

On March 23rd, the day the UK went into lockdown, Zoom was downloaded 2.31m times. Other platforms are also proliferating, and while this technology isn’t always new, the way we use it is. We’re suddenly hopping from platform to platform, daily, for pub quizzes and family catch-ups, as well as a plethora of business meetings.

Many people I spoke to were surprised at just how well they can function while working remotely. But others are struggling. While Gen Z and Millennials have an innate familiarity with technology and remarkable digital literacy, some (often older) find it harder to move from device to device, from Microsoft Teams to WhatsApp to Skype. And even the happiest homeworkers are missing the easy connection that comes with face-to-face meetings.

So, while remote working looks very much set to stay, enabled by this now commonplace tech, it seems there’ll always be a need for the physical space. And that means there’ll always be a place for eating at work.

Flexibility

It’s fair to say that the Covid-19 crisis has made a lot of us more homebound, to one degree or another – but it also demonstrates that there’s room for manoeuvre, once it passes. This chimes with the worldview of the youngest people entering the workforce, who don’t see why they’d ever need to sit at the same desk, in the same office, or even the same city, day-in and day-out.

The current situation has also accelerated some longstanding trends.

According to Kathleen Gerson, a sociologist at New York University, “as the workforce becomes more diverse, men as well as women are saying there’s more to life than work, and we want a satisfying life as well.”

Now employees of all ages and genders are reassessing their assumptions, and thinking hard about what they want from life and work. The results are likely to be far-reaching and long-lasting.

Balance 

But here’s the nub of it; the perfect balance is just as hard to find at home. Many women in particular have found themselves continuing to run the house, while the whole family work from it. Even before the crisis, women spent 4 hours on unpaid domestic work compared to 2½ hours for men (OECD). The imbalance in that division of labour is now even more pronounced.

The blurring of lines between home and work brings other problems too. Research from Business News Daily shows that one third of home workers are more likely to struggle with stress, due to feeling isolated and unsupported. Some are even missing their commute – while it’s a slog for many, others find the journey to and from work offers valuable decompression space.

So how do we get that balance right? Perhaps it’s about taking the best bits of work home – and bringing the best aspects of homeworking into the workplace.

Culture

How it ‘feels’ to be an employee of a company matters. And that’s especially true for younger employees. A recent article in Forbes stated that Millennials are now making active choices to join businesses based on culture, ahead of pay.

Key elements include wellbeing programmes, health perks and food provision, with flexible workspaces, fuelled by good food and coffee, acting as a major draw.

But even in more traditional offices, being part of something bigger has real appeal. According to Jane Clay of architecture and design firm Gensler, “even those who work from home want the option to come into the workplace. It’s the camaraderie, the sense of engagement. Even if I’m out all the time, I have the sense that I belong and that I’m valued.”

And in fact, relationships are good for business. Donald Clifton, the founder of Gallup, found that measuring workplace friendships is a strong predictor of productivity – because having friends in a team encourages everyone to try harder.

As the main social space in many offices, the canteen, cafe or restaurant plays a crucial role in building this shared culture. So, while its form will continue to evolve, the role of the workplace eatery seems more important than ever.

Co-working

One major evolution that’s apparent all over the world is the rise of co-working. Now worth $26BN globally, the co-working sector has exploded. And it’s no longer just about desk space – instead, workers are offered membership of a collaborative community, with a ready supply of networking opportunities (as well as excellent food and drink).   

As opportunities to refurbish existing offices or build new ones arise, employers are following suit. These new multi-use collaboration spaces feel more like their co-working counterparts, with hot desking instead of cubicles, and dedicated space for relaxation, coaching and support.

The role of food has also expanded. As well as great places to eat, these offices and shared spaces increasingly feature test kitchens, where colleagues and collaborators can cook together, build bonds, and pick up good habits. Which brings us back to…

Health and wellbeing. As I said at the outset, health and wellbeing were both already hot topics in foodservice. They’ve now gained even more significance.

Many workers are noticing a decline in their health at home, where it’s all too easy to graze and nibble all day. As the crisis continues to take its toll, mental health is also under pressure.

In the short term, workplace caterers have a real opportunity to help people return to healthier habits. Nutritionists, chefs, designers and behavioural scientists all have a role to play – and the results will benefit everyone. As well as reducing absence, health and wellness programmes can actively increase productivity, as happy people are 12% more productive (according to University of Warwick Business School).

In the longer term, the future workforce is likely to be deeply engaged with their own wellbeing and take a preventative and protective attitude to health – prizing it above all else. Employers looking to attract the best talent will have to rise to the challenge, with food and drink provision that looks beyond simple sustenance, to offer holistic support, cultural kudos, community – and more.