How to Bring Employees Back Into the Office

Plenty of research explores the financial and cultural implications of employees working from home, but a New York Times article from early 2023 explored an area rarely discussed: the impact of hybrid work and work-from-home arrangements on the traditional corporate cafe. While many are thriving, some businesses are looking at other options to supplement their dining strategy, engage their employees on-site, and entice work-from-homers into the office.

There are significant benefits to being in the office: meeting with colleagues for quick idea exchanges, plus access to leadership, technology, and tools they may not have at home. Still, a 2022 survey from Ipsos Karian and Box found that 91% of US employees preferred either hybrid work or working from home full-time. Some quick math shows that, by contrast, only 9% of respondents said they’d prefer to work exclusively in the office.

It’s a challenge many businesses are facing. Employers need to make the office a place where employees feel they’re most productive, which can include some of the benefits they experience when working remotely. Here are a few ways we’ve seen corporate campuses adapt their dining offerings to accommodate flexible employee work schedules, encourage a return to the office, and engage employees in the company culture.

Corporate Cafes

Today’s corporate cafe looks more like a restaurant or food court with on-trend entrees, healthy options, and comfort food classics. When you bring affordable, delicious food readily available to your employees, you may find that the office becomes a more enticing place to be. These spaces provide the perfect stage for coworker collaboration and relationship-building for in-office employees in a way working from home doesn’t allow. There are plenty of ways to strategically leverage your on-site cafe to both attract new talent and retain the employees you already have.

On-site Coffee Shops

Having an on-site café is a delightful way to create a cozy collaborative space within an office building and is a convenient way for employees to grab their favorite morning or afternoon drink without having to step out. And with a wide array of their favorite snacks, quick bites, and even meals, an on-site coffee shop can give employees the little bit of respite they need to keep their day going strong.

Micro Markets

Combined with a corporate cafe, a micro market is a great solution to provide grab-and-go meal options and snacks outside of cafe hours. Often cashierless with a self-checkout, a micro market is stocked by your cafe team with high quality items that your employees will appreciate.

They can quickly grab anything from a meal to coffee, soda, or their favorite snack—sea salt pita chips with zippy curry dip, house-made granola, or salted caramel chocolate bars—whenever they’re hungry, not just when the cafe is open.

Office Pantries

Office pantries are designated rooms or smaller stations full of a variety of foods, drinks, and even dishes or silverware. These dynamic nooks may provide  pop up popcorn bars, build-your-own yogurt buffets, or locally-sourced pastries from a neighborhood bakery. Employees can grab whatever provisions they may want or need, within reason, throughout the work day.

Some companies vary offerings by floor or department so employees will organically seek out these delights and meet new team members. These casual interactions can lead to more organic conversations between employees in the office, potentially sparking unexpected professional relationships and fostering a greater sense of community.

Mobile Ordering

Convenience is the name of the game, and offering mobile ordering for employees is a great way to maximize their flexibility when dining in the office. For example, we offer options for employees to order their food online through an app, then pick their meal up at the chosen time from a temperature-controlled food locker or other designated pick-up spot. From ordering to pick-up, this creates maximum flexibility so employees don’t have to miss a beat.

It’s Time to Get Creative

We’ve learned that there’s no one size fits all dining solution that meets every single business’s needs. There are dozens of factors that can help determine which dining solution will offer the best fit. It’s simply a matter of knowing the right questions to ask and where to look.

Here are a few questions that might help inspire employees to return to the office, using food as a motivator:

  1. Which milestones, achievements, and team successes can you celebrate with an afternoon mixer?
  2. Consider implementing a wellness program. What are the possibilities? Feature signature dishes that fit health requirements.
  3. What team building events can you host? Group cooking classes, recipe exchange, global food tastings, baking competitions, etc.

If you’re interested in exploring different dining options that will be the most effective for reaching your internal business goals while serving your in-office employees, reach out to us. We’d be happy to walk you through your choices.

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