What are the implications of COVID on Australia’s changing office environment, and how will the provision of food and beverage services adapt?
As Australians return to their offices post-COVID, many businesses are now evaluating how they can better improve their workspace experience through food based services. Long gone are the days of providing only tea and biscuits, food and beverage services have now permeated their way into almost every single Australian business. With each individual employer returning to work, the resurgence of these services presents additional risks to employers providing their own in-house food and beverage.
Forced upon many vendors, the various COVID-related restrictions of 2020 have thrust a whole new range of safety requirements on all food service providers. These new requirements have proven difficult for the currently fragmented food service model, and many employers are now scrambling to meet ever changing regulations.
For many businesses, it may be the end of self-provision, with those unable to adapt seeking out qualified services that can guarantee workplace health and safety standards are being met.
The impact of COVID-19 on workplace food service
Never designed to contend with the virality of a pandemic, COVID-19 has highlighted numerous flaws in our traditional food vendor system. To combat these new challenges, many employers have found themselves redesigning their workplace and communal hubs, creating timetables for both mealtimes and social events, and returning to single-use packaging; increasing their carbon footprint.
Despite these challenges, many workplaces have continued to adapt to the new guidelines, with companies still honouring the availability of a healthy food option for their employees. For those that do, the benefits are plentiful for both the employer and employee…
1. The value-add to employees is significant
While many businesses look immediately to remuneration to ensure employee retention, the value of providing food services to your employees is often far greater. For employees who spend anywhere from $10-$30 per day on lunch, a free meal can mean thousands of dollars in savings per year. As a business owner, the actual cost is far smaller and provides a far better return than directly increasing an employee’s salary.
2. In-house diners are often more productive employees
The standard Australian office lunch lasts an hour (or three on Friday), however, a significant portion of this time is spent either leaving the office to buy food or preparing a meal from home.
For businesses that provide in-house dining, employees that are in a rush are able to eat quickly and return to their work with little disruption. And for those who struggle to leave work on time each day, a quick lunchtime meal can often be the difference.
3. Eating together builds team relationships
Food just tastes better when you eat it with friends. The workplace is no different and many businesses are discovering how important lunchtime meals can be.
Businesses that can provide interaction through staggered meal times, can look forward to employees with stronger and more passionate connections. This all transfers over to better performance and healthier working environments.
4. Building an environmentally sustainable business
An unintended consequence of COVID-19 has been the reliance on single-use packaging and disposable utensils. Unfortunately for many businesses, the current trend of reducing plastic and packaging in the workplace is likely to be suspended in favour of disposable, individual packaging. However, for businesses engaged with a workplace food service provider, employers are presented with an opportunity to increase the use of biodegradable packaging and implementing green waste management.
So where to from here?
In the short-to-medium term, pre-portioned food will become the norm, rather than bulk food services and buffets, staggered break times will reduce crowds, and contact minimisation will reduce the spread of germs.
While we can expect regulations to ease in time and a return of cost-effective bulk-food options, Australian businesses should not underestimate the importance of meeting these demands as they become increasingly complex; establishing partnerships with qualified food service partners will be key for many businesses.
If nothing else, COVID-19 has highlighted the need for business to meet government guidelines around responsible custodianship of their employees, redefining communal spaces and providing a safe working environment.
For food service providers who are able to meet these changing demands and increased focus on food safety, the future is bright.