The Fresh Face of Corporate Dining

B&I innovators break the mold with dynamic new on-trend, on-site options.

Zynga Lunch-TablesAt social gaming company Zynga, the culinary staff serves an average of 4,000 meals per day, Monday through Friday.Think today's workplace benefits are all about health insurance, casual Fridays and 401(k)s? Think again. Corporate dining occupies a prime position on the list of perks that companies use to attract and retain top-notch talent and to improve productivity. Far from the drab, Dilbert-esque company lunchrooms of old, today's corporate dining programs sizzle with innovation, culinary and design sophistication, and on-trend offerings that rival, if not surpass, what employees might find at commercial operations down the street.

While some companies have been ahead of the curve for years, those within the B&I foodservice arena say a mix of powerful forces continues to accelerate the rate of change. Among them:

  • Economic recovery that's spurring renewed growth, expansion and rethinking of physical facilities.
  • A redefinition of the role of corporate dining professionals to encompass broader responsibilities, such as health and wellness programs, conference services, audiovisual and other "soft" services that are part of the office environment.
  • Macro changes in consumer demands, eating habits and food preferences.
  • Increased competitiveness for Millennial and Gen Y workers, whose expectations for and approaches to both work and food are dramatically different from those of older workers.
  • More pressure on corporate dining programs to compete with nearby commercial restaurants not just on price and convenience but also on quality and ambiance.
  • A growing recognition by companies that when it comes to creating great corporate culture, attracting the best candidates, retaining a happy workforce and boosting productivity, food matters.

"Foodservice is an important part of the workday that is finally getting recognition by organizations who realize it's one of the spaces that brings your building to life," says Sabrina Capannola, senior project manager at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., and current president of the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management (SHFM). "The dining facility is, more than ever, the hub of the organization. In a lot of places, it's the largest footprint that you have and organizations are using that space or those spaces more strategically to impact their corporate culture and productivity with some pretty dramatic results."

In many cases, newer high-tech companies that have changed the world with the products and services they provide, continue to toss the traditional notions of company cafeterias out the window along with the IBM Selectric and keep driving the biggest changes in corporate dining. Companies like Google, Zynga and Twitter feature multiple on-site cafés, restaurants, coffee bars, snack bars, kiosks, in-office delivery and catering services that every day feed hundreds if not thousands of employees — at no charge to them — from early morning through happy hour and evening dinner service. They've put in organic gardens that employees help tend and that supply their kitchens. They're baking and butchering on-site; sourcing local and organic foods; offering cooking classes; and bringing in trained chefs, many of them expats from high-end hotel, resort and restaurant segments, to prepare fresh, creative, globally inspired foods and themed events.

They and other progressive operators in the segment have followed the lead of colleges and universities in shifting away from traditional straight-line cafeteria service platforms supported by large production kitchens in back. Processed, frozen, rethermalized foods are out; flexible action stations offering fresh, made-to-order foods are in and serve as dynamic focal points right out front.

Bravo-station Metz BBraunMetz Culinary Management offers clients a “Bravo” expo cooking station that adds a dynamic element to the front of the house. Shown here is the Bravo station at B. Braun, a medical manufacturer in Bethlehem, Pa. Ryan McNulty, director of culinary development at foodservice contract management firm Metz Culinary Management, says health represents the biggest driving force he's seen among clients in the B&I segment. Many accounts no longer feature fryers on the cookline, and menu evolution has led to including more whole grain–based salads, plant-based protein sources, whole-grain pizza crusts and lighter salad dressings and desserts.

Case in point: the J.M. Smucker Co. in Orrville, Ohio. "The company provides the food program as a nice, low-cost employee benefit and wants to help people make good choices with their nutrition," says chef Cavin Sullivan, general manager for Metz at the J.M. Smucker Co. "A lot of the newer things we're doing are with that in mind. We're featuring healthier fare every day, and we've gotten away from fried foods completely. We're going as natural and local as we can, and we regularly feature organic items, vegan and vegetarian soups, etcetera."

From a facilities standpoint, McNulty adds, "The biggest change has been toward bringing more restaurant-quality, fresh preparation of dishes cooked to order right in front of the guest. They love the dynamics, variety and visual appeal of the live-cooking stations; the food is fresher, and less is wasted than in the old cook-and-hold approach."

Finding Food Nirvana at Zynga

Zynga Picnic-TablesZynga’s foodservice program is an extension of its corporate culture.Matthew DuTrumble, executive chef at San Francisco-based social gaming company Zynga, also insists that providing fresh, local, whole foods prepared by a small but efficient and highly skilled culinary team represents a more cost-effective model than traditional corporate cafeterias that rely on unskilled labor and processed foods. The company, developer of the popular FarmVille and ChefVille online games, among many others, stands out as one in the high-tech arena that seamlessly integrates its foodservice program into its unique corporate culture — and does so at no cost to its employees.

"Traditionally, if you looked at corporate food it was, 'Oh, you should buy processed foods that come in a box and make it easy and convenient.' We go the opposite way," DuTrumble says. "We think the time that it takes to open all that stuff and the packages and the waste that it creates isn't doing anyone a service. We have talented chefs who are passionate about making real food. We're doing what we want to do, and we're able to keep some really amazing chefs because they're making fresh, great, creative food — and at the end of the day it's more cost effective."

Zynga's culinary team serves an average of 4,000 meals per day, Monday through Friday, from coffee and breakfast service in the morning through dinner. Its headquarters building features a large common area on the main level, which is where employees go for meals as well as to meet, collaborate and socialize throughout the day. Supported by a production kitchen below, the dining area features a variety of stations, including a large salad bar stocked with locally raised, organic produce along with house-made dressings and an array of toppings. All made from scratch, toppings range from freshly baked croutons to meats butchered, roasted, braised or cured on-site, to fresh-made ricotta and mozzarella, and dried fruits and vegetables.

The Nirvana Bar at Zynga offers what DuTrumble describes as "a very clean-cuisine buffet line." There, employees find grilled or steamed proteins, whole grains and legumes and lightly steamed or sautéed vegetables. "We take all the oil out of our cooking processes there," he says. "But then you have the option of complimenting your selections with one of our house-made chutneys or sauces to make it your own if you want to doll it up a bit."

Another station offers comfort foods "to the max" — which might range from lasagna to spicy, authentic Indian specialties. "Here, what we're trying to do is very nostalgic and comforting. We think that's just as important as the light and healthy sometimes," he says. "But again, you have the option of Nirvana if you want."

At the VeggieVille station, a play on the company's "Ville" game franchise, 90 percent of the selections are vegan; and they don't include processed products manipulated to look and taste like meat. Rather, says DuTrumble, "we feature specialties from places that have been doing vegetarian food right for thousands of years. We're trying to show off what vegetables are or can be all about. It's a very healthy approach to cuisine, and we find that a lot of regular meat eaters will eat at VeggieVille a couple of times a week."

Still more stations offer daily signature soups and sandwiches and a made-to-order sandwich bar was recently brought back. At Zynga, culinary staff make all the condiments in-house, and the company planned to add a house-made pickle bar this summer. Regular features include pasta bars and pizza bars, both of which always offer gluten-free options.

An exposition cooking station features daily pop-up specials that chefs finish and plate to order. "You never know what it's going to be, but it lets us showcase a little different style of cuisine beyond what's on the buffet for the day," DuTrumble says. "It's a great chance for you to interact with the chef, see the food being finished and plated as opposed to just going through a buffet line and choosing your own."

Even Zynga's beverages are made in-house. "Our beverage station is stocked with our own very low-sugar sodas, iced teas and lemonade as well as flavored waters. Today we featured blueberry-ginger water, which they really liked, and one of our most popular regular items is the house-made kombucha."

The beverages, as well as house-made snacks such as granola, pastries, beef jerky and hard-boiled eggs, are also available in a couple of snack kitchens positioned on upper floors to give employees easy access during the day.

Zynga maintains its own herb garden — in the area of the building where the FarmVille team has its studio, naturally — and cultivates its own mushrooms using coffee grounds and spent grains from its bakery. The culinary team welcomes employees to walk through the kitchen at any time to see the ingredients and the production, from baking to butchering.

"We have a thing every Tuesday called Meet Your Butcher," DuTrumble says. "You can go down and learn how to break down a whole animal and get some cooking and grilling tips. And we hold great classes throughout the week where you can come and learn how to make fresh pasta or grill meats or brew kombucha. A lot of people attend, and they use them as team-building activities as well. So a whole team will come down for a class, and it gets their minds in a different creative flow that they can take back to the game development process."

Millennial Mindset Drives Design Changes

Beyond the menu, innovators in the B&I segment continue to rethink the design of their dining spaces in ways that extend their productive use well beyond traditional breakfast and lunch dayparts. They're transforming them into comfortable, flexible, tech-enabled eat/work/socialize areas that bustle with activity from morning till night. They're also, in many cases, taking a page from the college and university segment by offering smaller, more streamlined retail food options placed strategically throughout the workplace, as with Zynga's snack kitchens.

"If you go into the Silicon Valley there's a lot of competition among tech companies to feature foodservices — or services, period — as part of the package of how they take care of employees," notes consultant and designer Jean-Michel Boulot, Seattle-based principal of Ricca Design Studios, who has worked on foodservice concepts and facility designs for corporations from Microsoft and Samsung to Disney. "It's becoming very important, and there's less definition between working and eating spaces. The newer facilities are developed as areas where people can meet, work, relax, whatever. They have lounge-type spaces and/or a variety of seating types that enable people to gather and collaborate or to just bring their laptops and work for a while grabbing something to eat. It's a much more integrated environment compared to 10 years ago, when the spaces were all pretty sharply defined and segregated. You had your desk or your office, and you'd walk to the cafeteria someplace else, eat and go back to your desk to get back to work. Now, it's evolving such that anywhere you go you have the opportunity to be creative and productive and to have good food and drinks available to you."

While tech may push the envelope farther than some other segments in terms of innovation, such changes continue to gain traction throughout the B&I world. Capannola notes that companies' strategic efforts to compete for and retain younger workers accounts for much of the drive to create integrated spaces around dining.

"When you look at Millennials and Gen Y coming into the workforce, their idea of work is more about something you do than a place that you do it," she says. "They're a little more free-form. Colleges and universities have been working to change their platforms and their facilities accordingly, and now businesses are adapting, as well, creating spaces where you can have these great hubs of activity. Younger workers are more used to the interchange of ideas and collaborating in groups, and studies have shown that creating these spaces has a big impact on corporate culture as well as on foodservice participation rates."

Less Formality, More Integration

Credit-Suisse-photo-2At Credit Suisse, stations were designed to maximize flexibilityAt New York-based investment banking firm Credit Suisse, 2013 IFMA Silver Plate Award Winner Jay Silverstein, vice president of conference and dining services, says evolving demand for spaces and services that are less formal, more flexible and more integrated represent the impetus for some of the changes his company is in the process of implementing. With flexibility and cost savings in mind, Credit Suisse is slimming down and redesigning the foodservice facilities at its 10,000-employee New York campuses.

"For example, in a traditional sandwich station for a population like ours, we'd assume maybe a third of the people will buy sandwiches and that we'd probably need five to six sandwich makers. That takes up a lot of real estate," he says, "and real estate in New York is extremely expensive. So we're going to design it with half the real estate but much greater efficiency so that if and when we need more people at that station, we can accommodate that. But when we don't, we're not having all that food out and taking up all that space for no great reason.

"In general, we're building a lot less hard equipment into the staff restaurants to give us more flexibility. If a particular station is Asian today, maybe tomorrow it's Mediterranean. The equipment is modular so we can pop things in and out. We'll always have staples like the salad bar, soup station and hot and cold buffet section, but other elements are being designed, built and equipped to give us maximum flexibility."

Credit Suisse, which averages a 52 percent participation rate among its employees, has other changes planned as part of its New York campus renovation. One is a reduction in the number of outlets that comprise its staff restaurant program in favor of what Silverstein calls "micro-mart" or pantry operations. The company's contract management partner, Restaurant Associates, will implement the first such operation, tentatively called RA Kitchen, with a target opening date of October.

"We'll have these on the trading floors, where we currently have big food operations. We're eliminating some of those and going to these smaller pantries that better meet the needs of the employees there. We know what the guys on the trading floor are buying, and it's mainly snacks, hot and cold beverages, etcetera. You can do that with a lot less labor and real estate than what we've traditionally done."

Silverstein adds that the snack selections offered will go well beyond traditional chips and candy to include items like cheese-and-fruit trays, crudités and hummus, and fresh salads. "We're redefining what snacking is. These new pantries will be chock full of snacks — but snacks that are interesting, more healthful and designed to meet the habits of the Millennials, who make up a big portion of our population. They watch movies like 'The Internship' and look at the Google facilities of the world, which are very cool. So a lot of what we're trying to do, even though we're an investment firm, is mirror what the tech companies have been so successful with."

In addition to anticipated savings in space and labor, Silverstein notes that the pantries figure nicely into the company's desire to keep employees on the business floors. To that end, in addition to offering the types of snacks that appeal to its younger workforce, they'll integrate them with informal seating and meeting areas.

"Millennials look for informal meeting areas," he says. "The traditional meeting with your boss behind a desk is very passé. We have floors that have all sorts of fun meeting areas with light boards, technology, couches, chairs that look like giant french fries that you can move around. Younger people work better in those environments than in the traditional four-wall conference room or office. The pantries are designed to augment that. There will be one on every floor, so if you're having a team meeting, that will be your informal setting."

Credit Suisse's remaining staff restaurants are getting some updates as well. In addition to more flexible, modular cooking stations, the new designs will include a variety of seating options. Rather than having all standard-height two-, four-, six- and eight-top tables, the restaurants will include high-top tables, counters and flexible seating arrangements that can serve a secondary purpose and extend the use of the space.

Capannola says an SHFM member company that she toured recently illustrates the dramatic impact that new approaches to corporate foodservice and the spaces in which they're offered can have. "They went from the traditional cafeteria used primarily during the peak midday time to a space that now includes clusters of seating and integrated technology, and it really brought life to the space," she says. "The organization talked about how it changed their culture, how it got people out of their offices and working together. It also led them to begin to rethink the amount of space that they need for traditional conference meeting rooms and office sizes if people are meeting and working like this. So there are some potential financial benefits, but the cultural benefits are the big ones. By simply changing the model, they made it a more dynamic place to work. You can feel it going into the space, the exchange of ideas and the activity there throughout the day."

She notes that the physical changes taking place also give the foodservice teams much greater flexibility. "If you build it right, today's trend of X can easily be changed to tomorrow's trend of Y," Capannola says. "It gives us a lot more latitude and flexibility, and the designs have much longer life."

They also, she says, can make a dramatic impact on participation and financial performance. By transforming cafeterias into dynamic destination spaces used throughout the day, use of the on-site foodservice offerings increases. "The traditional breakfast and lunch dayparts go away," she says. "Now, we're putting a lot more creative thought into what we can provide all day long."

One recent change in the World Bank's program was made with that in mind. To better capture and cater to employees who may work through lunch and want an afternoon pick-me-up — something healthier and more substantial than candy or chips — the company's contract partner, Restaurant Associates, worked with Capannola to add a new snack program in the 4,500-employee main building's café.

"It offers beautiful charcuterie trays, gourmet cheeses, fruits, traditional and trendy fresh-made salads and sandwiches," she says. "It's a nice, diverse array of healthful foods that you actually want to eat. Our participation rates during that later afternoon time period are up more than 1,000 percent. It's not just those of us who tend to work through lunch, but other employees as well, who simply see attractive options and are taking advantage of them. Maybe they have a cup of soup at lunch and come back in later for something else. Again, it's the trend of getting away from three meals a day and the traditional entrée with two sides approach. Dining habits are changing, and from a financial model that helps us."

Mark Freeman, senior manager of global employee services at Microsoft Corp., Redmond, Wash., says his operation enjoys participation rates "up into the 70 percent range" now. That's thanks in part to the company's innovative and successful approaches to keeping staffers on-site to maximize productivity.

Five years ago the company introduced its West Campus Commons, a complex of some 14 restaurant/café concepts and a variety of retail offerings strategically selected to save employees from having to run downtown to go to the bank, the post office, the dry cleaners and so on. "It has proven itself in that people are now not leaving the campus," Freeman says. "And one of the fallouts of that is that in addition to the retail outlets, they're staying on-site to eat in the cafés, so our participation rates are way up."

That scenario, Freeman adds, intrinsically adds to overall employee productivity, but it also helps to achieve what's become a key goal for many corporate dining programs — to serve as an aid in employee recruitment and retention. "When recruits come in, we tour the Commons as part of sharing with them what Microsoft is all about for its employees," he says. "It helps them to make a decision as to whether they want to work here. You usually don't see a café program in an HR brochure for recruits, but surprisingly enough, it does fit into the mix of what potential candidates look at. And it's not just Microsoft, it's the entire industry. All of us are using dining as a major attraction."

Insurance and 401(k)s? Sure, those are givens in terms of important employee benefits. But increasingly, companies like these — especially those targeting a younger demographic — sweeten the deal with tantalizing foodservice programs that create real competitive differentiation and meet employees where they want to be.

"Our approach is friends cooking with friends," says Zynga's DuTrumble. "We treat it like we're inviting some friends over for a house party and our common space is like our living room. Let's make them great fresh food. Let's bring the people together. Let's have some good conversations and really enjoy our time at work together."

Seriously, wouldn't you want to work there?

Work in Progress: Big B&I Challenges

FE&S asked B&I foodservice leaders what they see as some of the toughest challenges facing the segment. Here's what they had to say:

Mark Freeman, Microsoft. Government legislation, particularly with regard to minimum wage. Also, figuring out how best to infuse customer-facing technologies into our operations. It changes so fast that by the time we invest in a particular type of technology, there's something new, and we have to reinvest. We're piloting cashless kiosk systems in a few of our cafés, and it's going really well. We're also doing some piloting [of] moving mobile ordering to the phone and trying to understand how that works and what the back-end operational implications are.

Sabrina Capannola, World Bank. Breaking down stereotypes about corporate dining to be able to attract and retain the best workers to our programs. Despite the fact that we're doing some really innovative things, B&I still isn't perceived as being quite as sexy as some other industry segments to recent culinary school and college grads. At SHFM, we're starting to do some creative outreach to change those perceptions.

Nello Allegrucci, Metz Culinary Management/Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Always keeping what we're offering interesting and diverse and staying on top of sourcing so that our vendors know that we want whatever's fresh, local, perfectly ripe, etcetera. There are about 20 different restaurants within walking distance of us, so if we're not good or employees get bored, they're going to walk right out the door and go someplace else.

Jean-Michel Boulot, Ricca Design Studios. Finding the necessary culinary expertise and breaking the old industry financial models. The assumptions of return on investment and profitability are completely different now, and adjusting to the new operating models is a big challenge. The products are different; the equipment is different; the facilities are different, and the labor is different. The financial models have to be different too.

Jay Silverstein, Credit Suisse. The change in our population. Millennials are far more astute about food, far more picky and a lot of them have multiple issues with food, from allergies to simple dietary preferences. And as we continue to globalize, we're getting more people who come from different places with different eating habits. Many, for instance, have someone at home preparing foods for them to bring to work. We not only have to provide refrigeration options for them, but we also have to think about how we can sell desserts, a breakfast item, some fruit or a beverage to go with what they've brought.

Matthew DuTrumble, Zynga. You have to be more than just a chef. We have a very friendly and fun environment, and it's an important part of my job to help set that foundation and maintain that company culture. We're always trying to keep it a positive and rewarding experience for the employees and for the crew in back, too.

 

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