Food service providers investigate new ways to deliver catering services to workplaces post-lockdown.
As lockdown eases, food service providers are rethinking how they can continue to deliver catering to workplaces.
Some of the main ways that providers are adapting include at-your-desk delivery, takeaways, packed lunches, ‘pop-up’ pods for a grab-and-go option and dine-in settings but using disposable trays and plates. (Plant-based compostable food service packaging company, Vegware has even introduced a guide to eco-packaging for socially distanced catering.)
Francois Gautreaux, managing director of caterer Bartlett Mitchell, told Facilitate that one measure has been to start using an app in its restaurants.
He said the firm has been collaborating with UK Hospitality, and had held virtual round table discussions with its clients, consultants, suppliers, teams and other key stakeholders since the crisis first hit.
Gautreaux said: “To help tackle issues around social distancing, queuing, ordering etc, we’ve introduced a wide range of measures. These include click-and-collect, virtual queuing, desk deliveries and cashless payments.
“We have introduced new queuing systems with floor markings and improved signage for where queuing is required; we have mobilised multiple service points to remove the need for customers to unnecessarily travel to other floors, using lifts and congregating in the same space.”
Service window openings have also been lengthened to cater for customers who are on varying shift patterns. “We have also tried to add value for customers that do have to go into the office by offering take-home meal kits and grocery items.”
Bartlett Mitchell has also assembled distanced seating areas, removing many chairs. Seating set-up now enables a minimum two-metre distancing alongside more frequent sanitising of surfaces.
It has also removed buffet-style self-service and distanced its back-of-house production into zones so that teams have adequate space to move around them.
Gautreaux said the company has also “massively increased cleaning frequency and training, and introduced new procedures for decanting and disinfecting deliveries to avoid cross contamination on products coming into our kitchens”.
The measures “not only ensure that we are doing what we can to keep our clients’ employees safe, but it also helps to minimise any risk to our own teams”.
Gautreaux said that while measures put forward by government seemed “onerous”, some of the guidance was decided in consultation with the sector and had been expected. But he added that the guidelines were “a baseline for organisations to work to” and “clearly every business will have their own process of implementation”.
From a space planning and efficiency point of view, social distancing is not an ideal measure for the firm, as the industry has “spent years moving to maximising its occupancy per square metre”. But he added: “That being said, the circumstances will permanently change the way many of us work, allowing us to push forward with agile solutions.”
Bartlett Mitchell’s Gautreaux said that many operators were introducing a ‘dine at your desk’ policy. One such, Grazing Catering, has started a catering service designed specifically to meet the post-lockdown social distancing guidelines. Called Desk Dine, it will run alongside the caterer’s existing business operations to keep London-based office staff in their workplace ‘bubbles’ by offering a minimal-risk delivery service.
Client organisations will be able to place food orders for their workforce on an ad hoc or daily basis. Everything will be cooked off-site and delivered in safe single drops – reducing multiple courier visits and the need for staff to leave the building during the working day.
Because employers wish to minimise risk of illness and infection, the service offers a practical solution for multi-tenanted buildings, reducing lift traffic created by staff all heading out to buy lunches and reducing contact with building security, loading bay, post-room and reception staff – all of whom have direct contact with external guests to buildings.
The meals are cooked and prepared in a central London production kitchen, which, in line with guidance from health and safety experts, has been reconfigured to allow all chefs and staff to work within their own two-metre work zones.
Customers can place orders through a new online proprietary platform, desktop or mobile site developed by the Grazing team and third-party ordering apps.
The service is being made available for small groups and teams, up to whole offices. Initially, it will be available for breakfast and lunch, but there are plans to launch a dinner option in due course.
Sam Hurst, Grazing’s chief executive, said: “Employers will want to do all they can to keep their staff safe and minimise any potential risk to their wellbeing. This idea that they will need to create Covid-secure workplaces, or safe ‘work bubbles’, is going to be a major step in helping us all to transition back to as close to the normality that we once knew.”
Eating at work: Catering solutions
- ‘Al desko’ delivery: Food brought to clients at their desks, pre-packaged and in a bag or carry pack.
- Pop-up pods for grab-and-go: Instead of one large restaurant, smaller pods cater for different areas of the site. Units may include hot drinks, snacks, and a small chiller and hot cabinet for grab-and-go.
- Takeaway: A highly practical solution for distancing, incorporating contactless collection. Carriers and cutlery packs are a must.
- Packed lunches: Many food service settings are finding packed lunches the simplest solution.
- Sitting in: QSR and dine-in contract catering settings are seeing attractive disposable trays and plates as a good temporary solution.
- Delivery: Practical and attractive packaging is key to customer experience, including how the food looks after delivery.
Food for thought: Hospitality post-lockdown
The Catering Design Group (CDG) has published a document to help hospitality providers by outlining steps on managing their sites post-lockdown. The company, a restaurant interior and commercial kitchen design company, recommends increasing hygiene points, reviewing front and back-of-house layout and the flow of customers in the document Designing Safe Spaces for Catering Environments.
It also calls for minimising touchpoints, reviewing storage and waste capacity and introducing measures for social distancing compliance. Also included is advice on materials, with recommendations such as antibacterial wall cladding, antimicrobial upholstery and antibacterial touchscreen technology. It also considers all aspects of catering operations – from design and operational requirements to the use of technology to help to reduce the risk of contamination.
Phil Howard, managing director of CDG, says: “Food service operators understand that there has to be a complex rethinking of an entire operation to make it a safe space for all, while still maintaining ambience and the dining experience... Mindful of the timescales involved and the cost to deliver these necessary changes, we see this as very much a collection of initial ideas to highlight and provoke further thought on the key areas where changes could be made. Clearly, these would need to be tailored to each individual operation.”