Experts call for more ring-fencing of catering as part of wider FM strategy

bartlett mitchell recently hosted a roundtable discussion with a panel of experts from the food and facilities management industry. The roundtable was held at Trinity in Clapham, the recently Michelin-starred restaurant owned by Adam Byatt. Byatt is chef consultant at bartlett mitchell.

The roundtable aimed to identify key issues facing catering and FM businesses over the coming year. The experts concluded that catering is emotive and needs to be ring-fenced from other FM services.

The panel, which included high-profile consultants operating in the workplace, healthcare, education, and leisure sectors, also concluded that catering plays a huge role in influencing productivity and should be an integral part of any company’s wellbeing strategy.

The panel also discussed how catering can support recruitment and retention, enhance brand value and facilitate better collaboration in the workplace.

People are far more educated about food these days which can make it a very emotive issue. They understand how dishes are made, what produce is used and the impact it can have on their bodies. This makes them better placed to make a judgment on food than most other FM services, so it’s incredibly important for businesses to ensure that they have the right offer as part of their workplaces and buildings.

Businesses are also very aware of how brand perception can impact performance and productivity which is why we are seeing so much focus on creating and developing collaborative and engaging environments. Employers know that prospective employees are looking for more than just a salary.

In addition, catering as part of TFM in the wrong circumstances can sometimes become commoditised, which could result in the loss of focus and create potential reputational risk.

The roundtable discussion focussed on five key areas.

1.Attracting the best people

  • Clients are seeing catering as a strong incentive for talent
  • Even with a subsidy, catering is still seen as a very cost effective employee benefit
  • Specialist caterers will attract catering staff who are more passionate about their food

2. Improving productivity

  • Feeding people well enhances their wellbeing, energy and productivity
  • Catering can be a great tool to keep people engaged in their work and in the office. It can also support companies who are keen to create separation between work and time away from their desks
  • Health and wellbeing is key although businesses must have the right offer – there are examples where sales have dropped when healthy food is ‘pushed’ onto consumers

3. Enhancing reputation

  • Everyone has an opinion on catering as customers are far more educated about food (i.e. TV chef influence)
  • Great hospitality remains at the heart of any business and enhances the guest experience
  • Customer don’t need to know anything about M&E (it’s an expected – i.e. lights turning on), catering is different
  • Specialist caterers can react faster to trends as they are dedicated to future innovations in food and service only, not multiple services

4. Providing return on investment

  • There has been a shift away from ‘hospitality’ dining as working patterns have changed. People are moving out of meeting rooms, to shared spaces/breakout areas
  • Loos vs. food – perception is that the consumer wants a specialist provider to offer food and production, not from the same company which may be cleaning the bathrooms
  • It’s important to balance the immediate cost saving TFM can bring vs. the long-term and sustainable value from a specialist service
  • Street food is still a driving trend although the challenge is to re-create the spaces to be authentic to drive consumer traffic (i.e. shifting from canteen to authenticity)
  • Specialists caterers will have the experience and insight to react appropriately to feedback/surveys

5. Collaboration

  • More people are using catering to bring people into a common space to collaborate
  • Most contributors were in agreement that specialist caterers need to engage better with the C-Suite, and more specifically HR, to better understand the cultural objectives from the catering strategy/policy
  • There is too much jargon which is not understood, largely around financials, so engagement with FM and procurement teams to raise knowledge and reflect known language is important

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