How can caterers create super-experiences for hybrid era?

Great food and drink is set to play a growing part in bringing people back to the office. But have caterers and service providers got it right in terms of creating that wow factor for staff?

Food and amenities are set to play a growing role in the hybrid working world as companies try to entice their staff back to the office. But how can contract catering and hospitality leaders create the ‘super-experiences’ that will make the workplace more compelling?

That was the subject of an Arena Lecture round table at the Savoy Hotel in London on 26 April, hosted by Nestlé Professional and chaired by WORKTECH Academy director Jeremy Myerson. Eight experts looked at ways to use food and drink to improve motivation, collaboration, creativity, focus and productivity in the workplace.

What makes a super-experience?

To kick off the discussion, attendees discussed what they believe makes a super-experience in general terms. Super-experiences operate on an emotional as well as on a functional level, and can be either small – an individual act of care – or a grand gesture that generates a sense of ‘wow’ or awe.

Disney’s theme park experience was put forward as an example of the super-experience because it delivers on everything: it’s extremely well done, there’s investment in training, characters stay in character, there’s buzz and excitement, everyone cares and it’s seamless, down to the smallest detail. It is indeed a magical experience.

Culture, it was agreed, is integral to the super-experience: the culture of a business can often be determined as soon someone enters the building, because it’s also about the relationship between people and place and employing the right people. The experience of a brand has to live up to expectations.

This line of discussion brought up examples of bad experiences: one of the roundtable delegates was awaiting delivery of a prestigious car which, when it arrived, was dusty, needed to be cleaned, and wasn’t at all the special experience they were expecting from that brand of car.

This led to consensus that the super-experience needs to be executed generously, or not at all, and that brands will fall down on reputation if consumers experience it in an  ungenerous way. However, the super-experience has to constantly evolve, because it can go down in consumers’ estimation once it becomes the norm.

How do super-experiences support hybrid work?

One of the challenges of getting people back to the office post-pandemic is the competition between the home and office. Many people prefer to stay home, because it’s more comfortable, more convenient and more cost-effective. One of the biggest barriers to going back to the office is that ‘there’s no-one there’ – it can feel lonely.

One example that was shared was of Company A, which offered coffee and doughnuts to all returning staff, versus Company B, which didn’t offer anything. Company A has seen an 80 per cent return rate, compared to 20 per cent for Company B.

There was talk around the table about the success of desk booking apps, where people can see which of their colleagues are going into the office, when they are planning to be there, and where they’ll be sitting, so they are also making decisions on that basis.

The discussion developed into the importance of the social interactions, and the training and coaching that takes place when people are at their desks. The younger generations are struggling more, especially as they tend to want to socialise and network more. Communication is considered key; there is a danger of a big gap in the level of learning without the osmosis that takes place in the office.

How service providers create super-experiences?

It was agreed around the table that caterers and service providers can provide great experiences for people returning to the office: food and beverages play a big part by contributing to a good atmosphere – particularly if it’s free to the employee, and not done cheaply. Subsidy, if not done generously, or in a way that delivers a ‘wow’ factor, just
becomes the norm.

On the issue of whether people are more productive, it was agreed that they are definitely happier, and retention is better if there are good food and beverage offerings available. And while food waste can be an issue, particularly if people aren’t coming back into the office on set days or at set times, running out of food on busier days can lead to complaints.

‘One way to create a super-experience is to offer people something they don’t get at home…’

One way to create something closer to a super-experience is to offer people
something they don’t get when they’re working from home. Sandwiches are still the
top choice for lunch, so how can value be added to it in a way that makes it different to what people might ordinarily eat?

Catering, it was agreed, is one of the few elements of being in an office that people feel gives them a real idea of what the company thinks and what the culture is like. Organisations could give more thought to it: people like to spend more money at touchpoints, for example, with barista coffee a top favourite. Another idea that came up was offering free breakfast to whoever’s in before 9am.

While health and wellness is important, a warning note was sounded, in that it could backfire because people have different perceptions of what good, healthy food is. It was also felt that offering choice was very important, rather than pushing people down a route such as vegan food.

The rise of social value too, is considered important, where the coffee provider who supports the homeless for example, will attract more custom.

An emotional connection

Overall, it was felt that a good food and beverage offer is emotional, and it encourages and supports social interaction: people can be encouraged to attend more meetings if there’s good food and coffee provided, it brings people together. It allows people to collaborate, and productivity can be facilitated by bringing people together over food and drink.

Participants in the Super-Experience roundtable were: Liz Forte, Marketing, Health & Wellness Director – Eurest, Compass Group UK & Ireland; Matthew Wood, Managing Director, Lexington; Wendy Bartlett, Founder, Bartlett Mitchell; Melanie Duffett, Brand & Communications Director UK & Ireland, Sodexo; Nathan Franks, Operations Director, CH&CO and Russ Camplin, Head of Design, Nat West. Nestlé Professional’s Global Account Manager, David Barnes and Head of Workplace and Wellbeing, Jo Ward, also joined the discussion.

Nestlé Professional is a corporate member of WORKTECH Academy

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