Business Dining Can Help Attract, Engage, and Retain Talent

Insights |  3.26.2019

A new year signals a new hiring season, with fresh rounds of job postings and spruced-up resumes. Twenty or 30 years ago, a job-seeker’s wish list may have included paid time off, a pension, and stock options. But today’s candidates demand far more from potential employers, from casual dress codes to on-site childcare.

“People are picking their next employer based on perks beyond financial rewards,” asserts Diane Pancoski, VP of Brand Management. “They’re comparing not only the work and the salary, but all the other things that impact their daily quality of life.”

Food and environment are an important part of this mix, and it does more than just keep employees well-fed and caffeinated. It can speak volumes about a company’s culture—a relevant factor for attracting workers and ensuring they’re happy on the job. To help understand what drives job satisfaction, we conduct regular surveys of employees across workplaces. The results? Dining solutions which help our clients recruit, engage, and retain talent. 

We talked with Pancoski as well as Jill Marchick, Vice President of Consumer Insights, for their take on how workplace amenities influence employee retention and attraction. The following insights are ones you can use to inspire your own offering and help keep employees happy. 

Woman in glasses holding fork ready to eat

A New Generation Meets “The Google Effect”

“When I started, it was all about having a basement cafeteria and maximizing productivity,” reminisces Pancoski, who has worked exclusively in business dining for most of her 22 years with Aramark. “Companies wanted to feed employees and get them back to their desks because that’s where the phones and desktops were.”

In a world of smartphones and video conferencing, people now work everywhere but their desks. Consumers need dining options that keep pace with today’s work-life integration. “This shift is driven as much by generational differences as by technology,” explains Marchick. For example, baby boomers look for an enjoyable work environment that fosters productivity and offers flexible hours—plus a pension plan, if it’s still an option. Meanwhile, younger generations want a social company culture that nurtures creative thinking. They seek opportunities to interact with leadership, tools to reduce stress, and spaces that can accommodate both work and play. In fact, 92% of Millennials list flexible spaces as a top priority when choosing a workplace. 

Famous tech companies feature brag-worthy perks like free campus shuttles, fitness classes, snack bars, and massages—upping the ante in today’s employee-driven market. “Everyone wants to be Google, or to have their company treat them like Google does,” Marchick puts it. “If you don’t take care of your workforce, they’ll move on.” While not everyone can be Google, companies with more limited amenities budgets may find on-site dining to be a worthy investment. 

Feeding a Sense of Community

When you walk into a workplace with a strong sense of community, you can feel it in the air. Our research shows an enjoyable environment and company culture have the greatest effect on overall employee satisfaction. On-site dining is a part of this picture, though often overlooked. “This is where we come into play,” Marchick says. “We can help employees have a better day through a combination of an inviting space, quality food, useful technology, and social interaction.”

Working lunches and coffee runs provide a much-needed dose of human contact for the 34% of workers who spend most of their day in a cubicle. At the same time, employees may long for a moment of privacy amid ever-popular open-office floor plans. That solo snack break is time to rejuvenate. 

Modern technology can streamline the experience for consumers grabbing a bite between meetings. At Aramark, we leverage tools like mobile-app and touch-screen ordering, as well as self-serve checkout, to improve speed of service. But even in their rush, employees can get a taste of personal connection, whether it be the smiling face of the associate who hands them their sandwich or a friendly wave from the colleague seated across the room.

“Your café can bring people together, whether they have five minutes or forty-five,” Pancoski says. It’s worth noting that employees who eat on-site spend an average of 26 fewer minutes for lunch than when they venture off-site, according to the Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management. The important thing to remember is that every minute counts toward their larger experience as an employee.

Pair of people eating at a table
Coworkers in an open, light-filled environment collaborate over food and coffee.

Insights Are the Main Ingredient

Our approach to business dining starts with a short, facility-wide survey. “You need to get in touch with the nuances of your environment,” Marchick explains. “Every company and location is different.” According to our research, 75% of companies will regularly survey employees for feedback on how their cafés deliver.

Over time, we’ve seen wellness become a universal priority among clients of all stripes—and consumers are thinking about more than just calories and nutrition facts. “People want to know where their food comes from and what it’s going to do for them. The story of the food, its sustainability, and its health and wellness are all linked,” says Marchick.

Data about employee work styles, life styles, and social styles work holistically to provide a framework of what’s important in that workplace. We then marry these insights with our proprietary research on business dining life styles and marketplace trends to build a customized solution that works for the company’s goals, culture, and resources. 

As with any dining enterprise, the challenge is to keep it fresh. Once a location is established, we switch up menus regularly to align with seasonal flavors and retail-inspired trends. “When you’re feeding people as often as two-to-three times a day, five days a week, it’s important to give them variety, quality and innovation,” explains Pancoski. “We’ve found those to be the top drivers of dining experience satisfaction.” 

“Variety, quality and innovation are the top drivers of dining experience satisfaction.”
- Diane Pancoski, VP of Brand Management

Flexible Solutions for Today’s Companies

Whether you’re already a believer in employee-centric experiences or you’re a late adopter, a great business dining offering is within reach—even for companies that aren’t in the market for a high-cost, full-service cafeteria. For example, our True Eats concept is a small, customizable footprint (650 to 1,250 sq. ft.) in which we can design an exciting social environment. Complete with freshly prepared food, a 24/7 market, kiosk ordering, and seating, the space can service up to 1,500 employees and is operated by as few as two staff members.

Group of people conversing over coffee
Our True Eats concept is one solution employers find useful in improving employee satisfaction with freshly-prepared food in an inviting environment.

“This has been a game-changer for many of our smaller, regional clients that would otherwise be the ‘have-nots’ of the business dining world,” says Pancoski. “They’re taking what used to be vending machines or lunch rooms and converting them into really nice spaces for their employees.” 

Putting Business Dining to Work

As any business executive knows, an engaged workforce is a productive one. Anything that creates value for the employee creates value for the employer. Additionally, what appeals to your current employees will likely attract prospective ones. 

“Whenever a company introduces a new build-out or business dining upgrade, we see employee satisfaction scores rise,” Pancoski confirms. It turns out that a made-to-order sandwich is more than just a lunch break. It’s an expression of a company’s culture—and it can affect the bottom line.