14th May 2019

Taking a strategic approach to food across your multinational business


  • The power of food at work
  • The case for making food a special case among FM disciplines
  • A great food service provider needs to absorb the culture of your business.

For some FM professionals it can be tempting to lump together every facilities discipline to create an integrated approach across all.

Increasingly though, we find a newly enlightened breed of FM, HR and corporate real estate professional who have realised, and released, the power of food in the workplace. In order to unleash this power, they take a strategic view to implementing food service in the work place as a separate, but aligned, FM discipline. They have separated out the intimate from the ambient.

It is interesting to begin to understand this growing trend, and the drivers behind it. The thinking often starts through the observation of how the new tech giants, use food service as a part of an integrated talent attraction and retention programme; who don’t think about staff ‘feeding’ but about how ‘breaking bread’ together can help build work communities and teams; and how corporate real estate used for traditional staff canteens can be optimised as day- long meeting places in which work is done, friendships are made, and ideas generated. 

Starting your food thinking from this position represents a radical departure from ‘having to’ provide food as an employer’s obligation. Reframing thinking around food in this way quickly becomes very empowering – and drives a different culture around the whole food service strand in FM. 

So why is it worth making food a special case in the panoply of FM disciplines? 

For many FM professionals food stands alone within the suite of services provided under the IFM banner as being the only one that takes money from the employee. As such, employees have a vested interest in the quality, service and price of the offer because, unlike any other service, they ‘own’ a share. And, like any shareholder, they want a fair return for their money, and, like any shareholder, they will be quick to rise if not delivering on their expectations.

Food also appeals to emotions, and affects productivity, morale, health and welfare. When it is done right it can motivate the entire workforce. Delivered poorly, it can have the entirely opposite effect.

Furthermore, the complexity of the operating model, balancing tariff against ingredient costs, staff costs, external trends, innovation, local competition, and client objectives, means that the food service provider needs to completely understand all the drivers in order to provide a valid, accurate and, above all, valuable offer. It is essential to understand what you want to achieve by offering food to their staff to be able to build a solution that works for all parties.

Even though food service is a relatively small part of the overall costs of facilities management depending on the levels of vending and hospitality – it punches well above its weight in generating cost savings and enhancing customer / job satisfaction, which has a major impact on staff retention and attraction.

There is also a clear cultural difference between other FM disciplines and catering. Catering comes with a high emotional element, and the relationship it demands between the food service provider, the client and the consumers is of a different order to that of more straightforward, if essential, FM services such as cleaning and maintenance

Rarely would you find a ‘cleaning committee’ or a ‘maintenance council’ made up of staff and management, but you often do for food.  Food has an important part to play in employee morale and wellbeing which means it adds a different dimension to the client/consumer relationship, elevating the importance of the cultural fit between the end client and the food services provider

Also, because the human relationship with food and drink is so fundamental, clients want whoever is supplying their catering to be genuinely passionate about food.  Clients expect providers to genuinely love the business and understand the market, knowing that that catering has the potential to bring people together and connect in a way that drives collaboration and health and wellness, both inside and outside the workplace. 

Just having knowledge of site population and size is not sufficient to prepare a valid food service proposal. A great food service supplier needs to absorb your culture (both what it is and what you would like it to be!).  To understand what you want your food service to achieve, and how it needs to perform against your corporate aims such as sustainability, health and safety, collaboration, space utilisation, energy efficiency, and supporting local initiatives, amongst many other criteria.  It is totally dependent on what the client and the consumer wants, and of course not everyone wants the same thing.  By understanding the culture of your business and the level of importance you attach to catering, a great foodservice supplier will be able to determine the best catering approach and the most sensible and cost-effective solution.

“Food also appeals to emotions, and affects productivity, morale, health and welfare. When it is done right it can motivate the entire workforce. Delivered poorly, it can have the entirely opposite effect.”