The Food: changing corporate cafés

For companies with corporate campuses, diverse food tastes necessitate new approaches.

For many companies, keeping workers on site is important: off-campus meals can take hours out of a day. But as palettes and food tastes change -- as well as the emergence of new allergies -- the corporate lunchroom of yesterday is becoming the café and market of today.

New Palettes

Novo Nordisk North America Corporate Campus

John Dickman, Café Program Manager at Intel, noted that people are asking for a higher quality of food that is more local, seasonal and organic. He mused, "People have gotten pretty educated through brands like Starbucks, which was a game-changer." He sees a trend from barista style coffee hangouts that educated people about coffee brands and styles, through micro-breweries and the Food Network. "People know how things are made and prepared, and they like bold flavors and local ingredients." As a result, corporate cafés have become much less institutional, and more like a restaurant. When Mr. Dickman arrived at Intel, customer satisfaction was below 55%, measured by Intel's own biannual survey. They measure quality of the service, meal choice, value per dollar, and overall customer satisfaction. In Mr. Dickman's tenure, Intel is now at 70% and gaining.


At Novo Nordisk's Plainsboro campus, planned changes for a new building necessitated a very new approach to food service. Measuring over 750,000 square feet, they will occupy 500,000 immediately. Ted Bielicky, Senior Director of Facilities, said, "It's a long walk from one end to the other. So we decided to augment our café with separate markets where you can pick up foods that are prepared fresh daily, and where we can showcase locally grown produce." These local markets accept credit cards through a self-payment system, so they do not require staffing. Every morning, the café will prepare foods for the markets, and bring them around. This helps the chef learn what is 'selling' and what isn't. 

To meet their ambitious plans, they picked Aramark's LifeWorks Restaurants. A three year old concept, LifeWorks features nutritious foods that are prepared on-site, with minimal processing. For Novo Nordisk, the menu will include gluten free, vegetarian, vegan, dairy free and heart healthy. Peter D'Angelo, Manager at LifeWorks, said that LifeWorks customizes solutions to meet the client's needs: "No matter how big or how small." The program includes signage, uniforms, the design of the space and the kind of foods that are offered. "This is a customized approach, not a vendor branded experience. We want people to come and get inspired."


Another challenge facing corporate cafés is the diverse workforce. For Intel, with 66 cafés globally, meeting the needs of a very diverse clientele requires both research and imagination. As an example, Intel's Mr. Dickman mentioned their Santa Clara office, where one building is for the corporate offices, and the other an R&D facility with a younger, culturally diverse team. When talking about their challenges, he added, "We even compete with food trucks and fusion cuisine!" For Oregon, they designed 'little pods' of restaurants, located around the building. They can change their focus on a daily basis, featuring Mexican one day and Sushi the next. He calls the approach, 'Deconstructing the Café'.

On-Site Chef

One consistent aspect of the new programs is the central place of an on-site chef. Rather than aram4being housed behind a glass wall, the chef is out on the floor during the lunch hour, talking to people, getting suggestions, finding out about specific needs and demonstrating new food ideas. This kind of approach is important for Intel, which works with Bon Appétit. Mr. Dickman mentioned that many of their chefs used to do a lot of work during lunch, planning and ordering for the next day. "We wanted to change that," he said. The new approach is a cultural change Mr. Dickman is glad to see. LifeWorks' Mr. D'Angelo echoes these comments, adding that the chef is able to answer questions for customers about meal preparation or culinary concerns. Mr. Bielicky added that one of the features that attracted Novo Nordisk to LifeWorks was 'Ask the Dietician,' a program that helps people to think more creatively about healthy eating. He is also excited about a 'Make the Most of Your Salad, which color codes ingredients, helping people to manage calories and cholesterol.


Meeting the need for local produce, especially in the colder Northeast, can be a challenge. As Mr. Dickman said, they can do a lot more in California. Mr. D'Angelo said that LifeWorks has local companies that they work with, along with large broad line distributors who purchase from smaller farms. The goal is to find produce within a 1 to 200 mile radius that can be incorporated into the menu, and then helping people learn about what's being harvested. In2aram New Jersey, Novo Nordisk has partnered with California's Monterey Bay Aquarium for guidelines on fish: where to buy, what kinds of fish to serve and what to avoid. Another approach is to bring the local food community into the building. Intel has brought in local restaurants or food vendors, offering them $500 to give samples or provide vouchers for employees. In Arizona, they had a honey vendor who brought in mesquite flower honey, and provided information on honey and bees. "People were just enamored with this guy! He had a great little spread," said Mr. Dickman. The program expands the employees' awareness of what the neighborhood offers, as well as helping the local economy. Novo Nordisk will be offering samples of local foods on a regular basis. "We can ask, 'What do you think of this?' It lets people try things, expanding their palette," added Mr. Bielicky.


To increase recycling, there is a range of strategies. Intel is rolling out a new initiative this year in its cafés that serve more than 500 people to use only reusable products: no Styrofoam, plastics, or paper plates. They are hoping to expand to all cafés in the future. Intel cafés will compost most pre-consumer food waste (what is left over from food preparation) and post consumer food waste (what is left on plates). LifeWorks partners with clients around a composting program, training employees on separating food waste, which is sent to a composting location at the end of each day. They also have programs for recycling kitchen grease, as well as bottles and cans. Intel's Mr. Dickman added that their company's recycling program is tied to bonuses, which is an effective way to increase buy-in. The second approach to lowering food waste is to reduce the amount of over-production. Mr. D'Angelo added that carefully analyzing how many portions they sell is an important first step.