The security badges are ringing again. Revolving doors are turning for the first time in over a year and a half. Building halls no longer look like nuclear fallout zones. Yes, the Great Return to the Office is finally here.
But as companies ask their employees, “Will I see you Monday morning?” COVID-affected staff often have their own question.
“What is there to eat?”
Among the many things the pandemic has changed forever – or at least accelerated – is the whole gestalt of the office kitchen. As food. As an advantage. To attract people to their Aeron chairs and open-plan workspaces after 20 months in yoga pants and t-shirts.
As for the bagels, cream cheese and old-fashioned charcuterie platters that were once a staple in conference rooms? Well, they don’t cut it anymore. Returning employees, who suddenly learn they have new leverage in a post-COVID and workforce-stressed economy, laugh at what used to be office food.
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This week, when employees officially return to the Lower Fifth Avenue offices of public relations firm DKC, it will mean once-a-week lunches at New York-based quick and casual salad chain company Chopt.
“It’s packaging for packaging,” said DKC President Sean Cassidy. “We want to give our employees and customers a pleasant welcome to the office after so many months of working remotely. Cubes of cheese on a spit and jars of cream cheese on chrome plastic platters are a bit inconsistent with the sense of welcome we’re trying to convey.
Chopt opened its first location (of 75 nationwide) in Union Square in 2001, just in time for September 11. Thus, facing major upheavals dates back to the early days of the company. “We are extremely happy to see so much life coming back to the city,” said Chopt CEO Nick Marsh. “But a lot of the changes that were already in motion have accelerated, including the types of benefits people want. Today’s office workers, who are just starting to get back to work at ease, are no longer looking for ping-pong tables. And large platters of food to share are no longer acceptable as a catering lunch.
Chopt’s business, like everyone in the restaurant industry, took a hard hit at the onset of COVID. All of Chopt’s sites have closed for at least a short time, although business has gradually improved with the New York City economy. “We’re at about 80% now,” Marsh said.
A change at Chopt: New group ordering technology allows each desktop eater to click on a link and make an individual selection, while all food is paid for and delivered together. “No one has to run around the office to write people’s orders,” Marsh said. “And when your salad arrives, it’s labeled with your name.”
When it comes to eating, as with other aspects of daily life, the impact of COVID has often pulled in several directions at once. While many people say the pandemic has made them more health conscious, they also admit to “COVID 15” or 20 or 25 or 30, the extra pounds they have put on by spending so much time in the hospital. indoors, near the kitchen and away from the gym.
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Now that the workplaces are filling up again, no one can guess how much force is gaining this food standoff.
For its part, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers an all-you-can-eat buffet of suggestions and advice for bar and restaurant owners, although preparing for an all-you-can-eat buffet is definitely on the X-list. now. Under Amended Provisions and Procedures, federal health officials say, “Avoid offering self-service food or drink options, such as buffets, salad bars, and beverage stations.” This limits the use of utility utensils, handles, knobs or shared touch screens.
They don’t mention shared desktop chow downs, but the same logic surely applies.
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Fortunately, in fast-paced, laid-back places like Chopt, Panera Bread, and Chipotle CMG,
staff members assemble the salad at the direction of customers, which health experts call much safer than traditional do-it-yourself salad bars, a familiar pre-COVID spectacle in New York City delicatessens and many supermarkets. Either way, these places seem to be winning over traditional sit-down restaurants. In a recent study on how the pandemic has changed cooking habits, Florida-based business marketing firm Acosta found that 53% of consumers dine in restaurants less often than before and 27% ordered more dishes. to take away.
“One thing we’re sure of,” DKC’s Cassidy said. “These trends are changing and businesses need to stay ahead of the curve. “
Ellis Henican is a New York-based author and former newspaper columnist.