By Michael Fiato
COVID-19 has changed so many aspects of our everyday lives including how we live, play, and work. Amidst our current physical distancing environment, consumers who may have previously prioritized variety, value, and community-building environments in the workplace foodservice arena are now seeking safe ones.
According to a Datassential poll, 76% of consumers reported that a restaurant’s cleanliness and food safety procedures will always matter more to the consumer than it did before the pandemic, while 40% of consumers stated that their top safety concern is being too close to other people/patrons.
What does this tell foodservice professionals? It says that in order to be successful, we need to create the safest space possible for our customers. Our customers have been looking to us to evolve the customer experience into one that brings both comfort and confidence.
Restructured Lunch Rush
Between the times of 11am and 1pm, our marketplaces would typically be flooded with customers zipping from one food station to the other to satisfy that day’s lunch craving. Like most dining establishments, in response to COVID-19 workplace foodservice operations have also had to implement staggered service times, occupant limitations, and floor markers to exercise social distancing. Many customers are trying to avoid crowds, and this service restructure has extended the meal periods for both lunch and breakfast.
Allowing customers to see what you are doing to keep them safe has been essential. This means increasing cleaning of high-touch surfaces and assigning front-of-house cleaning roles during service times to display our diligence to creating a safe environment. This may also mean an increased need for training and understanding of safety protocols among associates. Designating a front-of-house greeter who can also relay safety protocols, help customers maintain a safe distance, and supply single-use utensils and condiments can also help people feel at ease.
Associates are outfitted with masks to match their uniforms forcing us to rethink how we extend hospitality that has historically been initiated with a smile. Many of our teams have adopted smile badges clipped to their name tag showing their no-mask smile to keep the warmth and connection that we strive for.
Additionally, many dining rooms have been transformed or closed as facility management encourages employees to eat at their desk or at outside patios to limit close interactions. With the dining experience becoming more singular, guests have come to expect our meals to be packaged, mobile, and safe, creating a higher demand for grab-and-go options to add to that increased convenience factor customers are looking for.
Launching New Technology, New Offerings
Quarantine and stay-at-home orders taught many of our customers how to order online, leading to an increased focus on the platforms customers are using to submit a mobile order at work. Since March, it has accelerated the need to ensure such platforms are intuitive to the customer’s need with features like personalized ordering, tagging items as favorites, and offering rewards for loyalty.
There is also an increased demand for a touchless frictionless experience, allowing the customer to get what they want and instantaneously be able to pay for it without touching or stopping at a kiosk.
We have learned that 38% of our customers are apprehensive about touching anything that was touched by another customer. With that in mind, transitioning all self-serve stations into manned stations can still provide the customer with the customization factor they have previously enjoyed when they could put their meal together themselves.
The average customer is an adventurous one, still craving new flavors and ethnic cuisines so while they are looking for convenient grab-and-go options, the traditional cold sandwich and bag of chips that would fit that bill doesn’t seem to be enough. Over 70% of the dishes we are serving are hot telling us that customers are still looking for quality and variety.
While COVID-10 may have limited the proximity between chef and customer, it certainly hasn’t dimmed the need for creativity to still deliver a memorable customer experience that will keep them coming back for more… six feet apart. Guest satisfaction as a whole has risen during COVID and the why behind that is simple. Food provides a sense of comfort and normalcy for guests as they return to work.
Fiato is senior vice president of customer experience for Eurest, the nation’s largest foodservice provider in the business and industry market. He develops and delivers guest service training for over 2,000 associates every year and has conducted focus groups with more than 125,000 guests. Hs is the author of the book, The Hospitality Edge.
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