Workplace restaurants will be safer and more controlled than the high street when they reopen, a panel of leading operators have told The Caterer, as they invest in new technology and innovative ways of serving customers.
Ruston Toms, founding director of Blue Apple, said: "It seems as though social distancing is here to stay for the foreseeable future. Therefore, we do feel we have an advantage over the high street. Workplace catering operations can be controlled and monitored in a far stricter way than the high street."
Chris Mitchell, Genuine Dining Co managing director, agreed: "We offer a much safer environment for our customers to eat in, where we can control safety elements with clients."
Phil Roker, managing director of Vacherin, said the London-based caterer was investigating temperature checking all staff entering the building, which would "make on-site catering a safer environment than the random nature of the high street".
Both Toms and Ian Thomas, chief executive of Bartlett Mitchell, said clients had indicated they will recommend that employees don't leave the building once they have arrived for the day to reduce social interaction outside the premises.
Meanwhile, Morag Freathy, B&I managing director for Compass UK & Ireland, said the caterer's 14Forty facilities management team had developed training materials to improve cleaning standards in workplace dining areas.
All operators told The Caterer that they were developing creative ways of serving customers safely, including click and collect, food delivery, pre-ordering and extended opening hours to alleviate pressure on restaurants and cafés.
Lexington managing director Julia Edmonds said the business was also looking at proximity technology for managing customer flow and social distancing.
Vacherin has today unveiled a new app (below) that handles pre-ordering, virtual queuing, payments, loyalty and receipts, which it says is key to removing unnecessary human contact and reopening restaurants quickly.
Zoë Watts, Vacherin's commercial director, said: "The platform is incredibly quick to deploy, easy to use and key to reopening sites and supporting the social distancing measures that we will be implementing to mitigate the risks associated with Covid-19."
While the B&I operators commonly believed it would take 12-18 months for turnover to reach pre-coronavirus levels, Green & Fortune chief executive John Nugent said the perception of B&I catering would improve following the crisis.
"It is easy for peoples' heads to be turned by new entrants on the high street or the local food truck," he said. "In this new world, getting our message and food innovation right should allow for greater appreciation of what is sometimes regarded as ‘in-house services'."
Read the full feature on the future of workplace catering in the 29 May issue of The Caterer.
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