Contract caterers are reporting a steady increase in business as a growing number of workers return to offices following the summer holidays. However, there is concern that an increase in Covid-19 cases may delay the return of some commuters.
BaxterStorey has more than 550 sites open across the UK, with a further 60 planned to open this year or in early 2022. Chief executive Ronan Harte said last week that with pupils back to school, business had been "incredibly positive" with a 10% increase in sales.
"After 18 months of home working, people are craving the buzz of office life and being around colleagues once again," he said.
"Hospitality has a key role to play in this and we are seeing clients use hospitality to help entice teams back to the workplace. We're redefining hospitality services to adapt to new flexible ways of working; from creating multi-use spaces to introducing technology to enable staff to pre-order food and drink, as we have become accustomed to throughout the pandemic."
The number of commuters travelling into London is the highest it has been since before the pandemic, with tube and bus trips during the rush hour up by 17% and 39% on Monday 6 September, compared to seven days earlier.
Some three-quarters of CH&Co's 503 workplace sites are now fully open, although occupancy levels vary from location to location. The volume of business has been increasing steadily as more people return to work, up around 26%.
"We're seeing the strongest footfall in sites where clients have taken a definitive stance in people returning to the office rather than any geographical patterns," said CH&Co's chief operating officer Allister Richards.
"While the vast majority of clients want to see their teams back in the office, the talk of a half-term circuit breaker has slowed the pace of some client's reopening plans and are taking a more cautious approach, should any measures be introduced. Although we feel this is unlikely, conversations in recent weeks have changed from people returning at the beginning of Q4 to the end of it."
At the Genuine Dining Company, some 85% of its 50 sites in London and 10 sites beyond the capital are open. The ones that are operational tend to have reduced capacities and an agile working approach. While business volumes have increased by up to 20% over the past week, there is still a mixed approach to staff returning to work. Many clients want their staff to return to work in the office full-time, but employees are generally only back in the workplace one or two days a week.
The challenge of staff returning to the office was highlighted by Julia Edmonds, corporate business director at Elior UK, who also emphasised the benefits of employees eating lunch with their colleagues again.
"Many of our clients are keen to see people back in the office in the same way there are many employees who are keen to return but there are other organisations and employees who are taking a different approach depending upon their business and personal need," she said.
"We've seen the large majority of our client sites in London reopen, with many of these providing full services in a bid to ensure the employee and guest experience in the workplace is as good as it was before lockdown, if not better.
"Overall, we have seen an increase in footfall since 6 September and we will continue to work closely with our clients on an individual basis to understand their changing requirements over the coming weeks and months.
"One thing that is clear is that customers are keen to meet with colleagues when they come into the office, planning social time together and they are choosing to do this over lunch and after work. This is where we see an opportunity to be creative and enhance the customer experience – food and hospitality is a great vehicle to do this and feedback shows how much people have missed the restaurant experience and being able to get a great cup of coffee."
Photo: Narin Nonthamand/Shutterstock.com
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