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The corporate catering sector has had to quickly adapt as a consequence of Covid-19. Whilst every aspect of the hospitality industry is facing challenges, many corporate caterers have had to evolve more swiftly than most due to the need to continue serving essential workers throughout the pandemic. 

As we move into a different stage of the response to Covid-19, more corporate caterers will be open for business as greater numbers of companies start work again. Many of the new regulations and safety requirements we are seeing come into play will apply across all aspects of hospitality as they open up. Yet, with additional challenges and unique requirements, the corporate catering environment must implement faster strategies to adapt to social distancing, as well as safety and cleaning protocols.

The following technology trends will become ingrained across canteens and catering facilities in the “new normal”.

Pre-order and collect

Online ordering, and pre-order and collect technologies have really played a huge part for hospitality in ‘lockdown culture’ and there will be a continuation of this trend into the workplace. Even before the crisis, 40% of UK workers with a canteen said they would visit more often if the service was faster or they could pre-order their food and pickup up without queuing.1

Many customers who were previously reluctant, or would not have considered using apps or online ordering, have become well-versed in using these types of technology to continue enjoying takeaway meals during lockdown. Greater numbers of office and factory workers will realise the importance of preparation and embrace pre-order within corporate catering, not just to save themselves time, but also to reduce close contact in queues and dining halls. 

Some caterers are offering employees the opportunity to pre-order food, either from outside the office or within the staff canteen, that will be delivered directly to their desks.

Going cashless

Given the higher likelihood of transmitting the virus through cash, many businesses have implemented cashless environments, and the cashless limit was increased in April from £30 to £45. 

The issue of reducing cash usage, especially within busy, high-turnover corporate catering environments is an important one. Whilst some canteens will already be operating cashless, others providers will need to consider moving to fully cashless systems in order to operate safely. The use of mobile and contactless payments should be encouraged. Not only do these types of payment reduce contact with surfaces by multiple people, they also speed up transactions, thus reducing numbers in queues and increasing rate of footfall.

Self-serve

Self-serve technology really comes into its own within a busy staff canteen or catering environment. It has the ability to deliver high-quality service with reduced staff in front-of-house duties. Higher footfall and faster payments generate the need for more staff in operational roles, thus employees can be moved to preparation and back-office roles. This reduces close contact with large numbers of people and improves speed and quality of service. 

Additionally, the touchscreens can be fitted with anti-microbial screen protectors to reduce the build-up of bacteria and germs.

Through this technology, large corporate caterers can create attractive, easy to access menu displays, ordering, and payments in fast-service locations. Over recent weeks, demand has increased from corporate caterers looking to deploy large numbers of tills across a range of locations as canteens have sought to support social distancing requirements. 

For most efficiency, self-serve systems should be supported by cloud-based software.  Downloadable, this option allows systems to be deployed quickly and updated instantaneously across a network. As a result, caterers and businesses can respond quickly to changing environments. This speed and flexibility means menus and prices, as well as nutritional and dietary information can all be updated to adapt to gathered data, stock, and evolving demands from customers. 

Cashierless checkout

We are seeing the development of systems powered by advanced sensors and AI that can visually identify purchased merchandise and charge customers automatically. 

These systems will have particular use in corporate catering environments, for example, in canteens and dining halls. It will speed up processes and help reduce person-to-person contact in an already busy environment.

Loyalty schemes 

Loyalty was already an increasingly important trend prior to the emergence of Covid-19. Research by Yoyo and Preoday in 2019 revealed that 57% of UK workers with a canteen would visit more often if there was a loyalty scheme that offered personalised deals.2

Moving forward we will see customers growing in loyalty, placing increased importance upon rewards, and having a renewed appreciation for their corporate catering environment.

For the corporate caterer this means keeping in communication with customers. With lack of in-person contact, digital loyalty schemes will be more important than ever to retain and build relationships with customers.  Caterers will need to make greater use of branded loyalty schemes to encourage repeat custom through loyalty points, personalised rewards and communication. 

Behavioural biometrics 

Iris, fingerprints and facial movement are all big news in payment technology right now.

Early stages of implementation have begun, so we are seeing ‘pay by selfie’ or ‘smile to pay’ services across China and will see these types of services move across to Europe this year. These support cashless environments and higher footfall, by delivering payment at lightning speed. Biometric payments will revolutionise the payment landscape, but for now they still need to be authenticated in two forms. This area also needs significant work on legislation to ensure security and privacy for users. Older generations may well be reluctant to use this technology, so there will be a journey in terms of education and acceptance. 

Fast forward… 

AI and data analysis will revolutionise the customer experience by offering increased personalisation. These technologies will use algorithms to identify individual and group behaviours, thus profiling customers and learning from our ordering and payment patterns. 

Using AI, allergen and calorific content showing on menus will be improved and customised for customers preferences and needs. This will help develop a safer, more enjoyable catering experience. AI will also help the caterer to re-evaluate more closely data gathered from technology systems to drive growth, reduce wastage and improve safety.

Each element of the corporate catering experience, from ordering, to payment, service, and beyond will have technology involved in the future. From now on it’s all about the digital journey – creating a streamlined experience for the end customer.

Together we must efficiently embrace technology to create a positive, sustainable, safe and exciting corporate catering future.

1. Preoday and Yoyo Research, “How office canteens can fuel better lunch breaks in 2019”, 2019, https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/3373248/Corporate_Catering_Report_2019%20update.pdf, p.10

2. Preoday and Yoyo Research, “How office canteens can fuel better lunch breaks in 2019”, 2019, https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/3373248/Corporate_Catering_Report_2019%20update.pdf, p.10


This article was originally featured on Facilitate: https://www.facilitatemagazine.com/content/know-how/2020/06/18/catering-future

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