Neller Davies has undertaken a number of catering requirements surveys since 2013 receiving over 12,500 responses from a representative sample of the UK’s workforce (31m in 2015 according to the ONS). In 2010 56% of 254 employers provided an on-site subsidised ‘canteen’ – in 1995 this was 82% according to Trade Union research. This is an interesting trend and is much about our changing ways of work as it is about the value employers place on food at work.

The reasons for providing employee dining could be:

  • convenience for time poor staff as typically they spend less than 26 minutes spent for lunch are at work for an average of 37.4 paid hours a week to the Office of National Statistics (ONS)
  • welfare gains as some enlightened companies see improved productivity advantages from good nutrition. In 2015 ‘Britain’s Healthiest Companies’ (an award run by Vitality Health) identified that companies (like Microsoft, Nomura & Johnson & Johnson) with subsidised and well-run catering facilities typically had a 24% lower cost of lost productivity compared with the worst-performing companies.
  • benefits package, as according to research by the Department of Works & Pensions in 2011, 33% of employees cite this as a wellbeing benefit.  Holidays were top at 84% but catering is still 7th on the list out of 20.

So if you’re considering closing your ‘canteen’ for some short term cashflow gain you might also want to think about the longer term harm it might do to your business. Where there is good food at affordable prices, customer satisfaction is typically above 70%. Employers who we work for, like commercial lawyers, banks, pharmaceutical firms or multi-tenanted buildings, fare better than those in the Government & Healthcare sectors where average satisfaction is less than 60%. The trouble with the public sector is that it’s cash-strapped and many benefits have been eroded and catering generally represents poor value.

In this article we will focus on three key findings from our research:

  • the overall satisfaction gap issues;
  • price point
  • and what the most popular lunchtime offers are.
Table 1 - Neller Davies Satisfaction gap analysis 2013- 2015
Table 1 – Neller Davies Satisfaction gap analysis 2013- 2015

The top 5 issues are food quality; range; value for money; healthy options & the dining room environment. The trends are similar but these customer comments give a feel, “overall the food service is fine but not “special”. The environment feels like a canteen and not a restaurant and is not very welcoming and sometime the staff don’t appear to care too much or look happy in their work. It’s a bit hit and miss with the food, sometime in one day everything they have on offer is good and it’s hard to make a choice and on others there is absolutely nothing which looks appealing so it’s not consistent”.

Equally we have seen “the quality of the food and service has really improved since the new Chef came on board, he is excellent.”

So standards can vary.

Table 2 – Daily staff catering spend profile
Table 2 – Daily staff catering spend profile

During the day around 2/3rd of employees spend between £2 and £5 per day. Customers who use on-site catering facilities spend an average of £4.56 per day or £22.81 per week which represents 4% of average gross earnings.

Uptake can vary – in Healthcare & Government they struggle to get 25% of the workforce to use the catering services at lunchtime. In a more engaged environment we see these above 50%.

Table 3 - Staff catering offer segmentation
Table 3 – Staff catering offer segmentation

Only 26% have a hot main meal 3 – 5 days a week with assisted service – typically lower margin as well as space & utility consuming. The remaining 74% seems to mirror offers in High Street outlets. When asked where they eat outside the workplace a majority picked deli bars, convenience stores or supermarkets. Little wonder that with the cost of real estate in some cities there is a compelling reason for employers not to have catering especially with great choice outside the door. However, where there is a greater subsidy staff are more likely to eat a hot meal on-site e.g. 33 – 47% over 3 – 5 days.

It seems that where staff are left to their own devices they will spend just around £22 per week at work on food of which three quarters will choose grab ‘n’ go or deli style items. They are time poor so service speed is essential. However, there could be a risk that these offers may affect productivity as arguably less nutritious.

Where an employer recognises that the food offer is important for staff retention, wellbeing and productivity then they will invest in a subsidised catering service. There is a greater likelihood that staff may choose a cooked meal. The trick for employers and caterers alike is to recreate a comprehensive offer with the benefits of a High Street store but at a price that encourages staff to use.