B&I foodservice: Opportunities and obstacles
Gerald Oksanen
June 5, 2019

The business and industry dining landscape, a niche segment only representing a small slice of away-from-home consumption, is nevertheless experiencing many of the same challenges and growth opportunities as the overall industry. Facing growing competition primarily from trend-forward LSRs and delivery services (around 40% of B&I operators see these two segments as direct competition to their ventures), crafty operators are increasing the sophistication of their enterprises through improvements in design, revamped offerings and technology-driven initiatives, according to Datassential’s B&I Keynote Report. And the B&I consumer is receptive – 85% rate their overall work dining experience as positive while nearly four out of five view the food variety and quality satisfactory, with beverage contentment notching even higher ratings.

Workplace dining operators say they serve several functions: primarily general convenience as well as a perk to retain employees, and to a much lesser extent, as a profit/revenue driver. Whether through dining halls, free snacks, vending machines, coffee shops and even on-site restaurants and c-stores, the offerings provided by employers reflect today’s typical employee. The vast majority of B&I consumers work a standard nine-to-five shift, and nearly two-thirds of all workers consume at least five meals on average at work during a given week. Workplace dining has only become more high profile thanks to companies like Google and Facebook who are known for their wide variety of food-centric perks.

Working foodservice in the workplace

Foodservice will continue to become more relevant as employers look to retain employees as well as attract new talent who will enjoy more diverse offerings, creating new opportunities for suppliers and restaurants alike. There is undoubtedly ample opportunity for restaurants to tag onto the scene in the role of a B&I player, as restaurants are well-suited to working with the logistics of catering companies, collaborating with food halls, running pop-ups and more. Whichever route the B&I operator chooses to feed their workers, there are numerous avenues to successfully engage and satisfy employees.   

Facing competition from outside venues, it’s important to look at what motivates B&I consumers to order more from their on-site establishments. And if there’s any question on why employers should even care about their offerings, well, it’s very much in the best interest of employers to keep employees on-site and happy. Keeping employees happy and healthy can improve productivity, and in general, provide a more desirable work environment that can help reduce turnover and aid in recruitment.

Across the board, the top motivators that would spur working consumers to purchase more food and beverages at work are a wider array of choices and variety (remember, these diners are a captive audience who can easily tire of the same offerings). And actually one fundamental strength B&I possesses over most competitors is the variety they can offer through menu rotation. While most restaurants have static menus that rarely get face-lifts and rely on LTOs to garner excitement, two-thirds of B&I operators rotate their menus at least monthly, giving these establishments an innate edge over fixed-menu restaurants.

Other top desired attributes of B&I consumers include higher quality and healthier choices, wanted by 30% and 28% of consumers, respectively. Offering an even more eclectic selection, especially if made with premium as well as healthy ingredients, would likely motivate employees to purchase even more at their on-site dining establishments and lure them away from competitors.

Food and beverage offerings

In terms of food and beverage offerings, classic handhelds such as sandwiches, wraps, breakfast pastries and burgers are nearly ubiquitous and reflect the segment’s focus on breakfast and lunch. Other typical dishes include soup, pasta, yogurt, cookies, salads and pizza, all of which have been served by at least 80% of on-site cafeterias and dining halls within the last 6 months.

More progressive offerings such as stir-fries, bowls, and sushi are less common, yet are still offered by a substantial number of workplace operators.

Brewed coffee and tea as well as packaged drinks are the standard, most widely available on-site beverage offerings. Although fountain and prepped coffee drinks are also common, blended beverages are rarer, likely due to the need for trained staff and specialized equipment.

While these offerings are in many ways just what you would expect from B&I dining, there are also several progressive indicators; over half of all on-site establishments offer dishes that are either gluten free or globally influenced. Additionally, 70% of these locations provide meals that are either vegan- or vegetarian-friendly.

Evolving formats and digital initiatives

The classic cafeteria has long been a mainstay for workplace dining, but more contemporary improvements to these dining halls such as individual “action-stations” and grab-and-go counters have become the norm. Currently 86% of on-site cafeterias provide freshly made grab-and-go options and 81% offer customizable build-your-own stations such as salad bars. Individually staffed stations with specific cuisine types are also prevalent at on-site cafeterias, but they do come with associated labor costs which could mean a bit of give-and-take for operators. The antiquated single main cafeteria line has become a substantially less common feature, now appearing at less than a quarter of all locations. Despite contemporary serving stations being commonplace at on-site cafeterias, 69% of B&I consumers still perceive their workplace dining facilities as traditional as opposed to trendy, indicating that there is still much room to modernize.

While technological initiatives such as rewards apps, targeted couponing and the ability to place orders ahead of time digitally have helped legacy restaurant brands revamp and differentiate themselves from their competitors, B&I operators have also started to become savvy to these trends. When communicating with consumers, the classic menu board is the most prevalent medium, yet more progressive methods such as email alerts and mobile applications are now also utilized, by 20% and 9% of B&I operations, respectively.

B&I operator competition with nearby, convenience-driven outlets will rigidly persist, but overall these outlets will still garner business and foot traffic from employees needing a bite to eat at work. These workers will continue to dine on-site for convenience alone, but just how much of their spend and consumption funnels through these locations hinges on B&I operators’ ability to adapt and compete in a rapidly evolving industry currently marked by a sea change of advances in delivery and digital initiatives. As Datassential’s brand new B&I Keynote demonstrates (along with a myriad more of invaluable B&I insights), B&I operators are well aware and are actionably acclimating.  

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Gerald Oksanen is a senior analyst at Datassential, a supplier of trends, analysis, and concept testing for the food industry.

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