The rise of a hybrid workforce is shaking up the viability of the corporate cafeteria—long a model for feeding employees in offices and other workplaces.
In fact, Bon Appetit Management Company began shifting away from this model five years before COVID-19 became an everyday vocabulary word.
The B&I foodservice provider opened Foundry & Lux in South San Francisco in 2016, featuring a full-service restaurant, coffee shop, lounge with a bar, dining patio, fireplaces and even a bowling alley and bocce court for workers in the multi-tenant office complex.
In the last year, the company also opened Chandlery, a waterfront restaurant set on San Francisco Bay, and Lighthouse, which boasts a low-carbon menu and all-electric kitchen.
“The pandemic accelerated the trend toward ‘amenity restaurants,’ but it’s been an emerging model, especially for multi-tenant and biotech campuses,” says Alison Harper, Bon Appetit district manager.
The model is a win for smaller companies that can band together and share operating costs to offer a first-class dining program. And it’s a plus for employees, who are able to eat restaurant-caliber meals at a fair price point morning, noon and night. Most companies subsidize all or part of the meal cost.
In August of last year, Bon Appetit opened The Anecdote in South San Francisco, a full-service, multi-level restaurant modeled after Foundry & Lux. The foodservice provider partnered with real estate developer Kilroy Realty Corp. to create the dining venue on the sprawling waterfront biotech campus. Most landlords are not well-versed in running restaurants, so that job was ceded to Bon Appetit.
Like Foundry & Lux, The Anecdote is open to the public and includes a bar and cozy socialization spaces for happy hours and events. “These amenities help with tenant engagement,” says Harper. “Employees can socialize after work onsite instead of leaving the office and going to an offsite restaurant or bar.”
A freestanding destination restaurant also benefits the surrounding community—a desirable perk in the Bay Area and elsewhere, says Harper. The Anecdote is a welcome option for the public, where they can come for meals, socialize over happy hour drinks and bites, book private parties and experience a menu curated by a renowned chef.
The menu as magnet
Bon Appetit Culinary Director Robbie Lewis, formerly of legendary Bay Area restaurants such as Chez Panisse, Boulevard and Jardiniere, crafted a menu inspired by the world’s coastal regions, adding a laser focus on sustainability, local producers and seasonality.
“There’s a real awareness that you have a captive audience of the same clientele, so the team has to work harder to keep the menu fresh,” says Harper. “Menus can’t stay the same, but there’s a 50-50 balance between static core items and weekly or biweekly changing specials.”
Employees can dine in for a restaurant-style, sit-down lunch with servers, but technology allows for quicker alternatives. “Tech has helped us a lot with this model,” says Harper. “We can serve 300 to 400 customers a day with our order-ahead feature, and discounts can be applied without employees showing their badge.”
Meals are subsidized by most of the participating companies, so having that discount built into the system speeds service considerably.
An evolving model for the future
Bon Appetit has more projects in development on mixed-use campuses that house office complexes, recreational facilities and more. Beehives, vegetable gardens, putting greens and other amenities are in currently in place at several locations.
“An anchor kitchen and cafe with outdoor dining spaces is at the core, but we’re looking at how existing models can evolve,” says Harper.
One idea: multi-concept markets. “We can bring in a collection of restaurants serving global cuisines instead of regularly changing the menu at one place,” says Harper. “Each concept can be its own journey.”
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