Stopping desk dining

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Employees aren't making use of company facilities or their full lunch break

January is typically the month we all make resolutions that we then fail to keep as soon as February rolls around. Some resolutions are easier to keep than others and occasionally companies can make it easier for employees to stick to theirs. Healthier eating and a better work/life balance are certainly areas in which businesses can support their workers. Lunch breaks are a key time of day that businesses can help improve.

Why desk dining is a problem

Often office desks are workers’ dining tables as they consume a third of their daily calories while sitting at them. Such meals are mostly rushed. Our research found that office workers rarely take the full lunch break entitled to them. While four-fifths (82%) of UK workers with a canteen say they are allowed to take between 30 minutes and an hour for lunch, seven in 10 (73%) will take half an hour or less. Thirty-four per cent said they skip lunch altogether two or more days a week. Instead of eating a proper lunch employees fuel themselves on caffeinated drinks and sugary snacks. In the long run this results in reduced energy and productivity.

This habit is also making people unhappy. Preoday surveyed UK employees to find out what their current lunchtime habits are, what they wanted from their lunch breaks, and what they thought employers should be doing to help them. When asked what they want to do at lunchtime it wasn’t working (if they could help it). Only 19% said that they want to get more work done at lunchtime, whereas 60% said they would like to do something active – either walking (38%), running errands (32%) or going to the gym (31%).

One solution to avoid this 'desk dining' is encouraging workers to use the office canteen. The convenience of workplace cafeterias can provide an environment for a break and a good meal, without needing to go outside and stand in line for it. Whatever else the employee wants to do during their lunch break a workplace restaurant can help ensure that workers do it with a meal inside them.

However, at the moment people aren’t using their canteens as much as they could. The average UK worker only visits their work canteen six times a month and half (53%) of people eat at canteens less frequently than once a week.

Our survey found that people are most concerned with value and convenience when it came to visiting their canteen at work. Almost a third (27%) of UK employees surveyed said that speed was important to them but 24% said it currently takes too long to stand in line in their cafeteria or canteen. Around one in 10 (11%) workers who use their canteen say they often spend more than 10 minutes queuing for their lunch – that means a worker who takes the average 30 minutes for lunch could spend a third of their break waiting to be served. The customers being lost to slow service can easily be recaptured; 21% said that they would visit more often if the service was quicker or queuing was faster and 26% would visit their canteen more often if they could pre-order lunch and pick it up without queuing.

At the moment not enough office restaurants are making the necessary investments to meet these specific demands, but this year we anticipate that changing. At the moment only 17% of workplace canteens have introduced pre-ordering and 12% are offering pre-payment facilities. This is a missed opportunity to increase footfall among the 24% of people who were put off by queues.

In 2019 we anticipate that innovation in corporate catering will play an important role in keeping employees happy. Employee disengagement is a continuing problem around the world and a recent survey by ADP found that 41% of UK employees feel like quitting at least every few months. Something needs to be done.

Nick Hucker is CEO of Preoday

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