Is it worth opening an on-site company canteen?

What are the present arrangement for break times and lunches in the company? This depends on the local culture (in some countries, meal times are an important social break, in others it’s just about feeding oneself in 10 minutes), on the number of employees present, and on both the law and the company’s resources. Most businesses provide at least a kitchenette with fridge, kettle and microwave oven or a staffroom with vending machines but beyond a certain number of employees, or in remote locations, the question of setting up a canteen can be raised.

Logically, the largest the company, the more likely it is to have an on-site staff canteen. The request for in-house provision can come from unions or employees themselves, due to the nature of their work, e.g. shifts or break times at odd hours. Having an on-site canteen helps with organisation and with corporate culture: employees do not have to go too far for subsistence so there will be no time wasted, eating in a pleasant dedicated space will also reinforce hygiene in offices (no more crumbs and spilling) and encourage a sense of community. On another level, providing warm and healthy food in the workplace can also contribute to employees’ health and well-being, to productive working lunches, i.e. promoting efficiency at work.

However the initial investment made by the company is very high as it needs to provide:

- Adequate premises – for the kitchen/preparation area, and for the restaurant/sitting area

- Kitchen equipment such as professional food storage items, oven, cooker, cookware and utensils, etc.

- Restaurant area equipment and lighting

- Qualified staff and ongoing training with regards to food hygiene, health and safety, fire fighting, cleaning and waste management...

- Raw material to prepare meals

Canteen prices and menu choices need to be attractive enough to grant a regular influx of customers throughout the week, reduce down times and food waste. First steps include:

- Investigating how many employees/potential customers are interested in a canteen and if this number is enough to make the project viable and meaningful.

- What are the opening hours, depending on the needs and timetable of employees

- What type of menu should be made available, and at what time, to provide for all tastes and dietary or religious requirements

- What range of price for the food, depending on the offer, on the quality range, on the number of customers and on whether the entity is expected to just provide a service or to make a profit. Prices are obviously also affected by whether or not there is an employer’s contribution towards the cost, and this level of subsidy can be essential to the survival of the place. Providing a subsidised canteen can be seen as a perk just like insurance or pension benefits.

To keep costs down:

- Opening the canteen to external visitors (i.e. other businesses on a site)

- Co-manage the canteen with other businesses

- Bring external contractors to provide catering services; the proportion of canteens run by external contractors has risen sharply over the last decade.

Benefits:

Well thought, the canteen can become a “hub” where information and social interaction help employees communicate, exchange ideas and strengthen the company’s culture; it provides a place far from the desk or the workshop to make the most of break times and reduce stress levels.

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