How Business Dining Influences Recruitment and Retention of Today’s Top Talent

WRITTEN BY: Workplace Insights Team

Why did a major insurance firm in Manhattan build an employee dining venue the size of a cruise ship that’s only open two hours a day within its expensive real estate? 

Why did a large corporation design its new office space on several floors without elevators, so that people have to walk through the onsite-dining venue to get to other offices? 

Why does the leading homestay digital broker provide employees with three daily, always-changing meals that include unique, house-made beverages and snacks? 

The answer to each question is the same: These companies understand the value of providing their employees with an exceptional dining experiences on-site. They understand the powerful role that food plays in employees’ job satisfaction and performance. As a result, they consciously designed their foodservice programs to deliver the maximum benefits — from innovative dining options to venues designed to support community building.  

And they aren’t the only ones. Among the commonalities of companies listed as the best places to work on LinkedIn, Glassdoor and Fortune magazine surveys was the fact that nearly every top company provides employees with on-site dining options.  

These companies invest in dining services because they know there is a huge payback — including keeping their employees satisfied and healthy so that they are happier and more productive on the job. Because they dine together, employees build strong community ties that translate into an overall improvement in workplace satisfaction. 

High-quality, on-site dining programs deliver another critical benefit in today’s highly competitive workplaces: They provide an additional way to attract, recruit and retain the best and the brightest, along with traditional benefits like better pay and health insurance. 

Today’s Employee Recruitment and Retention Challenge 

“Employee turnover in U.S. businesses is a $1 trillion problem.” — Gallup 2019

The term “war for talent” was coined by McKinsey’s Steven Hankin in 1997, and was popularized in the book of that name. It refers to the increasingly fierce competition to attract and retain employees at a time when too few workers are available to replace the Baby Boomers departing the workforce.

Everything suggests that the war for talent still rages on today. “Failure to attract and retain top talent” was the No. 1 issue in the Conference Board’s 2016 survey of global CEOs, beating out economic growth and competitive intensity. In more complex jobs, this will continue to be true as technology demands more sophisticated skills and older generations leave the workforce.

Even though talent is valuable and scarce, many business leaders still don’t know how to find it. According to a McKinsey & Company study, as many as 82 percent of companies don’t believe they recruit highly talented people. For companies that do, only 7 percent think they can keep their quality workers, and only 23 percent of managers and senior executives believe their current hiring and retention strategies work. 

Adding to the problem is the fact that Millennials are far less loyal to their employers than their Baby Boomer or Gen X parents were. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that workers now stay at each job for an average of 4.4 years, but the average expected tenure of young workers is about half that.

Organizations often underestimate the cost of turnover. An HR study found that turnover can cost $15,000 per worker. Plus, the more information- and interaction-intensive the job, the greater the threat to productivity when good people leave. 

Clearly, organizations face a world where it’s increasingly harder to compete for top talent. Anything that can improve the degree to which a company can be the winner in the employee recruitment and retention will be well worth the investment. 

In the "Aramark Business Dining Trends 2018" survey, which included 40 companies and more than 200 participants, Aramark determined seven trends every company should incorporate into its culture:

1. Comfort Everything

People seem to be in a constant state of overwork with highly scheduled days. In your workplace, offer comfort in intuitive ways—whether physical or emotional—as antidote to the new normal. Make sure employees have access to relaxing experiences such as massages, meditation, and yoga.  

2. Healthy as a Sign of Evolution

Healthy is not just trendy—it is far more than the combination of eating healthily and working out. Health is about wellness; finding the connection between your body, mind and soul. Cater to the needs of healthy lifestyles. 

3. People Power

As more free time is dedicated to cocooning, work may be the most social part of an employee’s day. Companies that encourage socializing produce happier employees. The environment that you build with your colleagues in the workplace facilitates the type of quality work you’ll produce individually and as a team. Develop Employee Resource Groups to enhance the engagement, productivity, job satisfaction, and sense of belonging. 

4. Purpose and Identity

Helping companies translate their mission (beyond shareholder value) into experiences that feel rooted in a unique purpose and identity deepens employee loyalty and attracts talent. Create opportunities around local food, local engagement, and local workforces.

5. Hacking Food and Drink at Work

Dissolve resistance to dining programs by replacing “conventions of the cafeteria.” Build in more home-like aspects and restaurant-like experiences. Give café properties a competitive chance with the technology of competing fast casual restaurants. Great amenities/perks make workers feel appreciated at work and reinforce the company’s culture.

6. Bringing the Outdoors In

Develop thought leadership on “biophilia” (love of nature) principles to bring its benefits into the workplace – from more plants to hydroponic vegetables growing in café spaces, to the use of more natural materials like wood and stone, to making the most of natural light. Workers enjoy escaping the office to eat lunch outside, walk paths, cycle paths, bike programs, fitness opportunities.

7. Diversity as a Source of Pride

Honor diversity present in each workplace with mindfully designed dining options. Every workplace is different, acknowledge diversity via customized programs and communication to garner employee loyalty and contribute to a sense of culture. Collaborate with ERG groups to brainstorm new ideas for events and activities. 

Nearly all of these elements can be incorporated into the corporate dining environment. 

In this dog-eat-dog business reality, investing in high-quality onsite dining programs has become more than just a nice-to-have added employee benefit. Well-designed dining programs have become a way to sweeten the employee benefits package and gain a competitive edge. 

A Theory of the Power of On-Site Dining Services

“Organizations that invested most heavily in the employee experience enjoyed greater employee satisfaction.” — Jacob Morgan, author, The Employee Experience Advantage

For employees, dining options are viewed as enormous perks. Along with healthcare and bonuses, onsite meals are viewed as an added benefit for the convenience, as well as dining preference and health benefits. Where Boomers were swayed by sturdy 401k plans and reliable retirement packages, today’s labor force are wooed by breakfast, lunch and snacks. For employers, the right dining services program can become a way to attract people to their companies and keep them there.

But the power of on-site dining programs extends beyond food. While the quality of the food is critical, also vital to a successful dining program is the level of community, collaboration and connectivity that it generates in the workplace. 

In Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google that Will Transform How You Live and Lead, Senior Vice President of People Operations Laszlo Bock explains that the purpose of workplace cafes, micro-kitchens and dining venues is to create places for employees to leave their desk and interact with other people whose desks are not near theirs. At Google, most food sources are strategically placed between two separate work teams, with the goal of drawing different workers together so they’ll interact and even collaborate. 

According to Jacob Morgan, companies that invest in employee experience outperform those who don’t: “Compared with the other companies, those that invested most heavily in employee experience were included 28 times as often among Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 11.5 times as often in Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work, 2.1 times as often in Forbes’s list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies, 4.4 times as often in LinkedIn’s list of North America’s Most In-Demand Employers, and twice as often in the American Customer Satisfaction Index.”

Overall findings from Morgan’s employee experience index include:

  • 4.2x greater overall profit
  • 4.0x greater profit per employee
  • 2.8x greater revenue per employee
  • 1.5x greater employee growth 
  • 1.5x greater employee pay

When companies consider the cost of the workplace experience and the myriad options available, the real question should be one of return on investment and not simply cost. The second question should be one of materiality. In other words, how much value is placed on creating a great work experience and all the benefits that come with that? For example, if the same organization of 20,000 people was to invest just $5 a day in the work experience, then that would buy $25,000,000 a year, which is sufficient to make a healthy impact on the work experience. As a percentage of payroll, and in terms of materiality, what is a $10, $15 or even $20 per day investment really worth to an organization in the bigger picture and in the long term?

As organizations discover how prioritizing their employees’ experiences can positively impact business performance in many areas, the next question becomes: How do we ensure that the dining experiences are valued by employees to help in the challenge to recruit and retain top talent?

Create Recruitment-Worthy Dining Programs

“...The success of workplace dining will be the five main tenets for creating and measuring what makes a great place to work — culture, people, place, design and technology.” — WORKTECH Academy

One of the top five things that employees want is to believe in their employer. They want to feel they are part of the company, aligned with its culture and working in a community of like-minded folks. On-site dining is an area that can directly feed into this desire. How can organizations create dining experiences that deliver enough value to attract and retain today’s employees?

One place to start is to think about how the kitchen is often the hub of a home. It’s where family members meet over breakfast, gather for lunch and discuss the day’s events over dinner. It’s a place to be social, connect and to invite friends. But it’s also a place to talk about problems and solve them. Similarly, in the workplace, dining venues should be places not just to eat, but also to inspire community, connectivity and collaboration.

Even if a company doesn’t have the same budget for dining as leading tech companies, they can still economically offer their employees much more than an old-school cafeteria. With a few innovative touches, they can gain the rewards of boosting employee recruitment and retention if they keep the idea of community building in mind. Here is a menu of ideas that can help an organization elevate its employee dining experience:

  • Aim for quality. Prepare quality food your employees will crave. Aim for international flavors and customizable dishes. 
  • Beat the competition. Nearby restaurants can be a big lure for employees because they can get what they want cheaply. Instead, offer them a wide selection of reasonably priced food that is tastier and healthier to win them over. 
  • Cater to dietary preferences. Today’s workplaces are diverse, and dining options need to match this reality. It’s important to offer allergy-free and vegan options at a minimum. 
  • Support good health. Above all, today’s workers are looking for healthy dining options. This means ensuring your ingredients are fresh and dishes freshly prepared. 
  • Think beyond lunch. Today’s employees don’t work or eat on a traditional 9 to 5 schedule. As a result, they prefer a variety of dining options throughout the day — from great coffee in the morning to a smoothie for a snack to a customized grilled sandwich later in the day. 
  • Think globally and act locally. Every generation appreciates the variety of flavors offered by global specialty dishes. But they also appreciate when dining venues incorporate as many local favorites as possible into the menu. 

Clearly, the opportunity to improve the workplace and boost the success of recruitment and retention programs is a leading concern for today’s companies. In the mix of factors brought together to achieve that goal, organizations should also consider the power of a dining program that is specifically designed to satisfy employees’ desire for healthy, delicious and convenient access to food — as well as community, culture and collaboration. The rewards will be higher recruitment and retention results — as well as revenue. 

Discover how teaming up with Aramark can improve your company culture by optimizing your employee dining experience. Get the guide.

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