Carri Sullens
January 14, 2016
Home…Work…A Third Place?
Home…Work…A Third Place?

Is Your Employee Dining Facility a Third Place?

What makes some corporate dining facilities popular and attractive to employees, while other facilities are only viewed as a last resort for fueling hunger? Over and over, we hear the same response when we ask our clients, “What do you want in a new employee cafeteria?”  The answer is almost always, “I love what they’re doing over at that hi-tech company!”  It’s pretty easy to know what the client is looking for…a Third Place.

What is a Third Place?

Ray Oldenburg suggests, in “The Great Good Place,” that we live within three realms: home, work, and a Third Place, which he calls “inclusively sociable.”   Starbucks has done a phenomenal job of becoming a Third Place.  Beauty and barber shops, bars, bookstores, and little cafés also fill this niche.  These are places where you feel at home, but you’re not at home.  You can have a work meeting, but you’re not at work.  You belong there.  You can be creative and interact.   You can hang out.

Why This Makes Sense in Your Employee Dining Facility.

In October, I attended a terrific FCSI sponsored seminar  that examined how Millennials and GenZs are looking for something special in the employee dining experience.  They value participation over observation, and are used to being in control of how their food is prepared.  Think of the made-to-order, fast casual craze.   Or Coke Freestyles, that provide an endless number of flavor combinations.  These employees are foodies who want their meals locally-sourced, fresh, and delicious.  If not, the word will get out via any number of social media outlets.  For a company who is courting this demographic, creating a Third Place dining experience makes sense.

How Do We Create a Third Place Employee Dining Experience?

There are several ways to create this experience.  The idea here is not to “turn and burn,” but rather to allow employees a place to linger. Comfy seating and communal tables encourage interaction.  Free Wi-Fi and places to plug in electronics are a must.  We are seeing more and more hi-tech and entertainment companies providing free food for their employees.  The goal is to keep employees on-campus as long as possible by filling their basic needs.

Food options are no longer limited to the servery.  There are micro-kitchens throughout the building where employees can quickly grab an espresso and freshly pre-made meals or snacks.  The food offerings are fun, and the spaces homey.  Campus coffee bars that offer Starbucks, Intelligentsia, and the like, as well as pastries, sandwiches, and paninis are commonplace.

The serveries themselves bear no resemblance to the cafeterias of ten years ago. There is no single cafeteria line, or even a scramble.  The stations are separate island pods, each with its own specialty.  No longer are we bound to keep the servery stations connected to the back-of-house.  Much of the prep and cooking happens at the pod, while employees watch the action.

In the “cold” pods, employees watch as foodservice staff chop individual salads or build a panini, with just the right hand-picked ingredients. There are also some pre-made offerings that are changed up daily, both at the pod and at grab-n-go cases, for the employee in a hurry.  The menu items are varied and include vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options.  In the “hot” pods, prep and cooking are out in the open.  Employees get to see exactly what goes into their meals, and participate in the action.  Here, too, there are a few daily, pre-made options ready to go.

Millennial and GenZ employees are incredibly tech savvy. Operators are now providing smartphone apps to employees so they can order their meals ahead of time, allowing them to avoid the servery queues.  A foodservice runner gathers the meal from the different pods, and brings it to a “to-go” station where it will be waiting for quick pick-up.

The philosophy of the Third Place is a great fit for the modern employee dining facility. Providing a fun, stimulating, comfy place–a place to feel included– creates interaction and sparks creativity.  Who wouldn’t want to eat there?

By:  Carri Sullens

Senior Associate | Los Angeles

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