The latest in Arena’s #AskArena series featured a panel discussion focussed on re-opening right when it comes to B&I contract catering. With a stellar line up including Allister Richards, COO, CH&CO; Hamish Cook, Head of Group Food Services – Global Operations, ISS; Rajat Chawla, Commercial & Business Excellence Director – Northern Europe, Aramark; Phil Sanders, Out of Home Commercial Director, Britvic Soft Drinks and JP Kloppers, Managing Director, Yoyo.

The discussion explored the short and longer term challenges faced by the B&I contract catering sector, with learnings from other markets and broader predictions around the re-opening of workplace catering. As the leading foodservice agency, we were interested to hear from these leading lights and as ever we’ve summarised our key take outs below…

Positivity – These are ‘can do’ people who may have been thrown the biggest curve ball of their careers, but they are committed to making things work and keen to re-open.

Forecasting – is one of the core challenges that B&I caterers are faced with as they plan to re-open. What percentage of staff will return to the office and when? How many days will they be in? Will they bring their own food in, order in delivery, go to the high street, or use the workplace catering facilities? Will they be there between 9am-5pm or work outside of these core hours to suit their lifestyles? We simply don’t know, making forecasting a seemingly impossible task.

Balance – will be all important as customers return. Getting the right mix of familiar and new will be key, showing caterers have responded to the changing times, but still offering customers the dishes they have come to know and love.

Sensitivity – again will be high on the agenda as caterers have to factor in customers’ varying levels of confidence/anxiety. Catering for different groups who will vary from ‘gung-ho’ to ‘super cautious’.

Team Wellbeing – is a priority as they transition back to the workplace. With the likelihood that productivity and resilience may be affected as they get back into the swing of things.

Client Expectations – will still be high, with many looking to food and beverage to help re-build teams and work as a cornerstone of the workplace dynamic, helping staff to reconnect after so long apart. So proactive solutions and collaborative working between clients and caterers will be key.

New Rituals – are likely to develop with the help of caterers. Encouraging social catchups, team building and generally helping those back in the office feel more connected. These offer up the opportunity for brands to help caterers be creative around occasions like coffee catchups, walk & talk meetings or even picnic parties for those with outside space in good weather.

New Competition – is all around, as delivery has become second nature for consumers over the past year. Now caterers no longer just have to fear the competition from the high street, but also Uber Eats, Deliveroo, Just Eat and co! With a good point made around ‘if you can fix it feature it’ with caterers looking to diversify and embrace delivery with CPU’s and dark kitchens to work more agilely.

Safety Concerns – offer up an opportunity for workplace caterers to provide a trusted and safe environment for staff, encouraging them to stay on site and safe rather than take a risk on the high street.

We’ve Got You! – Allister Richards of CH&Co made the point that customers had on the whole had to look after themselves over the past year, cooking in the evening and raiding the fridge for lockdown lunches – whereas now the catering team would be there to look after them.

Treat Time – With the move to flexi working and many only working 2-3 days in the office it is predicted that these days may be more of a treat-led occasion rather than the health and wellbeing focused daily feeding. Although the heightened focus on health and wellbeing may also need to be reflected on menus.

Technology – has been embraced by the sector as it has across the wider hospitality market, bringing with it not only a more efficient and convenient service platform but also the opportunity to learn from data and behaviours and nudge consumers with offers and promotions tailored to them.

People Business – Despite the advances technology has facilitated, contract catering is still a people business and the real-life interaction that the on-site teams have with customers is something many will be glad to see return.

Agility & Flexibility – have been the watchwords over the past year and the future looks no different with the challenge ahead to open up on a large scale and adapt to the new normal. The lessons of the past year and leaps ahead in innovation may have been hard but are likely to stand the industry in good stead moving forward.

Sustainability – in some respects took a back seat to safety during the height of the pandemic (single serve solutions, no reusable cups etc.) but with people ever aware of the state of the planet the sustainability agenda is set to return stronger than ever.

Thanks to Lorraine and her team for another informative session. To find out more about Arena visit: