Noncommercial Foodservice: Pandemic Prepared and Palate Pleasing

Posted in Trends on October 6, 2020

285_taewoo-kim-n-UnqILLi0Y-unsplashFoodservice operators are busy sorting through a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges as states reopen and dining rooms resume service. But while there’s been a feeding frenzy of attention focused on the commercial sector, noncommercial dining is also undergoing a transformation.

Once corporate mainstays, cafeteria buffets and salad bars, along with communal coffee makers, microwaves, toaster ovens, water coolers and refrigerators, are no longer practical in the age of COVID-19.

Even office breakrooms and dining area setups are being reinvented to accommodate COVID-19 safety protocols such as social distancing and increased sanitization. The on-demand retail and foodservice company Canteen, for example, is converting full-service dining facilities into market-style setups with grab-and-go stations in place of high-touch, high-traffic buffet areas.1

For now, companies may want to avoid temperature-sensitive plated desserts with short shelf lives and rely instead on prepackaged snacks, which not only ease safety concerns but also help reduce spoilage. “Canteen is transitioning previous offerings such as bulk-bin snacks into individually wrapped servings and offering peeled and prepackaged fruit in exchange for whole pieces of fruit that can pick up germs,” Fast Company reports.”1

Innovative solutions for safer coffee options are brewing as well. Canteen is in the process of developing contactless, voice- or app-activated coffee machines. The corporate dining services company Dartcor, meanwhile, has created a roaming coffee service which, similar to an airline cart, is piloted by a concierge in protective clothing who serves each person individually with coffee and snacks.1

Communal Dining Shifts to Stop Spread of Virus

Given the need for social distancing, individual orders and at-desk eating seems destined to replace communal corporate dining.  The Jaguar Land Rover North America headquarters in New Jersey, one of Dartcor's clients, is enabling employees to order food through an online platform. The food is prepared in the on-site kitchen, and employees pick up their orders at a designated time to prevent clusters of people from converging in the pickup area.

Corporate dining menus also are evolving to address the needs of a more health-conscious workforce, with more nutrient-rich and immunity-bolstering options now available. Dartcor’s menus, for example, include quinoa and kale breakfast bowls and roasted carrot and sweet potato salad. The foodservice provider is also cooking up plans for customized bento boxes as a substitute for the buffet-style build-your-own dining experience.

School cafeterias are being revamped to reflect the realities of COVID-19 foodservice as well. In Providence, Rhode Island, cafeteria trays are being replaced with grab-and-go, prepackaged breakfast and lunch offerings. Meals are often served in the classroom or in cafeterias reconfigured to keep students 6 feet apart. And some districts are requesting that students bring disinfecting wipes to clean off their eating spaces each time they’re finished.2

In the Salt Lake City, Utah-based Granite School District, students have assigned cafeteria seating that maintains the 6-feet-apart rule and eat largely prepackaged meals. Students are kept in small groups (“cohorts”) to eliminate crowding and sit with the same kids in the cafeteria as they do in class to facilitate tracking of the virus should an outbreak occur.3

Ben Horsley, a spokesperson for Woodrow Wilson Elementary in South Salt Lake, points to lasagna as an example of the new way food is prepared and served to students. Now, it comes in "a serving bowl prepackaged, still warm," and students peel back the cover to scoop out the food, he told the local CBS affiliate, KUTV. "Before, we would’ve actually manually served something like that,” he adds.3

At Mondelēz International Foodservice, our chefs are masters of innovative menu solutions to help operators navigate the seismic shifts in the noncommercial and commercial foodservice sectors. Are you reconfiguring your operation and menu to meet today’s challenges? Reach out below to find out how we can help.


1 Ogletree, Kelsey, "What the office lunch hour will look like when we return to work," Fast Company, July 22, 2o20

2 Buteau, Walt, "A menu of COVID-19 changes in cafeterias when schools reopen," WPRI, Sept. 2, 2020

3 Kyle, Harvey, "COVID-19 and the changing school cafeteria," KUTV, Aug. 11, 2020

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