The decline of B&I foodservice?

Take-backs from a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

It seems that assigning reporters to visit local non-commercial cafeterias may be coming a popular pastime for newspaper editors. I commented last month on the Washington Post’s article on the quality of federal offices cafeterias in D.C. This week, it was the Columbus Dispatch’s turn to sample 5 B&I cafeterias in and around Ohio’s capital city.

This article wasn’t a review and rating of the cafés, as the Post’s recap was. Instead, this feature focused on what the companies offer and why they provide foodservice for their employees.

It was framed by a recent survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management. That was what caught my eye, and I plan to try to get a copy of the survey to study it more in depth.

According to the Dispatch article, the SHRM reported that 22% of companies in the U.S. offer employee foodservice. That number makes sense; a cafeteria isn’t viable unless you have a critical mass of employees to take advantage of it. I have never worked for a company that offered employee dining, and in large urban areas with multi-tenant high-rise buildings, few companies have the space for their own dining facility.

The figure that got my attention was that, according to the survey, 8% of companies plan to reduce or eliminate employee foodservice within the next year. Although I haven’t read the study, the reasons for the expected decline are most likely the downsizing of companies or the shift toward having more employees working remotely.

We’ve already seen that the corporate liaison has become an endangered species. As companies downsize they are more likely either to make the foodservice manager responsible for other departments as well, or to take the liaisons duties and give them over to someone in the accounting or HR department.

What does this mean for the foodservice industry, and for the Society for Foodservice Management, which represents the people and companies responsible for employee feeding? I don’t know, but it will be interesting to follow this trend and its fallout. Will a robust economy reverse the trend? To find out I suppose first we’ll need a robust economy.

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