Florida Blue changes up cafe service to a fast-casual restaurant model

The new setup better accommodates employees’ more flexible work schedules, the labor shortage and purchasing.
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Photo courtesy of Florida Blue

Florida Blue’s corporate campus in Jacksonville, Fla., officially reopened about a month ago, inviting all employees back to the office. But since it’s not mandatory for the majority of the workforce, many are continuing to work from home. And when they do return, it’s usually for two or three days a week, with the largest influx on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

“It’s very fluid right now,” says Damian Monticello, director of enterprise hospitality & event services at Florida Blue. “We’re still trying to find what the new level will be, but Monday and Friday are definitely the slower days.”

To accommodate this state of flux, Monticello transitioned the cafe on campus to a fast-casual restaurant model. Office workers can now order and prepay online or at kiosks set up in the cafe. Everything is made to order and can be picked up at the station or from cubbies located onsite.

“There’s no more batch cooking, and very little is made in advance,” says Monticello. “The kitchen now cooks, chills and portions the food, then finishes the order as it comes in—just like in a restaurant.”

Previously, employees placed their order in the cafe, waited in line while it was prepared, then stood in another line to pay. The new setup not only speeds service and enhances safety, it helps alleviate the labor shortage.

“Pre-COVID, we had a staff of 40. Now there are eight workers in the kitchen and cafe,” says Monticello.

Remaining responsive

Currently, only 800 office workers are on campus at any one time, even though Florida Blue employs 6,000 at headquarters. “Many are still working from home, but I expect the number on campus to gradually increase,” he says.

Thanks to strategic planning during the pandemic, the foodservice team will be able to meet that demand. Over the last year, Monticello worked with Florida Blue’s foodservice provider, Flik, on several new initiatives.  

 KioskKiosk ordering at Florida Blue/Photo courtesy of Florida Blue

“We changed our POS system and launched it to coincide with our April 4 return-to-office date last month,” he says.

The system collects data on what guests are ordering, which, in turn, helps manage the supply chain.

“We can pinpoint the 10 most popular items on the menu and order ingredients accordingly,” says Monticello. “If chicken is the most popular protein, we order just enough to last three days to avoid waste.”

The system also keeps track of customer counts. Once more office workers start showing up, purchasing can quickly respond by increasing inventory.

Speaking of waste, Florida Blue is putting a “hyper refocus on sustainability,” says Monticello. “During the pandemic, we made some major changes.”

Compostable packagingA switch to compostable packaging promotes sustainability/Photo courtesy of Florida Blue

One of the most obvious is a switch to 100% compostable packaging. With to-go orders so prevalent now, this is a significant sustainability step.

The company also installed a water system in the conference center to eliminate single-use plastic bottles. Refillable bottles are provided or employees can bring their own.

Reworking amenities

At the recent Society for Hospitality and Foodservice Management (SHFM) Critical Issues Conference in New York City, amenities were a big topic of discussion among the B&I operators. Adding amenities such as wellness programs, daycare, dry cleaning services and more can incentivize workers to return to the office, according to conference presenters.

At Florida Blue, Monticello is also in charge of the fitness center. It has reopened and now membership is free, he says. Plus, an employee doesn’t have to permanently be in the office to use it. The fitness service manager takes a holistic approach to exercise, working with the corporate wellness program to personalize a regimen to weight loss, heart health, etc.

In the past, the company also offered a car wash and intramural athletic leagues, forming teams for volleyball, softball and other sports. These amenities have not yet returned, say Monticello.

More amenities are extending to work-from-home employees, too. In-office meetings typically come with free lunch, so Florida Blue is providing the same perks when workers attend the meetings virtually.

“We partnered with GrubHub on a corporate account, so everyone gets a line of credit for a lunch voucher when meetings are scheduled,” says Monticello.


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