Why food is on the menu for new office design

Companies are putting food back at the heart of office life to attract and engage employees. A fading relic, the office canteen was at risk of getting left behind, but expect things to change. Inspired by Silicon Valley tech giants, known for their free food and whizzy chefs, traditional companies are increasingly using food to compete with the tech sector and draw in younger workers.

The war for talent is fierce. There’s been a generational shift — younger people want more from work, and withthis in mind, Google pioneered the revitalising of canteens, with 300 cafés and more than 1,450 micro-kitchens at its offices in more than 50 countries. It was a major part of the draw to join the organisation so that talent felt taken care of — and that included food.

This trend has trickled out to more traditional businesses. UBS’s new US wealth management headquarters in New Jersey, for example, runs a cooking school to help foster collaboration and teach employees new skills. Everyone talked about the death of the office. We missed the point, people wanted a variety.

Not all workplaces are equal

When Steelcase, the US-based office furniture maker and design group, studied workplaces of companies where more than 100 people worked, it found that 61% have canteens. India has the highest rates (82%), while the UK and US are below average (58% and 59% respectively). Poland has the lowest at 42%.

Trends including working from home have put the canteen’s future into question. But what employees really want is new food options in a more inviting space. This didn’t happen immediately but in the last five years we have seen a re-think about what the office is. If there’s not a variety of canteen and food offerings, then some people simply won’t come. The better businesses can make the space, the more people will want to come into the office.

Experts in the field predict developments will be led by three trends: informality, delivery and sustainability.


With cost-conscious employers keen to maximise the use of their canteen space, organisations will increasingly use it for other purposes like meetings and evening functions. Some people want to see the cooking in front of you, much like in restaurants. This follows a growing interest in eating out as a spectacle and experience, and people want to see that they’re eating healthy food.

Workspaces have become more influenced by a sense of comfort. No one wants their space to look corporate. Employees can invite guests inside rather than travel to meet them at a café.

Food delivery

If companies start using delivery apps such as Just Eat Club or Deliveroo to bring food to staff, they will need to adapt, in order to accommodate and heat deliveries. They need to create reception areas so that the food isn’t sitting waiting. Modern technology means that companies can tailor the food offering to what people want. However deliveries risk encouraging people to eat at their desks, which doesn’t play well in terms of wellbeing.

Some apps allow office workers to order food to collect from nearby cafés and restaurants. Companies could even develop their own apps to encourage employees to order from a daily menu that is sent to an in-house kitchen, ready to pick up from the canteen. AI and tech means that companies can tailor the food offering to what people want. There is less waste and the kitchens can fine tune the offering.


Tech companies in Silicon Valley became so amenity rich that they were sucking the local businesses out of business. Some, such as Facebook, now serve food from local providers as part of the canteen menu, and other companies are demanding that ingredients are sourced within a 200-mile radius. Corporate canteens will become increasingly attuned to the importance of catering to a diverse workforce.

By contrast, in 2018, Michael Bloomberg made his London media company’s office a “no-cafeteria zone”. His aspiration for employees working in the city of London building, designed by architect Norman Foster, was for them to get out and enjoy the local economy. “We are going in the opposite direction to Google” said Foster “We encourage people to go outside.”

Making dining areas attractive and comfortable is also a priority

In offices, a canteen area is a place that provides people an opportunity to socialise. Having tables, which are rectangular or round shaped makes it easier for people to interact. Small sized tables limit the number of people who can eat together on one table. As a result, offices are advised to have large tables, which are designed for seating of a large group of people.

Chairs are also a key component of canteen furniture which helps in improving the comfort level of employees. Well-padded chairs with a back rest offer the level of comfort which plastic or wooden chairs cannot offer. Keeping different sizes of chairs and even adding some soft seating options in a canteen area gives a person a choice to choose a chair that fits to the individual requirements.

Table and bench systems are a creative, practical solution for any office canteen or café area. The table and bench combination makes a real visual impact, and if you wish to enhance the look of the bench by including a touch of colour, fabric seat pads can be added to make them more comfortable. Have a browse through the Social Spaces portfolio from Dams to see what furniture solutions will work for your office canteen.