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How Food Can Transform Workplace Culture

There’s an understanding among many businesses that the physical environment can impact on workplace behaviour and creativity; with this in mind Coca-Cola decided to dedicate one of the best spots in its new office to a café and hospitality in a bid to improve communication, transparency, collaboration and generate an exciting, buzzy workplace environment.

But with just four months before the big move the team still needed to select a catering partner, build the kitchen and determine the food offering. We spoke to volunteer Head of Coca-Cola’s Good Eats Team and IPM Director at Coca-Cola, had his work cut out to find out how Coca-Cola managed to transform its café and workplace culture, creating food people want to eat and an environment people want to spend time in.  

What was your vision for the café?

The café space in our old office was at the back of the building and it was simply used for breakfast and lunch, even then it was not used very extensively. It was not a very social space.

I was as guilty as anyone else of getting lunch, taking it back to my desk and not taking a break – this was common feature of the old office but one that needed to change.

We wanted our new office to be much more social and encourage collaboration and movement; we don’t just have to sit at our desks to work. The new building was designed with this in mind, creating lots of space, where people can mingle with other people they wouldn’t necessarily talk to.

As a result the café is situated in one of the best and most atmospheric parts of the building – so we wanted to create a vibrant space that people are in at all times throughout the day.

The restaurant and café culture has changed massively in London over the last 20 years. Our workforce are used to eating out in London, where they enjoy the quality and choice now available. So our challenge was to create an environment within the office that is our own unique offering that would delight and surprise our associates and surpass the retail environment that they are exposed to everyday.

Why did you choose Lexington to provide the catering?

We had just 14 weeks to make a decision, which in reality is not a long time! In December we worked with consultants to determine our shortlist of caterers and then the pitches were set to take place in mid-Feb, which meant we had just eight weeks for the mobilisation!

Obviously we loved the food and ethos behind Lexington but we also felt a connection straight away; everyone we met I could imagine working here at Coca-Cola.

Straight away it felt like a partnership, us working together to bounce ideas around and create an offering that would work.

What do your colleagues make of the new café?

When we asked employees what they loved most about the new building, a few months after we moved, the café consistently came up – it’s clearly been a hit with staff.

This continues now. There’s always someone in the café and hospitality areas, there’s much more vibrancy and interaction among people and the food is the subject of conversation.

It’s clear this has helped improve collaboration and it certainly helped create some energy and positivity around the office move, which was a difficult change to contend with.

How did you create a buzz about the food?

The first thing we did was create the Good Eats Team – this was part of our engagement strategy around the whole office move.

Once we made the decision to use Lexington, the Good Eats Team worked with Lexington to take our colleagues on a journey – before the move the Lexy team came in to do a presentation, with some goody bags, which really brought the new food offering to life and gave everyone the chance to meet the team.

This got people really excited – the energy and the ideas that were flying about was just amazing. They took for granted what we had before but suddenly we opened their eyes as to what they could have; this re-energised everyone not just in terms of the food but also the office move itself.

Tell us more about your Good Eats Team

Whilst we had a very good idea of what we needed we felt it was important to get others on board; we wanted everyone involved and given the power to make decisions.

We set up a series of working teams to support the office move, one being the Good Eats Team, to engage and involve everyone across Coca-Cola.

As lead of the Good Eats Team I asked people, who had a particular food related passion, to volunteer. The interest was amazing and in the end I had to let people down because so many people wanted to be involved. We had a real mix of talented people; someone who loved coffee; another marketing/branding expert; someone who was an expert in customer service; and our on-site nutrionist.

This team was key. Not only did they represent colleagues right across the business and ensure continued hype but working in partnership with Lexington we were able to ensure the offering and the communication/marketing was perfect.

What makes the café such a success?

From day one, we worked together to come up with a plan that would get people using the café and this continues today. We are never standing still, the kitchen team are constantly working with us to come up with creative ideas and as a result there’s often an element of surprise from people when they go into the café – it’s this that helps ensure people keep coming back for more.

It’s not just about the fabulous food and space – people are key. Everyone we meet from Lexington could work here at Coca-Cola, there’s an amazing fit and it’s fabulous to see the kitchen staff, from the café in our old building, looking so much happier and more energised.

The kitchen team understands the way we work, what works and what doesn’t work. We are a team, there’s no them and us mentality. Everyone knows each other; in fact the kitchen team don’t have an office, which means they sit in the café and use the breakout areas – this means they are known among the team, they use the same workspace.

It’s created such a social, vibrant space, which has improved employee engagement. The environment and quality of food and service also allows us to hold our events in the office, like our Christmas party, which is a fantastic benefit.

What advice would you give to other organisations looking to refresh their café or restaurant?

Have a vision, be prepared to commit time to it and make sure you involve the whole team. Whilst you may have a clear idea about what you want don’t let the decision be made by one person, get people from across your organisation on board who are passionate about it.

The biggest learning for me is it’s just too important to walk away at the end of the mobilisation. Previously it was something we’ve neglected, we didn’t have anyone from the business taking ownership for it so inevitably things didn’t move with the times and we weren’t pushing for anything different.

To really succeed there needs to be a long-term partnership.

Ready to taste the Lexington difference?