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How can contract catering achieve High Street coffee standards?



For a long time, coffee had a small part to play in workplace cafes. Food was usually the main attraction and coffee was an addition. But is it because of the breakfast that customers visit our cafés in the morning? Or because they want their caffeine fix? I suppose we would need to remove the breakfast to know for certain. That’s not going to happen says our MD, Francois Gautreaux! Thought as much…

What’s the attraction?

Since 2010 we’ve had an increase in requests to bring in an independent roaster to office spaces. This is usually down to how amazing they do in the high street. Now we need to understand what ‘amazing’ means? Usually it starts by B&I customers leaving their desk and building to go out for coffee. Then it’s the little chat from the barista when you arrive. Or is it the coffee roast and origin options available or even the lukewarm flat white which tastes quite weird but, you kind of like it!?

There are many factors we can attribute to their success. But, in the end it is down to 5 key factors intrinsically linked. Environment, information, customer service, great coffee and social awareness.

1 – Environment

The environment is important because it can make waiting times feel less. If a customer feels a place is welcoming with thoughtfully planned decoration, they are happy to spend time admiring it. They reflect on how welcoming it feels and that they should come back (and bring a friend).

2 – Information

Providing accurate information is crucial in a world where information is at the tip of your fingertips. The days of not having a name and identity branded on a cup are over. Customers want to connect with brands with purpose (which I will talk about later in social awareness). Information about what the brand stands for, who runs it, and your people makes your business authentic and personal. What are the ethics of the business? Are they using recyclable coffee cups? How are they reducing their waste and are they donating their used coffee grounds? What loyalty schemes are they providing? Are there well-promoted and cost-effective vegan alternatives?

3 – Customer service

The best thing you can possibly do when working with customers is deliver great customer care. Imagine one of those days… You wake up in the morning thinking about the number of meetings you have that day . You are dreading the deadlines creeping up that week. After you miss your train, what could be better than being greeted with “How’s it going?” You can instantly vent about how awful your journey has been. It’s off your chest, you don’t have to worry about it anymore. A warm welcome with a coffee fix prepares you for the rest of the day. Not many people know that coffee makers are really psychologists in disguise!

4 – Outstanding coffee

London is a big playground for growing independent coffee brands. It’s almost impossible from a quality point of view to choose which one to pick! I like to be adventurous. I always like to try new coffees, but how do you know where to go or what is good before you part with your precious pounds? I usually check out the equipment first. Most independents have the same spec machine or grinders. But if you’re not familiar with these or never notice you can always look for the coffee origin information displayed in the shop. Or ask the assistant at the till. If there’s no information and you can’t get an answer, then move on! It’s most definitely not worth it. Companies which invest in training ensure quality. This is most important to achieve success (obviously well-structured finances help too).

5 – Get social

All the of the above have more impact when you partner with social causes. This could be giving back to the local community and to the coffee origin’s growing communities. We know the hospitality workforce is challenged currently but also it is important to give back to the coffee supply chain. The coffee farmers ensure we have a delicious product to sell. Without them we can’t continue to grow our business, train our teams and give back to our local community. It’s an interdependent circle and we must support each other to keep the circle turning.

Is it possible to achieve a good coffee proposition in food service that rivals the High Street? Yes absolutely so! As long as the above principles are in your companies DNA. They can’t be an add-on.

We have seen how well some coffee businesses do in the High Street playground and company’s are thinking about how they could work with them in the workplace. By bringing outside brands in are companies ticking a box and fixing a quality problem? Or are companies prepared to truly collaborate? Is their DNA compatible to accommodate this?

I leave this question open for you to think about!