You’ve probably heard of Al fresco dining, but have you heard of its recent, less-desirable alternative? The Oxford English Dictionary added the term ‘Al desko’ to its pages in 2014, as a play on the Italian ‘al fresco’, typically used to refer to outdoor dining. The phrase has been co-opted by busy workers who feel they no longer have the time to eat a proper meal out of the office during their lunch break, and who are resorting to eating from their desk.
Two thirds of office workers are now eating lunch at their desks most days of the week. However, desk-side dining is not only unfulfilling, it is also anti-social. According to the 1,000 professionals polled by Ambius, colleagues who eat strong-smelling food are perceived as “anti-social”, potentially affecting their professional relationships as well as their nutritional and mental wellness.
According to researchers at the University of Surrey, “Experts have warned that the growing culture of eating in the office could lead to weight gain, with health psychologists saying it distracts people into ‘forgetting’ they’ve eaten.” They explain, “‘When you’re at a table, away from your desk and distractions, you actually think, “this is food, this is a meal”, and you remember it and you count it”, as HRM report,
It’s not just experts who are emphasising the importance of taking time for a proper meal during the lunch hour. In an article for The Observer, Rachel Cooke explains, “When I make the effort to assemble something delicious and properly thought out, I feel better about myself. In turn, I feel better about my work. It's a small thing, a packed lunch. But it's also an important thing.”
For some food outlets, the rise of ‘Al desko’ has presented a business opportunity, with meal deals and takeaways on the rise during working hours. Even Deliveroo has now got in on the game. This is Money report, “The takeaway delivery firm that allows diners to order restaurant food through an app has launched a service allowing workers to have food delivered to their offices. Christine Oddy, head of corporate sales and operations, said it would give employees a 'huge variety of food to fuel their hard work'.”
However, to truly enrich the experience of lunch time dining, professionals must actually leave the office itself, and – believe it or not – this is where the traditional restaurant comes in. Whilst Forbes recommend that al desko diners: “Think about endives (Belgian or curly), some grilled radicchio, aged parmesan or the last of that fantastic olive oil from your last visit to that small producer in Tuscan,” it is beyond dispute that a sit-down meal is the finest way to enjoy food and personal downtime during the hectic working day.
But in such a fast-paced world full of potential consumers who are fundamentally short on time, how can restaurants appeal to employees and persuade them that eating out is the best way to keep their work ethic in check? The answer is premuimisation, and with these five simple steps, food and drink establishments can show professionals that dining out during their lunch hour can be incredibly valuable for nurturing their happiness and improving the quality of their free time.
The premium experience
The first way any eatery should appeal to professionals on their lunch breaks as consumers is to give them something different, something special against which a take-away pastry or sandwich cannot compare. During the winter, workers may crave a warm, fulfilling lunch to refuel, whereas in the summer months, they may be looking for a truly refreshing dish as a pick-me-up: these are both culinary experiences that only the restaurant can deliver in true style. Focusing on quality will help to convince the professional customer base that it is worth their time and money to invest in a restaurant meal, even if only once a week or month, to improve their mood and diet whilst at work. So, don’t compromise on the lunch menu, maintain your high quality of fine dishes and service, with customisable options that will make any customer want to indulge.
Good, healthy food, fast
With the majority of professionals working in roles that are physically sedentary, many workers are conscious of the fact that the office lifestyle is not particularly beneficial for their health. Many are therefore in search of quick, healthy food options that supermarkets and take-away joints often fail to provide. Therefore, speed and nutritional value are key to many lunch-time diners. So ensure that your lunch time food offerings are healthy, wholesome and, above all, quick to prepare so that consumers can enjoy a meal with plenty of time to relax and absolutely no guilt.
A chance to de-stress
Whilst premiumisation is key to convincing professionals that leaving the office for lunch is a worthy experience, it is important to keep things simple. This is their time to switch off. The last thing a busy customer wants during their limited lunch break is countless options to mull over and endless questions from waiting staff. Streamlining the dining experience will reap rewards with customers who have limited time and energy during their lunch hour and are looking for high-quality, wholesome dishes without the fuss.
‘Time for you’
For professionals who spend anywhere from eight hours per day working for clients, bosses and customers, an hour to focus on nobody’s needs but their own is a very attractive prospect. Our sense of self can deplete on a busy day, where we forget our own needs and put everything into the task at hand. But, to be the most creative and driven employee possible, it’s important for workers regain a bit of that balance and take some time to centre themselves. ‘Al desko’ dining simply does not provide this moment of escape. As emails continue to pour in and colleagues ask questions, the hour to yourself quickly becomes one of partial work. This is where savvy dining outlets can step in. Presenting your lunch service as a moment of respite, focused solely on what the professional consumer wants down to customised ingredients and minimal yet attentive service, can create that haven that workers long for before returning to the office.
Reclaiming ‘Al fresco’
The main secret to drawing in customers in the working lunch period may in fact be to return to the original concept from which ‘Al desko’ dining was taken. According to Science Daily, the majority of office workers spend on average 5 hours and 41 minutes per day sitting at their desk, so the perfect way to attract them to indulge in dining out during their lunch break is to give them a much-needed breath of fresh air. Where possible, offer outdoor seating for good-weather days, along with take-away options in case customers would like to take a short walk as they eat. Also incorporate greenery and environmental motifs to your décor for a refreshing taste of the outdoors.