Employees have to follow a lot of precautionary measures before setting foot in the canteen, and a few more before putting the spoon to the plate

There is “reservation” to be made to dine at the office cafeteria. That is just the first line to toe, if you are planning a socially-distanced meal with a colleague. Next comes a time frame within which to finish the meal. Warning bells would go off, announcing a missed deadline.

The processes have also undergone trimming and re-jigging. Self-service is not allowed. The menu has undergone changes in favour of immunity-boosting food items.

These are among factors shared by many office canteens. Besides, each organisation has made other alterations specific to their situation.

TVS Motor Company has increased the dining areas from four to seven at its factory in Hosur to check crowding. The canteen staff donning masks, gloves, shields and head gears serve food unlike in the pre-COVID days when self-service was allowed.

Kashayam – an immunity boosting concoction made with ginger, pepper, jeera, pipli leaves, turmeric powder, coriander seed, fresh coriander and jaggery — is a new addition to the breakfast menu. Items on the menu have a dash of lemon and ginger.

Digital cafeteria

Most of the companies functioning from tech parks or standalone buildings rely hugely on technology tools to keep contact to the minimum.

Bengaluru-based HungerBox, which manages 550 cafeterias in over 20 cities, has switched to a digital cafeteria. “We implemented an AI/ ML algorithm on our platform to ensure there’s no congestion at cafeterias. At any give time, not more than 50% of the workforce will gain access to the dinning area,” says Sandipan Mitra, co-founder and CEO, HungerBox. Employees have to pre-book their slot through an app.

Desk delivery of food is another feature offered at client locations where a small percentage of employees head to office. Here, food is delivered at the employees’ desk on order. Mitra says this is viable only if the workforce is limited in strength. “When you have more than 25% of employees at work, it becomes a challenge,” he says. The selected food must be dry so that there is no spillover at the table.

How do kitchens still ensure food is safe?

The food-tech company has sourced a UVC box where the food has to clear a sterilisation check before it is served.

“This is an essential step we follow as food served at cafeterias comes from different kitchens,” says Mitra.

Cash payment is no longer an option.

“All exchange of currency has been discontinued and the payment is through digital payment gateways,” says Mitra.

Of the 550 cafeteria HungerBox manages, he says, close to 130 are now fully functional and another 100 have opted for desk delivery of food.

Bring your own box

There are companies that think the best way to fight the virus away is to encourage employees to to bring lunch box from home.

The canteen at the head office of Panasonic Life Solutions India in Mumbai is open but has stopped serving lunch and breakfast. The management has asked employees to bring their own food, and the cafeteria serves just health juices, tea, coffee and biscuits.

“We have advised employees to bring food cooked from their own kitchens as that will ensure more safety,” says Akash Sangole, Head, Human Resource and General Administration, Panasonic Life Solutions India.

Of the 3,500 employees working in the office, 10 per cent have resumed coming to office. The company is evaluating such an arrangement for some more time till things normalises.

Among other steps taken to ensure people don’t crowd at the cafeteria and restrooms, the company has separate routes for employees to take. The lunch timings are also staggered and a diagonal seating arrangement is followed.

“Only 30% of the seats can be occupied at any given time,” says Sangole, adding that the company has developed an in-house solution for workplace employee safety management that monitors and records if social distancing is followed at common areas.  

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