The brave new post-COVID world of office food

Illustration for article titled The brave new post-COVID world of office food
Photo: Oscar Wong (Getty Images)

It’s hard to think of modern office life without food: the communal coffee pot in the morning, the candy jars and treats tables, the pizzas and boxes of doughnuts, the birthday cakes and trays of bagels, the kitchen buffets where workers assemble sandwiches or plates of pasta or Indian food before scurrying back to their desks. Not to mention the corporate cafeteria.

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In the past few months of quarantine, most offices have sat empty, but they’re going to have to reopen someday, and when they do, the food component will have to be changed for everybody’s safety. CNN has taken a look into the future of office food and seen that it contains... a lot of boxes.

Several of the companies CNN spoke to said that they would continue to offer daily lunch to their employees and snacks throughout the day, but everything would be served in individual boxes that could be picked up at a distribution station. Instead of the coffee pot, some companies plan to distribute gift cards that employees can use at nearby coffee shops. EzCater, described as “a corporate catering marketplace,” has seen a fivefold increase in business since late March and recently introduced an app called Relish that allows workers to order takeout from certain restaurants, subsidized by their employers.

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And then there is Sally, the salad-preparing robot. Pre-pandemic, Sally was primarily used as a last resort after the cafeteria closed. But now Rick Wimer, the CEO of Chowbotics, the company that manufactures Sally, says that many companies are considering using the robot to replace their salad bars and inquiries have quadrupled in June compared to April and May. What fun times we’ll all have if we ever get back to the office.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

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I know that currently at my office (which I am not going back in to anytime soon) the water cooler and coffee machines are still running, but they have unplugged the ice maker (it’s a little freezer, basically, with a communal scoop). So you can have water, but it won’t be very cold. They are cleaning and emptying the fridges every night, so you can’t leave anything for the week. The microwaves are disconnected, so you can’t heat anything up. But there is a food delivery service option available, if you want to spend the $$.

It’s also an office that, in the Before Times, definitely thrived on food - even more so than many others, because we have a test kitchen and decorating room that cranks out cookies, cupcakes, cakes and more for both recipe testing and photography purposes. I imagine a lot of things are either getting taken home by the baker or decorator or just thrown away.

I honestly dread going back to the office, less because I’m worried about cleanliness or distancing and more because it’s gonna suck, socially. The good parts were cake and talking with friendly people and having unlimited free ice water. (The product samples didn’t hurt either.) I’m hoping that this vague date of September turns out to be “sometime in 2021.”