It is hard to talk about workplaces without mentioning about cafeterias.
In fact, for a lot of people, it is the workplace. It is where they create quality work, develop their ideas—and also where they often build a network. It is that one place where they unwind after a stressful day. Lastly, it is probably also where they brag the most and talk to their friends, peers and family. Being one of the biggest social magnets, in terms of office interiors—it is hard not to keep it in consideration.
In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, however, paradigms regarding workplaces are changing. Hence, it is all but a guarantee that how cafeterias are perceived and constructed will be affected. So, how can one of the most social places in the offices be perceived in a time when maintaining distance is the ultimate necessity? What happens to the eternal appeal of a swanky, cool and creative cafeteria design? Will the extra spark it brings to daily work-life be diminished?
Not at all. It is here to stay
They will, however, need rethinking in terms of some elements. It will be subject to both compromises and additional tweaks. It will need to be made safer than ever using smart design solutions — ensuring it stays as vital, relevant and cool as ever. Below are some ways in which you can explore them.
More Orderly Seating Flow
Seating cannot be random for a while. There also needs to be adjacent spacing between each seat—with an emphasis on people maintaining their distance. This needs to be thought about in terms of the overall floor area and the number of employees in the building. Once a table is used, it cannot be reused until there’s proper cleaning and sanitization. The Unilever Shanghai office canteen allows a single person at a four seat table at the canteen, while there are companies that require employees to book an entire table for themselves beforehand.
Splitting up of cafeteria areas themselves, will also play a vital role. This can be done through glass partitions and placing acrylic barriers on the table. Strictly following entry and exit procedures will also add to the atmosphere of safety. The food service industry in itself, is doing some innovative things to create a barrier of safety for people, as detailed by WION. It is easy for organizations to get inspired by some of these and come up with their own solutions.
Spatial planning will be prominent for a while. As our in-house Architect Janani Chitra Kulothangan says: “Safe distances means safe spaces.”
Cafeteria Time Schedules
Groups can still interact within the cafeteria. But not like they used to do. They will need to be smaller, maintain 6 feet distance—and be slotted to specific time periods. Hrnxt identified that staff will need to be made more aware by management on the correct time slots. The staff will also have to be accountable for proper vacancy and allotment of space for people will be needed in other time slots. Movement will also be limited within the space. Bid farewell to days where lounging around for hours was an option, as this will have to make way for better space utilization. Deccan Chronicle calls it akin to a “restaurant reservation”.
To put it in the words of our time-conscious Head-of-Research, Aparna Anirudhan: “It may be jarring, but it has to be the norm for now.”
Extra Emphasis on Hygiene
In-house food and service staff will need to be properly screened. Food sharing will have to be temporarily discouraged. Cafeteria surfaces will need to be cleaned and sanitized daily and thoroughly. Regular screenings for staff on entry and exit—alongside sanitization of each and every contact points is vital. Warm and home-cooked food should be encouraged. Utensils should be sterilized in a way that also requires minimal physical contact; hot water should be available throughout. Hygiene and maintenance of seat covers is also important.
Sanitizers also should not only be placed in restrooms, but in other point-of-contact areas, like washbasins and counters etc. Any and all transactions involved should be cashless. We have already seen some innovative food tech companies like Hungerbox come up with an FSSAI and WHO approved solution using AI/ML —and we are sure more will mark their presence in due time.
In the meantime, a focus on essential hygiene will help weather the rough tide and make things safe for everyone. To quote our Principal Architect, Kishore Manoharan: “Hygiene is the biggest virtue in these times.”
With smart decisions and accountability from both employers and employees—cafeterias will continue to be a vital place. The many benefits they offer to employees can still be enjoyed, be it in a limited and temporary capacity. They are sure to make a spectacular comeback, as things slowly restore back to normalcy. With an added sense of responsibility and care—they might be even better than before.