10 Questions to Ask Your Next Lunch Provider

More and more companies are offering lunch as a benefit to their employees, which we (of course) think is pretty cool. But if you're just dipping your toes into this world of office food programs, the task of finding the right vendor that will meet your needs can seem daunting. That's why it's so important to ask the right questions as you make your evaluation. Whether you’re considering adding lunch as a benefit, thinking of switching providers, or you just really enjoy asking questions, these are the top 10 questions to ask.

1. "How do you ensure on-time delivery?"

No matter how good the food is, your employees are not going to be happy with lunch if it's late. A gang of 'hangry' office workers is no fun situation, to put it mildly. But the truth is that many corporate catering firms have little control over when food gets delivered, particularly if they are just making their partner restaurants responsible for carrying out the delivery. Be sure to ask who will be delivering the food, what their on-time delivery percentage is (they should know this), how the provider ensures timely deliveries, and if the provider employs that guy who drives really slow in the fast lane.

2. "How will you address all of my employees' dietary preferences?"

One of the hardest parts of any lunch program is making lunchtime enjoyable for those with special dietary needs or preferences, such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and paleo. The trend is that more - not fewer - employees have special dietary needs. But what many food vendors would consider meeting those needs (hey, that rice and side salad are vegetarian, right?) is not at all what your employees would be happy eating day in and day out. Not to mention trying to make one-size-fits-all catered meal trays appeal to all tastes every single day. To keep everyone in your office happy, ask vendors how they genuinely meet special dietary cases without just telling your gluten-free eaters to "avoid the tortillas."

3. "How do you make sure enough food is provided?"

Imagine your hardest working employee gets to the lunch line late, and instead of a nutritious meal, gets left with a measly plate of lettuce and some olives. Bad news. When a vendor underestimates the amount of food you need for your hungry team, it can really ruin the afternoon for a lot of people (including you). While lots of caterers have got this down to a science if you know your exact headcount for that day's lunch, what happens if those last-minute guests show up the morning of? Or if starving Charlie just happened to skip breakfast today? Ask vendors how they plan the right amount of food for your team.

4. "How are you ensuring the quality of the food delivered?"

For companies just sending orders to a restaurant on your behalf, or delivering one-off orders from places they don't consistently work with, quality may be a mixed bag. They might try to impress you with tales of the Yelp reviews of said restaurants. Or they may not even be selective at all about which restaurants they partner with and just try to impress you with the quantity. But quality matters, and your lunch vendor should be controlling it, whether that's through feedback loops with the kitchens, a designated quality control manager, or both. If they don't know how to answer this question, steer clear.

5. "Where do the ingredients used to make the food come from?"

This seems like a pretty basic question, but it’s one that most companies offering corporate lunch catering can’t answer. With more and more people caring about knowing where their food comes from (hint: this is your employee!), transparency from food vendors is more important now than ever. If your vendor makes the food but can't tell you where the chicken comes from, it might be time to reconsider.

6. "Is this full-service, self-service, or something in-between?"

The spectrum of company lunch offerings ranges from completely self-service (restaurant delivers take-out boxes in plastic bags for you to sort out) to full-service (caterer sets up and cleans up). What works for your company will be up to you, but understanding how a vendor operates before you get started is important. If it's self-service, it's important to consider the additional amount of work required to administer each day. Alternatively, full-service caterers are usually costlier and may tack on extra service fees. Something in-between might be both less work and more affordable. Ask this question to evaluate what works for your time and budget.

7. "How much work will it take to administer the program?"

Beyond just managing the lunch table, office food programs require certain levels of oversight and management. Everything from billing to educating employees about the program will take time, which is why it's important to understand how time-intensive program administration will be. Your ideal lunch provider will make all of these program aspects as easy and hands-off as possible, but you won't know until you ask.

8. "What other companies similar to mine have used your services?"

Like any other service, lunch providers (should) have served lots of clients, many of which might look like your business. Employee size, industry, and geography all play into how your company operates its employee benefits and programs. If you're curious about other companies' experiences in using a particular vendor, just ask the vendor. They might even be able to introduce you to a similar company so you can have a chat with them. Point being, vendors should be excited to tell you about their satisfied companies that are similar to yours, and the answer will help you decide whether this vendor is a good fit for your company's situation.

9. "Do I need to sign a contract?"

Many food providers require you to sign a contract in an effort to lock you in to one program over time. If you're in love with your food provider and want to make the commitment, a contract could make sense. You might also be able to negotiate a discount by agreeing to sign a contract. Other vendors may choose not to use contracts at all. The need for one will largely depend on your unique situation (for example, if you're large and have special requirements) and the vendor's policy, but always make sure to ask so you know what you're committing to.

10. "Can I do a trial before I commit to an ongoing program?"

There should be only one answer to this question: absolutely! A trial is a key step in evaluating whether a lunch provider is a good fit for your business. Even better, ask the vendor if you can do a few days of trial to get a clear picture of the food and service, since one day may not be fully representative of either. This gives your employees a good chance to provide you feedback as well. You might not even have to ask the question, since many providers will have a "request a trial" button right on their website.

What other questions do you recommend asking your lunch provider? Tell us in the comments. And if you've made it this far, you must be in the market for a new lunch provider. May we suggest EAT Club? We're always ready to answer your questions.