8 Questions to Ask Your Next Lunch Provider

The rationale for providing food as a benefit is a no brainer. But if you are just dipping your toes into the world of food programs or even thinking of changing suppliers, the task can seem quite daunting, even overwhelming.

We've put together a little guide on the key questions to ask when looking for the right vendor for you.


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 not a fun situation to be in! If you're outsourcing your food program, it is important to know what logistics your vendor has in place. Be sure to ask who will be delivering the food, what their on-time delivery percentage is, and how the provider ensures timely deliveries. All these factors are essential in ensuring a smooth delivery of operation for you and your team. 

2. "How do you cater to different dietary needs and preferences?"

One of the hardest parts of any lunch program is making lunchtime enjoyable for everyone. With special dietary needs or tastes, such as vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, keto, and paleo, the trend is that more - not fewer - employees need their lunchtimes accommodated. To keep everyone in your office happy, ask vendors how they genuinely meet special dietary cases and what options they have to offer. They don't need to have a banquet for each need, but there should be enough options and adjustments available for your team to have an enjoyable experience. 

3. "How do you ensure there’s enough food for each person?"

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 stray olives. 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). Lots of caterers have this down to a science if you know what your exact headcount for that day's lunch is going to be. But what happens if those last-minute guests show up the morning of? Ask vendors how they plan the right amount of food for your team.

4. "What is your quality control?"

Quality can be a mixed bag. Some providers may just be sending orders to a restaurant on your behalf, or delivering one-off orders from suppliers they don't consistently work with. 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, of course, and your lunch vendor should be the ones managing 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 are your ingredients sourced from?"

This may seem 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 ethically-sourced food, transparency from food vendors is more important now than ever. If your vendor makes a dish but can't tell you where the chicken is sourced from, it might be time to reconsider.

6. "Is this a full-service or self-service lunch program? Or something in-between?"

The spectrum of company lunch offerings varies 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 more costly and may tack on extra service fees. You may be looking for a solution that falls in between, so asking the question can help evaluate which option to go for, based on 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 reflect your business model. 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. This will give you good insight into how satisfied their customers are and whether this vendor is a good fit for your company's situation.


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