Technology take over in Covid-safe cafeterias

These canteens are also undergoing a menu change with new immunity-boosting food items such as turmeric anti-inflammatory juice, lean meat, ginger peanut curry, beetroot juice, wholegrains, lentils and oatmeal, said cafeteria management and foodte...

Reuters
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The Covid-19 pandemic has forced many companies to fully automate their cafeterias, which will also no longer be a place for a team huddle or a brainstorming session.

From social-distancing wristbands that vibrate on human proximity and beepers that will ring wild if you hang around in canteen beyond a limited time, to automatic food dispensers that fill up your lunch plate and foot-pedal-powered vending machines, here are the new “digital canteens” where if you eat healthy, you may also get rewarded.

These canteens are also undergoing a menu change with new immunity-boosting food items such as turmeric anti-inflammatory juice, lean meat, ginger peanut curry, beetroot juice, wholegrains, lentils and oatmeal, said cafeteria management and foodtech firms including HungerBox and Sodexo.


“Cafes will be very different from the way they were in the pre-Covid world and will be fully digitally managed,” HungerBox cofounder Sandipan Mitra said. “We have introduced an app that will allow entry into the office cafeteria only with an active QR code. Seats have to be pre-booked and food selection and payment will be through the app. We have wristbands that will track camera feed, Bluetooth or radio frequency to calculate distancing and vibrate in case of proximity,” said Mitra.

COVID-SAFE CANTEENS
Cafeterias to be fully automated
  • Digital apps to pre-book seats, QR code to allow entry
  • Wearables such as wristbands with vibrators to ring proximity alert
  • Automatic food dispensers that fill up plates
  • Foot pedal-powered vending machines
  • Nutrition app to nudge employees to eat healthy

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Other food safety measures
  • Food to be passed through ultraviolet light disinfection to kill viruses and bacteria
  • Use of disposable packages, no reusable cutlery
  • More boxed meal options

New Entrants on Food Menu
  • Immunity boosting food items - turmeric anti-inflammatory juice, lean meat, ginger peanut curry, beetroot juice, whole grains, lentils, sweet potato, oatmeal
  • More conscious use of ingredients like haldi (turmeric), jeera (cumin), dhaniya (coriander) and lahsun (garlic) in cooking


Companies such as Capgemini and Tech Mahindra are using digital apps in their cafeterias. Tech Mahindra’s global chief people officer, Harshvendra Soin, said digital tools for cafeteria would help ensure social distancing and hygiene. “At a few of our campuses, we have a canteen app, through which associates can order food online,” said Soin.

Food prepared at outside canteens will go through UV-C (ultra violet) light disinfection that kills viruses and bacteria, said Mitra of HungerBox, which served over 6.5 lakh meals a day to leading corporates throughout the country before the lockdown. “Over 100 of our 550 cafeterias are already operational after the easing of lockdown … we have started serving over a lakh meal a day and more cafeterias are opening up week on week,” he added.
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Companies are also conscious that the food being served helps build immunity. There is an increasing use of immunity enhancers as suggested by the Ministry of Ayush which has recommend spices like haldi (turmeric), jeera (cumin), dhaniya (coriander) and lahsun (garlic) in cooking. “Conscious effort is being made to add such immunity-boosting ingredients to the menu,” said Mitra.

Many firms are encouraging the use of disposable packages. “We are serving well-cooked a-la-carte food … Food is available only in disposable packages with no reusable cutlery,” said Venkat Neelakantan, the head of corporate real estate services, India and APAC, at Capgemini. Food-dispensing machines are also available at a few offices.
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Some companies are using nutrition apps to nudge employees to eat healthy. “Covid-19 has accelerated digital transformation — one of the areas is cafeteria and food management,” said K Ganesh, a serial entrepreneur and promoter of BigBasket, Portea Medical, FreshMenu and HungerBox. “Companies are looking at encouraging people to have healthy food by subsidising things like juices and fruits … Gamification will be used to change eating habits, rewarding healthy eaters and immunity builders,” he said.

Apart from thermal sensors and food dispensers, companies are putting up partitions between seats in cafeterias. “We are creating mini cafes in break-out areas for our clients and have an app where people can order food and come to the cafe for short duration once the food is ready,” said Gururaj Raghavendra, senior director – business operations, at Space Matrix. At Lupin, where plant employees are back to work, each dining table has acrylic sheet separators, president – manufacturing operations Rajendra B Chunodkar said.

Many companies are also looking at boxed meal options, said Vineeta Tikekar, the APAC marketing director – corporate services at Sodexo.

As Tikekar says and many agree, food was earlier about bringing people together but now the challenge for companies is to maintain social distancing while making sure people don’t miss out on culinary delight.
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