November 29, 2017

Startup culture food habits and menu trends

Silicon Valley is more than just a geographic location or a hit HBO TV series. It's also a microcosm of prominent food trends and the chefs that lead them.

As more employers tear down cubicle walls and opt for open seating environments within their workplaces, commercial real estate has evolved in line with millennial demands. Offices have game rooms, gyms, spas and, of course, cafeterias. The best part is most of these perks come with the job.

But the perks of startup culture don't stop at fresh food-stocked cafeterias. There are also food trucks parked on site and other grab-and-go dining options that transform the culinary experience for both consumers and chefs.

Austin culinary students are likely no strangers to these concepts, and understanding what makes younger workers in startup environments get excited about work (and food!) is important when crafting menus and quick meal options that cater to their demands.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

Employee cafeterias

It's hard to turn down free food at work. Salad bars, fresh fruit and veggies, pasta, proteins and energy bars are common options in cafeterias mostly because they are easy to prepare and are versatile enough to be enjoyed by a wide variety of employees.

However, some employers are bringing in chefs or caterers once a month to curate themed menus or to produce one-off events centered around a restaurant's primary food offering. For instance, companies like LunchOwl bring corporate cafeterias to new levels by allowing employees to choose from a range of restaurants, the food they want and the day they want it delivered to the office.

Employers just have to set price parameters, and the rest is between staff and chefs to personalize menus.

Who says you can't have sushi delivered straight to your desk?Who says you can't have sushi delivered straight to your desk?

Food trucks

Sometimes eating outdoors is a perk itself. And through apps like Roaming Hunger you can actually select which food trucks you want parked outside your office each day.

Food trucks often sell burgers, pretzels, donuts, tacos, ice cream, drinks and other small items. More recently, these mobile entrepreneurs have ventured into offering workplaces lobster rolls, gourmet salads, craft coffees, custom pizzas and even vegetarian and vegan options.

This type of service demands chefs do more with less: less refrigeration, storage and elbow room.

Short-run restaurants

Outside of food physically delivered to the office, recent trends show that short-run restaurants are becoming more popular in some of the nation's largest cities.

Many of these establishments feature nostalgic elements or pop culture references. In Chicago, a Stranger Things-themed bar was all the rage for months before the show's lawyers shut it down. In Austin, there was Play Dough, a colorfully inspired donut shop that featured stuffed sweets, glazed chocolate and other toppings.

Because these businesses are open for limited hours in the day and often for only a few months a time before they disappear, customers flock to them for the fear of missing out.

In effect, the creative culinary minds behind these pop-ups prime their audiences into potentially paying higher prices for exclusive meals they can't get anywhere else. This allows them to try off-the-wall iterations of classics, invent new concoctions and experiment with what could be future hits at their existing brick-and-mortar restaurants: It's a learning experience for everyone involved.

Younger employees at many startup companies flock to pop-ups because they solicit the same types of emotions as VIP access to a bar, a viral video on YouTube or a celebrity liking a tweet: a once-in-blue-moon occurrence.

Capitalizing on these trends can help chefs and budding culinary professionals better craft their own menus and target specific demographics and markets with innovative offerings of their own.