Local businesses use new service to help employees 'stomach' return to office

The way to some employees' hearts may simply be food.

An app new to Waterloo Region is delivering employee incentives, while supporting local restaurants.

HungerHub is an Ontario-based business-to-business tech start-up. So far, it's only availalbe in a handful of cities across the country.

Through the app, offices can place large orders from mulitple restaurants at once.

Each worker logs on individually to choose their own meal, and insert their dietary restrictions or preferences.

"i'ts really powerful for us, people seem to love it," says Rob Wayne, the office managing partner for BDO KW and Area.

Wayne said his office subsidizes the meals, giving each employee the equivalent of two free meals per week.

Employees have the option of order four half-priced meals in a week if they prefer.

BDO KW runs a hybrid work schedule, meaning employees can split their time between home, the office, and the field.

Wayne said the food delivery program has encouraged a return to the office because, "everybody loves food."

"There's often a lot of excitement around what's going to be on the menu," he said.

Receptionist Tess Wey said she knows some people come in specifically on certain days because they know the office will be ordering from a certain restaurant.

HungerHub co-founder Sari Abdo said about 70 of their corporate clients buy their employee’s lunch on a daily basis. 

He said it also extends an advantage to small restaurants.

“We tend to, and prefer to work with small mom and pop restaurants that don’t have their own catering, so we enable them to have catering,” Abdo told CTV News Kitchener from his office in Toronto.

Exotica Sandwich and Wrap Bar in Waterloo’s university district doesn't have a streetfront, making it a bit of a hidden location inside a residential unit.

“For us, being a little bit on the inside and being a little bit hidden, we got more visibility now,” owner Fleurette Coates said about being on the app.

The Crazy Canuck in downtown Kitchener was a popular lunch spot for the corporate crowd, pre-pandemic. 

 “It kind of gives us an opportunity to reach clients that aren’t regularly around in the area anymore,” said owner Liam Cameron.

Each day, features a different option of restaurants for corporate employees to choose from, which they have coined as, “virtual food courts.”

Offices of 30 employees may have two options each day, where offices with 50 or more employees may have three or four restaurants to choose from. 

“It allows us to plan meals ahead. The other thing is, everything is done and out of our door by about 12:30 in the afternoon,” Coates said.

According to Abdo, because orders arrive at offices for lunch time, it’s less likely to interfere with the in-restaurant lunch rush.

“We know to start early and we know that we will have a bit of a bump prior to our regular lunch sales,” Cameron added. 

In his office, Wayne believes it encourages productivity,

“It minimizes any downtime we would have in the office, in terms of people having to go and get their lunch.”