Perhaps the most apparent benefit to employers of providing free lunches is the fact that employees will eat with their coworkers, and will most likely decide to discuss work, at least in part. In Google’s famously anti-corporate manifesto, Ten things we know to be true, the company states a core belief that collaboration and ideas can occur anywhere—including “in a cafe line.” While it’s unclear whether making employees happy or providing more options for collaborative space played a larger role in their decision to feed employees, Google’s staff certainly isn’t complaining about their “delicious” catering. I was fortunately enough to enjoy a delicious meal at a Google office not so long ago.
Happy employees are productive employees, and happy candidates are far more likely to accept a job offer. As competition for individuals with certain skill sets is particularly fierce, any perks available during the recruitment process can aid in attracting the right people. When front-end developer Ryan Grove left his position at Yahoo in mid-2012, a number of career options were open to him. While interviewing at SmugMug, the staff “SmugChef” researched Grove’s favorite types of pie and prepared them, a key factor that lead him to decide he “couldn’t possibly work anywhere else.” As it turns out, Marissa Meyer, the new CEO of Yahoo! implemented a free meals program for employees as one of her first major initiatives when she joined the company in mid 2012.
Despite the meteoric rise of companies providing free food in the past few years, research indicates that only 26% are covering costs or subsidizing catering, meaning it’s a key way to stand out from the competition.
For organizations located a significant distance from healthy dining options, providing a free lunch could be a critical tool in boosting productivity, and reducing the number of sick days taken. As Glassdoor spokesman Scott Dobroski points out, “eating healthier foods leads to more activity, more concentration, more energy, and better overall health.” While the decision to provide square meals, as opposed to a more traditional fridge of sodas or bowls or candy at the reception desk, is more expensive, it may actually be cheaper for a brand in the long run.
Productivity experts know that virtually no worker can deliver a steady stream of productivity 8-10 hours a day, with few breaks. Failing to reward yourself with the ability to step back from the screens can lead to lowered productivity, and eventually feelings of burnout. Unfortunately, data indicates that only 35% of employees “almost always” take a lunch break, which is down significantly from 47% in 2010.
An additional 34% regularly eat at their desks. Simply put, if you provide a convenient place for employees to escape, unplug, and refuel, they’ll return feeling far more refreshed. It would appear that for many reasons, on-site cafeterias are a way to mitigate lost productivity, both for employees who rarely take lunch breaks, and those who would have gone far off site in search of food.
Are free lunches a silver bullet for brands? It’s unlikely, but research seems to indicate that on-site catering is strongly correlated with higher employee satisfaction and improved recruitment. While the benefit isn’t cheap, your organization could find that catering pays dividends in employee retention, productivity, and well-being.
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