The Importance of Food Perks At Work and How To Use Them

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The Importance of Food Perks At Work and How To Use Them

Why Food Perks Are So Important

People need and love food.

Let’s start with the love part. People look forward to eating and we get a sense of gratification from it. Because we enjoy it, food plays a big part of our parties, gatherings, and relaxation time. When you combine food with work, you create a powerful positive association with your work environment.

Yahoo CEO, Marissa Meyer, probably accidentally proved this point very well when she entered a negative work environment and offered free food.

A Yahoo employee at that point in time recounted in a later blog post,

“To truly understand how soul-crushing it was to work at Yahoo in pre-Marissa times, you should have been in Sunnyvale (I was, on a business trip) on the day Marissa announced free food in the company’s cafeterias. People scrambled to stuff themselves as if the announcement would be taken back in a day or two.

The coffee shops were stripped of pastries. Yahoos packed multiple boxes at the salad bar and hoarded them in break room refrigerators. You’d think that the announcement Marissa made was a coming price increase for lunches, not free food. Good news at Yahoo was treated as suspect and likely to change at any minute.”

The free food also appeared in 229 Glassdoor reviews, one of the most prevalent pros mentioned for Yahoo!.

And it’s not just Yahoo!. SurveyMonkey said their employees rank food in the top five most meaningful perks, along with such biggies as medical benefits and flexibility.

We don’t just enjoy food, a lot; we need it. Healthy food is the fuel that makes people go, much like a car; too little fuel or bad fuel impairs the vehicle’s function.

A healthy eating routine feeds employees’ mind so they can focus, memorize, and think better at top efficiency. They are also less likely to get sick.

In a previous post of ours on productivity, we said,

“Way back in 1917, Thomas Loveday proved that being fed was imperative to productivity. Work before breakfast (‘an inheritance partly from the necessary habits of agriculture’) was both harmful to the worker’s health and also relatively unproductive work time. He maintained that ‘food should precede work’.”

And this blog post from kununu includes many links to studies proving “the science of food and work productivity” such as how the time and type of breakfast affects employees’ productivity, how glucose impacts concentration, and more.

And they say, “Only 35 percent of American employees say they almost always take a lunch break. 60 percent either eat at their desks or don’t eat at all, The New York Times reports.”

It is crucial to a company when their employees eat plenty of healthy food. You can’t force them. That’d be creepy, but you can definitely not hinder them and you can provide them with food perks that will make eating healthier more likely.

Providing food perks serve other useful benefits. When employees eat onsite, they spend more time together, so they can network and nurture a sense of teamwork. They also aren’t leaving the building where there will be the risk of them being late returning and they are using less gasoline, reducing your company’s carbon footprint.

The Varied and Wonderful World of Food Perks

You may be daunted, wondering how much it will cost you to offer food perks. Thankfully, there are many, many food-related perks and they are all beneficial and appreciated, so you can select what works best for your budget and your company’s individual needs.

The first option is to make sure everyone has a meal break and that it is long enough for them to reasonably eat a healthy meal rather than something they brought with them that is nonperishable and can be eaten in a hurry. If that’s all you can do, that’s okay, because allowing someone freedom to eat a hearty, healthy meal is important for employees’ happiness and health.

Many companies offers discounts on food sold in their businesses. This is always good. Everyone might be allowed 10, 20, or 50% off their meals on work days or entirely free meals per work day. This might cover one meal or more depending on the employee’s hours.

Starbucks gives employees free coffee and tea during each shift as well as 30 minutes before and after. They also offer a pound of coffee and tea to employees each week to take home as well as a 30% discount on any beverages and food.

You might offer discounts or pay for employees to eat at certain places like a nearby restaurant with healthier eating options. This is a great way to provide food without literally providing it, keep the budget at a certain amount, and encourage healthy eating choices.

Try out offering free food onsite without overloading yourself by providing free healthy snacks. Stock up a break room or designated snack area with apples, bananas, healthy beverage options, nuts, sandwich fixings, yogurt, and more.

Neither of these really address the health aspect of food, but they do acknowledge that food speaks to people. If you want to make employees feel rewarded with food, you might reward them with lunches or dinners, serve food at meetings, or have events with food for employees and their families to attend.

You might offer up beverages and healthy foods on arrival each work day as a way to start their day off right. It might be a welcome area at the entrance, a few free minutes to eat before working, or a snack bag.

Serve breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day after all. If someone skips it, or chooses less than optimum options, it will negatively impact their day. Help employees make up for rushing to work and missing breakfast or make eating more and healthier easier by providing breakfast options.

Some companies go all out with their free food perks.

CNBC reported that SurveyMonkey offers employees two meals each day and snacks, and they have a chef who learns what employees most want, which keeps them happy and reduces waste. It is estimated to cost them “$10-$15 a day per employee.”

Their vice president of human resources, Rebecca Cantieri, told CNBC that this promotes healthfulness and fosters a sense of community.

Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yelp, and more offer options like multiple meals a day, cooked onsite, and eateries in the office.

Play around with what works for your employees and your budget. You can offer as many meals a day as you like, or keep it restricted to certain days. Saturdays may have free meals, you may offer 3 free meals a week, or you could reward employees for working overtime with completely free food. You could also order a specific type of food for the whole office a certain day of the week.

According to CNBC, ZeroCater delivers catering to start-ups as well as such companies as Adobe, Wells Fargo, Visa, and Salesforce and reports average company spending of between $3 and $8 per employee.

You can ensure you are providing the food employees want, and make costs most efficient, by conducting surveys and monitoring inventory. Make it even more fun by running weekly or monthly “contests” between different kinds of foods to see which one employees want next.

Cantieri says, ”It is a bit of an art and a bit of science, we take a pretty data driven approach. We ask employees which dishes they enjoy. We also watch inventory patterns so it gives us a sense of what employees take advantage of, what they enjoy and what is less of interest.” Apparently she also to CNBC, “SurveyMonkey’s chef actively solicits cooking ideas.”


Food is both something everyone enjoys and something everyone needs. Catering to both this enjoyment and need is good for your company because it promotes an engaged, productive, and healthy workforce. Thankfully, you can do utilize this food perks without having to break the bank because a little bit of investment goes a long way. You might provide longer meal breaks, offer a discount on food, pay for employees to eat out, or provide some or all of their meals during the workday. Do whatever works for you and your employees. And remember, you aren’t just spending money, you are making a powerful investment in your company. You could quite likely make back what you spend and more.

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