THE SURPRISING ROI OF FREE FOOD AT WORK
Updated: Jan 17
Office Catering: Boost Productivity and Morale with Free Food at Work
More and more companies are realizing that offering free catered meals to employees is becoming a necessary part of their overall compensation package. While much has been written about the benefits of free office catering, the bottom line is that research published by Indeed.com reveals that 67% of workers who have free food at work are “very” or “extremely” happy at their jobs. In today’s competitive job market, the value of retaining employees is well understood.
What are the benefits of free office catering?
Let’s take a step back and look at why providing your employees with free food drives employee satisfaction.
Boost productivity: Free meals at work boost workplace productivity because your staff will feel valued. Furthermore, by providing employees with a free meal right at the office, you are removing a major source of distraction because employees no longer leave your premises to drive or walk to buy and eat food. When employees eat their meals at work, they can quickly get back to work.
Foster community and company culture: When all your employees gather to share a meal together – daily, or even weekly – you are giving them the opportunity to create strong social bonds and make connections outside their teams and departments.
Promote healthy eating habits: By working with local office catering companies to provide a range of nutritious meal options, you are helping your staff make healthy food choices rather than rush out to the nearest fast food restaurant for breakfast or lunch. When your staff are healthy, they are happier and more productive. When employees are nourishing their bodies with healthy food, they're more energetic and alert. Healthy employees also tend to have less medical issues.
Improve hiring conversion rates: Free meals can help you recruit new staff because it signals that upper management is invested in creating benefits that employees value and that add value to their work experience.
THE ROI OF FREE OFFICE CATERING
There is much evidence to suggest that when integrated into an employee wellness program, free healthy food at work delivers a significant ROI and should be considered a strategic imperative. Research conducted at Harvard University and published in the Harvard Business Review indicates that the ROI on comprehensive, well-run employee wellness programs can be as high as 6 to 1. The study found that employees typically consume at least one meal plus snacks during work hours. Healthful food at work has to be tasty, convenient, and affordable. Researchers concluded that wellness programs (including corporate food service), lead to lower overall healthcare expenditures, greater productivity due to reduced absenteeism, and increased morale.
Free food at work saves time
Given that employees tend to eat multiple times throughout the work day, 15-minute coffee breaks and 60-minute lunches away from the office can add up to considerable productive work-time losses over the course of a year. By providing your employees with free lunches and snacks at work, you save 30 minutes of time, five days a week, for 50 weeks a year; that adds up to 125 hours of downtime avoided, the equivalent of about three weeks of full-time work. When you multiply that by the number of employees, the time saved by providing free meals becomes even more eye-opening.
The opportunity to save valuable work time is compounded for businesses located in suburban office parks or industrial parks where food services may not be readily available. This increases the time it takes for staff to travel to find food every day, making company provided meals even more of a money-saver.
Drive down labor costs
The cost-benefit analysis of providing free office catering becomes even more attractive when you factor in employee compensation. The higher paid your employees are, the lower the relative cost of providing them with a free meal and the higher the value of time saved.
You can save highly paid employees 30 minutes a day or encourage them to work 30 minutes longer by eliminating the need for them to stop for breakfast on the way to work or go out for a coffee break and then making it easy for them to stay until 7:00 p.m. until dinner is served instead of going home at 6:30 pm. If this time-saving costs you $25 of free food and drinks per day, this investment can pay off double every single day.
Free food at work delivers tax benefits to employers and employees
Lastly, free food at work is tax-free to the employee and 100% deductible by the employer if the meals are provided on the employer’s business premises, and for the convenience of the employer.
Moreover, if more than half of the employees you provide with free meals satisfy these requirements, you can treat all meals you provide to employees on your business premises as furnished for your convenience.
OPTIONS FOR PROVIDING FREE MEALS AT WORK
Whether you are looking to provide your employees with free breakfast on Fridays or lunch every day, corporate catering can take on many forms, including:
Lunchbox catering allows your employees to select a packaged lunch from a list of menu options. The typical lunch box includes a salad or a sandwich, a piece of fruit, and a small dessert item. Each lunch item is individually packaged and the packaging and the lunch box itself need to be disposed of after each meal. This is a reasonable option for occasional lunch meetings, but not the most sustainable option for long-term foodservice.
On-site corporate cafeterias
Some companies choose to invest in setting up kitchens, food service areas, and restaurant seating on their premises. These on-site cafeterias are either staffed by their own employees or by contracted third party food service providers.
On-site snack kitchens
Many companies choose to set up employee snack kitchens stocked with beverages and snacks that employees can enjoy throughout the day. These kitchens can be managed internally or by outside food service providers.
While food delivery services by local restaurants have grown in popularity over the past few years, many companies soon discover that there are a number of pitfalls to this approach. Firstly, because everyone orders a different meal, there is no way to control the quality of the food your employees get. And secondly, once the food arrives, people simply grab their order and head off back to their desks.
OUTSOURCING OFFICE CATERING
At On Safari Foods, we offer our clients a range of corporate catering options for providing breakfast, lunch and/or dinner for their employees, including delivering lunch boxes and managing in-house cafes. But the approach that we believe offers the highest ROI is catered lunches delivered and served on-site.
We have found that having employee meals prepared off-site offers many advantages versus building out your own on-site corporate café. Firstly, you avoid the high fixed costs associated with setting up and managing a commercial kitchen and dining room. Because we have a central commissary kitchen in our SODO headquarters, we are able to spread our fixed costs out over all of our clients, thereby dramatically reducing the costs for each client.
Secondly, off-site corporate catering allows you to avoid the cost of hiring additional staff with skills that your HR team is probably not familiar with. And, you avoid the cost and complexity of managing these staff on an ongoing basis.
The On Safari approach to off-site corporate catering
Our central commissary model allows us to keep a pool of really great chefs in one kitchen. The chefs who prepare food for your employees are the same chefs who cater high-end weddings and events. This allows us to maintain the quality of the food we deliver to you. Our staff packages up the food and delivers it to your office on-time. They set up the food, make sure that there are enough serving utensils and then package everything up after the meal and either leave your leftovers for you to enjoy, or dispose of them offsite.
Depending on what’s on the menu, our staff bring cooking equipment with them so that they can create hot and crisp grilled cheese sandwiches or prepare the perfect omelet or fluffy pancake seconds before it is consumed.
Because we are committed to sustainability, we offer you the option of compostable cutlery, napkins, plates, and to-go containers as well as reusable platters for sandwiches and salads instead of box lunches to reduce extra packaging waste.
The bottom line is, whether you are providing meals daily or weekly, your employees get varied, high-quality, house-made food delivered to them and you avoid the cost and complexity associated with building and managing an in-house kitchen and dining room.
Let’s look at an example
We deliver breakfast and lunch, Monday to Friday, for a local fast-growing tech company with 140 employees and we also manage their micro kitchens.
Every morning we deliver bread for toast, yogurt, cottage cheese, seasonal whole fruits, fruit platters, house-made granola, hard-boiled eggs, avocados, salad greens, and hot oatmeal with toppings (brown sugar, cinnamon, and a rotating collection of nuts and dried fruits).
For lunch each day, we deliver two meat entrees, a vegan/vegetarian entrée, a starch, a gluten-free option (as needed), a vegetable side dish, a salad bar, and soup.
A recent daily menu was:
Meat: Kahlua pork with a pineapple reduction sauce
Vegetarian/vegan: Vegan Hawaiian bean cake with pineapple salsa
Starch: Coconut sticky rice
Vegetable side: Stir-fried vegetables (snow peas, chestnuts, sweet onion, peppers, carrots, zucchini coins)
Salad bar: Hawaiian slaw (red, green and nappa cabbage) with pineapple and creamy poppy seed dressing
Soup: Aztec chicken or vegan African peanut
Other entrees served that week included Red Thai chicken curry, Salade Nicoise, Texas beef chili and a pasta bar with a choice of toppings including Bolognese sauce, creamy pesto sauce, and a baked, sliced chicken breast.
If you are considering taking advantage of the ROI delivered by offering meals to employees at work, please contact us. Our corporate catering team is available to help you understand which approach will best serve your needs.
On Safari Foods offers corporate catering and food services to organizations across the Puget Sound. We create delicious and creative meals using the freshest locally sourced and humanely raised ingredients.