Free Food in the Office as a Benefit

Want to attract and retain workers? Who doesn't? Consider free meals. Company-paid lunches are a major perk that's hard to pass up, especially if you're a millennial. USA Today reported that providing free food to your employees can result in a 67% job satisfaction rate.

Let's look at this a bit more deeply. Workers become less focused as lunchtime approaches, and they are starting to think about where to get their next meal and with whom. This creates a bit of a drag on productivity. But by providing a free meal at the office, you remove the distraction.

And how much will this cost? Providing a daily $10 meal to a full-time employee costs $2,600 a year, but you make up the price by having staffers get back to work sooner; a mere 15 minutes of their on-the-clock productivity before and after lunch every day and the meal pays for itself.

If getting employees back in the office in the first place is your problem, try offering free meals. Free breakfasts and lunches are one of the top ways that companies are luring workers back to the office. It may be true that the way to employees' hearts is through their stomachs.

And let's not dismiss the notion that eating together creates strong social bonds. You're bringing together a diverse group and giving them opportunities to make connections outside their teams and departments. On top of that, offering healthy meals to workers who might skip lunch or instead go for junk food translates into workers with more energy and focus in the afternoon.

You may be nixing the idea of daily meals, but even an occasional company-provided lunch yields results. Most workers see a once-a-week catered meal as a great perk, boosting overall job satisfaction. You may opt for free coffee and bagels in the morning, which works well too.

There are more meal options than ever — food delivery services and on-site pop-up restaurants — for providing meals to employees. A prepaid meal card offers access to a monthly meal allowance that can be used in local restaurants, on food-delivery apps and in grocery stores, offering your team flexibility and control while you monitor your program. You'll look like a hero to your workers to boot.

Eating together is a way to build engagement among teams so people can get to know each other better. It encourages discussions and a sense of belonging. Productivity rises as workers save time because they know there's food provided at the office.

It can work almost anywhere

Once only the purview of companies like Google and Apple, free food is something small startups have added to their list of employee benefits. Value? With employees spending less time away from their desks, you can estimate cost savings per employee at anywhere from $2.50 to $4.50 per day. How? Your employees can work for an extra half an hour every day.

Especially for knowledge workers, sharing meals and communicating more frequently help build a collaborative environment. Take those who write code, for example. It can take 32% longer without effective communication. Employees are more comfortable where there are trust and strong social bonds in the workplace. Breaking bread together encourages breaking down barriers and getting people to act more naturally.

Physical space is also a key to relationship formation — friendships develop during brief and passive contacts made going to and from home or walking about the neighborhood. An office cafe is a great place not only to facilitate that physical contact among co-workers but also to entice new people to come to work for your company — people really want to work at a place that cares about their health and wellness. Happy, loyal employees are likely to speak highly of your business to customers and to their professional connections, friends and family. Eating meals together helps nourish team members, literally and figuratively, and creates an environment of support for their efforts.

Of course, you may want to work with an experienced human resources consultant to help you customize a plan for your company. And remember that even if you provide this benefit, you still must abide by other regulations, such as rules for nonexempt employees.