Free office lunches make a bigger difference than you may think, and here's why

Ghina Fahs
December 20, 2022
Free office lunches make a bigger difference than you may think, and here's why
Employee experience

Rarely will you find someone who wouldn’t appreciate a delicious and nourishing meal, especially when it’s complimentary! Food stands first among all basic human needs (food, shelter, and clothing); it sustains our very existence, both physically and mentally, and our survival depends on it. For this reason, it’s a substantial part of our cost of living, and with food costs spiking 11.4% over the past year—the largest annual increase since May 1979—the soaring prices of food are inevitably changing how we eat.

People are dining out less often, avoiding restaurants altogether, and when grocery shopping, some are buying less produce and switching to more generic brands. This may also mean they’re consuming cheaper and more processed foods, which comes with its own set of health risks.

Not only that, but getting adequate nutrition directly impacts our overall health and well-being, including our mental health. Food is medicine that can maintain, prevent and treat diseases, and what we eat is absolutely central to our health.

Bearing all this in mind, now would be as good a time as ever to offer your employees free food—because, in more than one way, it won’t only positively impact their wellbeing, but it could be highly beneficial to your business. 

Here are 4 reasons why free employee lunches can be an investment worth every penny:

1. It’s a token of appreciation, and employees will feel valued

We all know how the saying goes: it’s the little things! Your team will feel valued and cared for when they’re given gifts or gestures of appreciation like free lunches, and what better way to remind them that their hard work isn’t taken for granted? It shows that the company cares about creating a supportive work environment for its employees. 

2. You’ll be encouraging them to connect and socialize

It’s the easiest and most enjoyable way to gather your employees together, where they’ll have the chance to take a break, mingle, socialize, and relax between tasks. Sometimes people hardly cross paths when they’re in different teams or departments, and one way to help them feel more connected and engaged is to bring them together over the act of a shared meal. This is a surefire way to bring more harmony across teams and build a healthier work culture.

Furthermore, it could be an effective way to see higher office attendance, if that’s what you’re looking for. In fact, a recent survey by EzCater revealed that 93% of employers said more employees show up to the office on days when free food is served.

3. You can help promote healthier eating habits

According to a Garten article, “in the past ten years, chronic diseases have increased by 25% in working-age adults, and the CDC estimates that productivity losses due to missed work cost employers $225.8 billion, or $1,685 per employee, annually.”

Healthy eating and healing through nutrition will not only positively impact your employees directly, but ultimately you and your bottom line will see the benefits, as well. Offering meals that are balanced, nutritionally dense, and made with whole ingredients is one way to ensure that as an employer, you’re adding to their well-being. Ideally, the result of this is that they’ll be encouraged to keep the momentum going and make healthier choices outside of work as well.

To add to that, the right food serves as a great stimulus for the brain and can be an effective way to boost employee productivity, providing a steady and sustainable energy boost, increasing focus and concentration, and improving cognitive function.

4. You’ll help them save money

As previously mentioned, food prices are rising, and saving money on even just one meal a day can make quite a hefty difference for your people in the long run. 

According to EzCater’s report, highlighted in a Forbes article, “80% of people buy lunch at least once a week, and 43% purchase lunch three or more times per week. The average cost of that meal is $11, with the majority of Gen Z (68%) and Millennials (59%) spending at least that much, and Boomers (73%) spending less than $10 on lunch. Almost half of all surveyed employees (46%) agreed that spending less money during their workday is the best part of free lunch.”

Not only will employees be saving money, but you will too! Depending on the conditions, it can totally be cost-effective for your company in the long run. In most cases, companies realized a significant return on their investments when it came to feeding employees. An article on strategy+business puts it into perspective using this example, “consider an engineer that makes $100 per hour. Now, if you can save that employee 30 minutes a day or encourage them to work 30 minutes longer by forestalling the need to stop for breakfast, or go out for a coffee break, or eat lunch at the desk instead of going out, or not stepping away for a 3:00 p.m. snack, or staying until 7:00 p.m. until dinner is served instead of going home at 6:30—that’s worth $50 to you. Providing somebody with $25 of free food and drinks per day at a cafeteria is an investment that pays off double every single day.”

Conclusion; everyone wins!

While not every company has the budget for free daily catering or stretches of buffet tables, even just 1 free meal per week, or some complimentary snacks here and there, can make all the difference in the bigger picture—a little can go a long way. You can make it unpredictable, surprise your employees with unexpected meals, explore different cuisines, or have them submit requests for their favorite meals. In other words, it can be fun for everyone!

Needless to say, free meals are not just another negligible perk, but a highly effective—and cost-effective—benefit for improving employee retention and satisfaction, and subsequently, employee well-being.

When your people feel valued and appreciated, socialize and connect with one another, and are well-nourished and well-fed, all while saving money and cutting costs, they’re far more likely to be genuinely motivated to give back with intentional effort.

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