One of the many things I loved about working for Google was the free lunch and snacks they provided employees. The Mountain View office in the US was particularly good with around 15 different cafes offering a whole range of great food, all free for employees. Despite not having the 1000's of employees to justify so much choice, the food in the cafe in the Sydney office is also very good.
The photo above is of one of the many great meals I had at Google:
- Sweet potato sausage soup with heirloom potato chips (shown at the top)
- Vegetable medley - steamed spring vegetables, seasonings tossed in Californian extra virgin olive oil
- Pan roasted duck breast with duck-red wine reduction (on the right)
- Grilled salmon with citrus tarragon vinaigrette
- Tossed salad with blue vein cheese.
Providing free snacks and lunch for employees provides a business with a whole range of benefits including:
- Creating a more social and friendly culture within the organisation. Meals are a social time, why not encourage employees to eat and socialise together rather than force everyone to leave the office to find their own food, or prepare their own individual meals?
- More productive connections within the organisation. Conversations over lunch will no doubt include discussions around work. These discussions are more informal than meetings and generally more creative and can lead to positive outcomes for the organisation. It can also encourage people within an organisation who might not normally have a formal reason to meet, to have a discussion. I worked in sales at Google and I often had conversations with software engineers over lunch which gave me new insights into the organisation that I wouldn't have gained otherwise, some of which I could apply to my work.
- Higher productivity. What a waste of time to have all your employees each spending 15 minutes in the morning preparing their own lunch or each standing in lines at take away food places to buy their own lunch. Why not save them this time by providing lunch, they'll no doubt be working for you for at least some of this additional time they save.
- Employee retention. Even if the 15 minutes they would have spent preparing their own lunch in the morning is spent sleeping in instead of additional work for your organisation, what a great reward that is for working for your company. They're going to be less likely to leave your organisation and you'll have more people applying for jobs at your organisation.
And as I recently found out, providing snacks and lunch is also tax effective. Apparently providing employees with snacks and lunch in the office, as long as it's not extravagant (eg. doesn't include alcohol) isn't subject to fringe benefits tax, the GST input tax credits can be claimed, and the costs deducted against the company's tax like most other expenses.
All of that said, it's not a cheap exercise. Let's say a business spends $20 per day per employee on food. There are about 230 work days in a year so that's $4600 per employee. Depending on the average salaries in a business that's likely to be around a 3-10% increase in wage costs. In my experience at Google I think the business received more than that in benefits.
We're outgrowing our space at The Campaign Palace and plan to find a new office in the new year. While it's going to depend on the business's cash flow, once we move we think providing lunch and snacks will be well worth the cost.
Has anyone else had experience working in an organisation that provided free snacks and lunch for employees and if so, what are your thoughts on it? Given not many businesses do this there must be plenty of people who think the costs outweigh the benefits so I'd love to hear people's thoughts on this too.