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Have you noticed that several years ago the office lunch hour looked very different than it does today?  I’m not sure about you, but when I entered into the working world, nearly everybody in the office was either heading out to M&S or Greggs to get a sandwich (or Subway when it emerged on the high street in the 90’s) or bringing in their lunch from home.

However, there has been a change to this in recent years and there is an emerging trend of companies providing free lunches or, at the very least, basic materials to allow employees to have the comfort of not leaving the office to source their lunch.

Back in the millenium free lunches used to be considered a bit of a perk, normally provided during an internal meeting (for those of us who remember the economic downturn this was one the first things to be cut by companies!). But  now  free lunch is no longer just a perk, and it can be a boost for culture, morale, and productivity, in turn elevating it to a benefit comparable to some other lifestyle benefits such as health care.  

But What Are The Benefits For My Business?

I hear you cry.  Although a free lunch is not going to instantly add money to your bottom line there are some long term benefits for both you and your employees. To start with, employees will spend much less time “doing” lunch when you provide it for them than when they had to walk somewhere, wait in line, eat, and then get back to their desk. Your team will also spend much more time together naturally discussing work issues in a casual way so, not only are you feeding your employees but you are also feeding their relationships and – providing the food you offer is healthy – it can also increase employees brain power to.

It’s Also Proven To Have Positive Effects On Productivity And Morale

The main benefit according to researchers is that time spent together in this way can boost your employees productivity and morale.  Just think about it for a second. Who doesn’t love it when you feel like your company values you enough to give you something for free?!  There are countless studies that have shown that the happier your employees are the more productive they will be and in-turn how engaged they are you’re your business. At Best Companies, employee wellbeing is one of the 8 key factors which is used to determine levels of engagement amongst staff. This is simply because, the better you take care of your people’s wellbeing, the more likely you are to achieve sustainable growth over time.

So How Can It Work For An SME?

City firms and large technology companies including Facebook and Google are some of the most generous providers when it comes to free food and drink. Their canteens are filled with hot meals, desserts and drinks at no cost to staff. Of course as an SME you won’t be able to match these offerings but you can consider some of these options and introduce something once a week to get you started and until you are in a position to provide more:

  • A continental breakfast. Consider bagels, muffins, coffee once a week – a nice way to start the day.  When you consider that you can get a bag of bagels for £1 and a pack of 8 croissants for less than £2 – that’s very little outlay compared to the benefits you will gain.
  • Pizza Friday. Provide lunch on Friday giving employees the chance to reflect on the working week and spend time together
  • Consider providing basic lunch and/or breakfast materials in your office such as bread, milk, butter, porridge, healthy snack bars etc.
  • Provide a fruit basket on a weekly basis (an oldie but a goody!) To save money do an online shop with a supermarket and get all your office supplies delivered in one go.
  • Provide afternoon snacks. Think of something healthy like nuts, healthy snack bars to increase employees brain power and avoid a sugar dip later in the day. Some companies now provide healthy snack dispensers for employees, similar to the breakfast cereal dispensers that you find in hotels.

A Word Of Caution

Now just before you go online and order a plethora of snacks and fruit for employees, consider your approach and what you are trying to achieve. Also be mindful of how your business has been doing over the last 12 months –  for example, if pay and benefits have been squeezed it might be wise start small as your employees are not likely to be impressed with free lunch if they have not had a decent pay rise or bonus for a while!

Most importantly, whatever you do, make sure that as the business leader that you also participate. There’s little point banging on about being more collaborative and then being too busy to join in (plus it will provide you with invaluable face-to-face time with your employees on an informal basis)

So, don’t totally discount free lunches as just another cost to your business. The real benefit comes not only in the increase in productivity and collaboration but also in the form of competitive advantages in recruiting – although you may not necessarily be able to offer the top salaries you can offer a great culture that people will want to be a part of. Just don’t forget to offer some vegetarian and gluten free options, too!  
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