The Employee Benefit That Costs Little But Delivers Big

employee benefit that costs little

Some high-flying Silicon Valley companies are famous for the perks they provide to their employees. One of those perks at the top of the list consists of free food and beverages.

Not only do many of those companies provide coffee, soft drinks and snacks, but quite a few actually have full restaurants on site serving hot meals each day.

At one point about six years ago it was estimated to cost Google over $70 million a year to provide free meals to its employees.

Before you fall on the floor in a faint from hearing that number, keep in mind that no one is suggesting you go broke providing free food and drink. It is possible on a modest budget to get the positive impact that comes from providing a stocked break room.

We have a few suggestions for cost effective ways to stock your break room. But first, let’s take a look at why it makes business sense to provide beverages and snacks to employees.

Four Good Reasons to Offer A Well-Stocked Break Room

1. Employee Satisfaction

Small businesses like ours may not always be able to match salaries at some larger companies, but studies show that people work in small businesses in part because they like the atmosphere. Anything you can do to make the workday more pleasant, helps your business compete in the employment market, and retain loyal employees.

Remember to try to walk in your employee’s shoes. As a business owner you might prefer an upscale lunch out once a quarter or an offsite retreat, but employees may value the little niceties that make every day more enjoyable (such as free coffee or subsidized soft drinks).

2. Productivity

Snacks and beverages keep people at the office longer and minimize trips outside the office. People whose bellies are grumbling or who need a boost of caffeine won’t be running out to pick up coffee or snacks as often, if there are options right on site.

3. Health

By providing low-calorie and low-sugar snacks and drinks, you can give employees a healthy alternative to fast food and soft drinks. Nearby restaurants may be filled with fast food and high calorie choices. You can reaffirm your company’s commitment to staying healthy by the choice of snacks you provide, and potentially contribute to a healthier workforce.

4. Cost

Yes, it costs more to provide snacks and beverages in a break room than not to. But compared to the costs of other perks, such as tuition reimbursement plans or expensive holiday bashes, it may be less expensive and appreciated more. The break room may be available to more employees, too, as more can take advantage of it but may not necessarily be able to attend a holiday party or take advantage of some benefits. Also, snacks in the break room tend to have low overhead and fewer complexities in terms of administration, compared with some other benefits — mainly just stocking and cleaning.

And there are ways to save money.

Stocking the Break Room Inexpensively

Having a well-stocked break room doesn’t mean infinite choices or that everything needs to be free.

Limit the items you provide for free. You’re not Google, after all! Most companies look at providing coffee and tea service, a bottled water cooler, and perhaps some inexpensive snacks such as pretzels and fruit.

Provide vending machines for more choices. You can always subsidize the cost of items in a vending machine. For example, you pay half the cost of soft drinks and snacks, and employees pay the other half.

Make one day of the week or month special, where you bring in food. For instance, Fridays could be the day you bring in bagels and fruit salad for everyone. Or once a month bring in pizza or a sandwich tray for lunch. And don’t forget the healthy and low-cost alternatives on those days, such as veggies and yogurt dip.

Provide refrigerators and microwave ovens to encourage people to bring their own food. Just having a place to store and heat up the meal you bring to work with you, can be a positive thing.

Buy in bulk. And shop around. You can save a lot of money just through intelligent buying.

Finally, consider letting employees have a say in the choices. You may be surprised what they opt for if you indicate what the monthly budget is. You might even consider taking a company vote giving choices for break room items. Just giving a choice may build positive sentiment in its own right, because you are empowering employees by letting them decide.

Break Room Photo via Shutterstock


Amanda Stillwagon As Chief Marketer for Small Business Trends, Amanda oversees online marketing, email marketing and social media marketing for the Small Business Trends group of sites.

8 Reactions
  1. #2 is the one that delivers the return on investment. Think of how much you’re paying an employee per hour, then figure that a trip to get a snack will take 15 minutes. That drink or snack probably costs less.

  2. Martin Lindeskog

    This post gave me arguments for my future service with a great tasting beverage, full of good stuff! Could you guess? It is tea! 🙂 See point 2…

  3. “At one point about six years ago it was estimated to cost Google over $70 million a year to provide free meals to its employees.”
    Not sure which location Stillwagon is talking about. At Google Mountain View headquarters they weren’t providing free meals to employees. They were providing free gourmet meals to employees. These meals were made by top flight chefs. At one point the former chef from the Grateful Dead was doing the cooking. The gourmet meals Google employees employ at HQ are just as good, if not better than the best gourmet restaurants in the Bay Area and that is saying something.

    Also, at Google HQ in Mountain View they offer free Naked fruit drinks (similar to Odwalla). Guests (like myself) were invited to drink as much as I wanted. Google employees don’t just enjoy 3 squares. They have a huge kitchen stocked, and I do mean STOCKED with breakfast stuffs. All kinds of cereals, little breads, milk, fruits, etc. An entire snack wall with all the pretzels, cookies, and snacks. Imagine the bulk food section at Whole Foods Market and put that inside Google.

    The whole place is decked out in lava lamps and retro styling. I saw a segway in the corner, and some scooters as well. Some exercise balls, etc. It’s more like a college dorm or frat house than anything else.

    Stillwagon failed to address one big benefit that free meals can bring: it attracts better employees. If employee is looking at 2 employers and everything else is equal, do you think they will work in a place where they can get free eats? Or the place with zero perks? I’m taking the free eats.

  4. I believe that providing food and beverages free of charge for your employees will be extremely beneficial as it can save a lot of time. This is because employees aren’t going out to get lunch (which they could deliberately take long just to waste time too) and it would also increase the quality of the employees being attracted to the business (as Steven said earlier). Thus, ultimately aiding your business’ productivity and growth positively. Yes it may be quite costly but in the long run, in comparison to the benefits that the company will receive, the costs will be negligible.

  5. The other thing is, if employees stay on site during breaks and lunch they have the chance to talk with people from different parts of the company. Sometimes really cool collaborations and problem solving can happen during social time in a way that can’t happen during more structured meetings!

  6. I think this is great for a very large company but not for small companies. In our case the offering of free snacks becomes an ungratifying experience by both the employer and employee. They do not appreciate the fact that the employer is taking time to bring these items at company cost to their work area. There has to be a line where doing these things is appreciated instead of demanded by employees.

  7. I have always wanted to work somewhere with a breakroom that actually provides snacks and beverages. I like your point about how it can also help your company stay healthy. I can see how providing healthier choices that are cheap and close by would be much more appealing than leaving the office to eat.

  8. I think this idea of havig food for free to the employees is quite wonderfull but the problem is when the vending machine provider does not give good service. That´s whats is happening in the company I work for. The name of the provider company is Vend Argentina. If you visit their web page, they make you think that they are the best vending machine provider but actually I can assure you that the service is really bad: the cofee quality is lousy, most of the snacks are unhealthy. We have made several complaints but they don´t pay attention to them so we are thinking of changing the provider.

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