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.