Why Food at Work Isn’t Just a Perk Anymore

Silicon Valley will always be known as the office perks capital of the world. From outlandish outings to free maid and concierge services, working in the Valley is where it’s at. And one of its greatest attractions that left a lasting impression is the FREE FOOD.

The legendary status of Silicon Valley really began to emerge sometime in the early 1990s. This was the beginning of the dot-com boom when Netscape, a loser in the web-browser wars, was valued at $2 billion at the end of the first day of trading after their IPO.

It was a frenzied time when startups needed to squeeze every bit of time out of their employees. To do this, some created onsite convenience stores that stocked free snacks and drinks. Eventually, companies began to provide free lunches.

To feed its employees, well-financed Google opened a cafeteria. That’s right. A cafeteria with a huge spread of gourmet food. That was back in 1999 (just two years before the dot-com bubble collapsed) and Google was a relatively “small company”. They even hired chef Charlie Ayers who once catered for the Grateful Dead.

But the number of companies committed to feeding their employees has exploded since then. In fact, the practice is now so commonplace, it can be mentioned as a benefit in compensation package offers.

Onsite Food Is Now an Expected Benefit

Looking outward from the Valley, lunch hour in offices looked pretty much the same. Employees were either headed out to nearby restaurants or eating a lunch they brought from home.

But in today’s workplaces, we’re seeing that free lunches are becoming the new norm. Much like workplace wellness initiatives, healthcare, and 401(k)s, lunch is now an expected and highly sought-after benefit.

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In fact, the expectation is so high that companies offering free food are cutting back on some benefits while leaving food in place. That’s what Dropbox did in 2016. Then valued at $10 billion, leaders of the company realized that if they wanted to build as sustainable business, every dollar counts. So, on the chopping block were perks that included free shuttles, gym memberships, and laundry services. They kept lunch and moved dinner back an hour to 7:00 p.m. and limited guests to five a month. Oh, they also kept the open bar.

Another example is Kabam, the online-gaming startup worth $1 billion. In 2016 it cut 8% of its workforce but kept snack stands that are strategically placed throughout the office.

Clearly, providing food to employees (especially lunch) is a valued benefit. As evidence of how highly a free lunch is valued, it has its own acronym. Lunch as a benefit is also known as LaaB.

LaaB Is Popular for Good Reasons

LaaB is not just expected by employees. It’s also popular with employers because of the ROI they receive from providing lunch to their employees.

Lunch enhances recruitment efforts. Recruiting difficulty has continued to increase over the past few years, and competition for talent is high. Every little bit of differentiation counts. And, LaaB is a huge differentiator.

LaaB also helps improve retention through the effect it has on engagement. Having lunch together is something for employees to look forward to. As they get to know each other, their engagement with the company is naturally stimulated. And, businesses with highly engaged teams can experience a profitability bump of 21%, a sales productivity increase of 20 percent, and a lift in output quality of 40 percent.

Additionally, LaaB supports corporate wellness initiatives and related benefits. When sharing a healthy lunch with co-workers becomes a part of the company’s culture, everyone gets a bit healthier. And, healthier employees miss fewer days at work, cost less to insure, and are more productive.

What used to be a nice perk to have, free lunch is now a must-have benefit for both employees and employers.