5 Tips for Launching a Successful Workplace Food Program

Here’s the recipe for a perk that can attract new employees and keep current ones happy.

Written by Diane Swint
Published on Aug. 15, 2023
5 Tips for Launching a Successful Workplace Food Program
Image: Shutterstock / Built In
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If you’re looking for ways to elevate your employer brand, launching a workplace catering program is a cost-effective way to do it. In fact, research shows that food can fuel business results for a fraction of the cost of other pricey perks.

4 Reasons to Feed Employees

  1. Food motivates employees to work onsite.
  2. Lunch breaks improve performance and productivity.
  3. Gathering for meals with colleagues increases employee engagement and collaboration.
  4. Promoting food perks can help with hiring and retention.

The results of ezCater’s 2023 Food for Work Report, which surveyed both employers who regularly order food for staff and employees who work onsite at companies where free or subsidized food is provided, help make the business case for adding a food program to your suite of benefits. 

For instance, 50 percent of the workers polled said free food would make them more likely to accept a job offer; 53 percent feel more productive when they enjoy free food at work; and 57 percent rank free food as the No. 1 workplace perk, with flexible work arrangements ranking second, at 43 percent.

How about a free lunch on Monday?Sunday Scaries: What Are They and How Can Employers Help?


Why Feeding Employees Matters 

People who feel recognized at work are 2.2 times more likely to drive innovation and bring new ideas forward, according to research by Great Place to Work. In other words, making employee recognition a part of your workplace culture can have a direct correlation with improved business outcomes.  

That’s where food comes in. Employees feel valued when companies offer benefits that help them save money and brighten their work day. In fact, 89 percent of workers surveyed for our report said free food at work makes them feel appreciated.

Thinking of launching a workplace food program? Consider these five suggestions to enhance your employer brand and fuel business results.


Offer Something for Everybody

Think about how difficult it can be to plan dinner for your own family when you might have a picky toddler, a partner with a food sensitivity and a teen who’s vegan. It sounds complex and time-consuming to plan menus for large numbers of employees, some of whom have allergies, religious or cultural dietary restrictions or other food preferences. 

It’s doable if you follow these best practices:

  • First, survey your workforce to compile a list of their dietary restrictions. They’ll appreciate the fact that you even asked, and even more so when you use that data to help make informed choices.
  • Next, familiarize yourself with some common diets and their restrictions, such as vegan, kosher, halal, gluten free, etc.
  • Finally, use a solution that can match you with local restaurants that provide individually packaged meals or other options to accommodate your employees’ needs.

Everyone wins when your appreciation program is inclusive. In fact, 42 percent of orderers surveyed in our report cited inclusivity as a top concern when offering food for work. 


Let Employees Do Their Own Ordering

Ordering the right portions can be a challenge with shifting headcounts and inconsistent onsite work schedules.

Letting employees order their own meals, either subsidized or paid for by the company, takes the guesswork out of how much to order. Plus, it lets employees have a wider variety of cuisine options — a win-win. It’s also a motivator to get people to commute in, with 65 percent of workers saying they would plan their onsite schedule based on when complimentary lunch was being offered. One in four respondents also said they would return to the office in person, full-time, if catered lunches were available.

The good news is implementing this type of program is easier than you might think. For example, a third-party platform invites workers to order their own lunch from several restaurants. The individually packaged meals are then delivered to the workplace at the set delivery time. The result? Less food (and budget) waste, and a group of satisfied, well-fed employees. 


Create a Culture of Collaboration Over Lunch

Inviting teams to enjoy a communal lunch can be an effective way to ensure that colleagues can have some face-time with each other to share ideas and bond. Workers agree, with 53 percent saying they feel more productive after enjoying free food, and 42 percent saying their work quality goes up on free food days.

Wait, you might think. Doesn’t that exclude employees who work remotely? 

Indeed it does, and companies are using food programs to incentivize employees to work onsite. SeatGeek, for example, began offering free lunch to employees (our Relish by ezCater program) to incentivize them to return to the office and foster collaboration and productivity. As a result, SeatGeek experienced five times more employees coming into the office on days when lunch was offered. The success of the lunch program motivated SeatGeek to expand the lunch offering from one to five days a week.

Getting people to come into the office is tough enough in the age of working from home. Expecting them to stick around after hours for employee-sponsored outings or social activities is an even bigger ask. As another recent survey from ezCater revealed, most employees (81 percent) wish their workplace offered more bonding activities during work hours; and 78 percent said that spending time with coworkers over food at work is better for team bonding than post-work drinks. So why not make lunch hour the new happy hour?


Consider Meal Timing

When deciding which days should be free food days, think about your goals for the food program. For example, companies could offer food on Tuesdays and Thursdays to pair it with a return-to-office mandate on those days. A company looking to acquire new talent could get a leg up on the competition by offering lunch every day of the week.

There’s no right or wrong answer. Some companies provide catered or subsidized lunch two or three days per week and some offer lunch a full five days per week. Breakfast is another popular meal perk because it saves busy commuters a step in the morning and/or rewards their commute with a free breakfast at work.

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Promote Your Workplace Food Perk

Food for work can be a powerful benefit for attracting talent, but only 43 percent of companies tout their free coffee, meals or snacks during the recruiting process. It’s a missed opportunity given that the workers in our survey highlighted the availability of free food as a significant contributor to employment decisions. 

So go ahead and call out your food perks in job listings, on career pages and in your hiring conversations.

Whether it’s your current workforce or the talent you hope will join your company one day, a workplace food program says a lot about the kind of employer you are. It demonstrates that you are in tune with your employees’ needs and understand that taking breaks to recharge during the workday has a positive effect on productivity, collaboration and innovation.

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