It is said that there is no such thing as a free lunch but that is not necessarily the case. There are a growing number of businesses which have started providing free food at work as part their employee benefits package. Whilst this might not sound like much of a perk, research has shown that it can have a massive impact on how staff feel about their employers and the business that they work in.

The truth is that we are a nation of food lovers. Our obsession shows in the number of cookbooks that line of kitchen shelves, the food programmes on television, the endless Instagram posts and the ever-increasing number of cafes, restaurants and fast-food joints that seem to pop up on a daily basis. Food is one thing that we are all in love with, so why not offer it at work?

To explain further, Ian Johnson, Managing Director at Johnsons Vending, explores the mental, and workplace benefits of offering free food to employees.

Food and society

For many of us, food is a social thing. We love nothing better than a Sunday roast, a barbecue or trip to a restaurant to bring us all together. We bond over food, and it often makes even the most difficult conversations a little more palatable. It therefore stands to reason that food will have a very similar effect at work. That is why as many as 32% of companies now offer free refreshments, and that number is continuing to rise.

Instead of cracking the whip and stopping people from socialising at work, many businesses have found that encouraging it can be beneficial for everyone. In a world where many work from home and only communicate through video calls, the importance of getting together should actually be recognised. Only face to face can real bonds form and that is when the real magic happens.

As colleagues socialise, they start to share ideas and bounce off one another. Suddenly ideas start to form organically and what started off as a chat about last night’s Love Island has become an impromptu business meeting. This will then become part of a healthy and constructive company culture that can live on for some considerable time and start to shape new ways in which the business can work.

Food is also seen as a way to encourage more diversity. By offering ethnic and country-specific food you can help to make your business more inclusive and stimulate new types of conversations.

Cost-effective food

It might seem ridiculous to say that spending money on food that you give away for free is cost-effective, but research has shown that the sums really do add up. Most days, a good chunk of the workforce will probably leave the office on the hunt for fresh sandwiches or barista-style coffee, and these breaks can take time depending on queues, traffic and who they might bump into.

By offering all of these things on the premises, you can subtly cut the time that is wasted out of the office and actually increase productivity. The free food not only saves on time, but the right foods offer a great stimulus for the brain, providing a steady and sustained energy boost, focusing the mind, and improving concentration and cognitive function. What could be more cost-effective than an employee who works harder for longer without even knowing that they are doing it?

Traditionally, when we think of employee benefits and perks, we tend to consider pay rises and bonuses, or even gym subscriptions and health plans. All of these costs a considerable amount of money when they are offered to all of your staff, but many studies have found that simpler benefits such as food can often be received more positively than a pay rise. That means you can enjoy the same levels of staff satisfaction for a fraction of the cost of the alternatives.

Staff retention

Sadly, too many people are now unhappy in their jobs, but surveys have found that 67% of employees who have free food at work class themselves as “extremely happy” or “very happy”. A happy employee is one who stays where they are and does not take their talent, skills, and knowledge elsewhere. By retaining valued employees, your business can function better, and you can save time and money not having to constantly recruit for replacements.

When you do look for new staff, word is likely to have got around that you are an employer worth working for, and this can mean that better prospective candidates head your way.

Easy to do

Free food can take many different forms, so you don’t need to worry about providing a three-course meal every lunchtime. It can start with something as simple as a regular supply of fresh fruit and water cooler. Offering free tea and coffee always proves to be a winning strategy for staff, particularly if you provide a machine that offers high quality drinks that feel a little more special.

You can also provide a micro market to meet the needs of all your staff. These are laid out as small shops made up of state-of-the-art vending machines. These can distribute all your favourite snacks and drinks as well as fresh food and hot meals. They can be designed to fit whatever space you have and fit in with your company branding. They save a fortune on canteen equipment and staff and stay working 24 hours a day. This gives your employees choice and allows you to cater for a whole range of dietary requirements, lifestyle choices and allergies.

Offering free food does not even need to be a constant factor. It can be a collective meal at the pub at the end of the week or something to celebrate reaching targets or milestones.

Free food might seem unnecessary at first glance, but it is actually a very welcome benefit for most. It is cheaper than many other perks that you could offer but goes a long way in benefiting both employees and the business as a whole. So, why not order some Friday afternoon donuts and see what effect they have on morale?