Should Companies Provide Free Lunch to Their Employees?

Best Practices, Employees, Employer

The benefits and perks of Silicon Valley are both highly publicized and drooled over. Game rooms, massage therapy, and yoga classes fill up the days of the tech-giant employees, but what tops the charts for many employees is, surprisingly, free lunch. Named a top perk of 2014, free lunch offers many advantages — from employee happiness to company productivity — and can serve as a key recruiting tool for pennies on the dollar.

Clear Eyes, Full Stomach, Can’t Lose

45% of job seekers said that the availability of free lunch would strongly influence their decision to accept a job offer. A benefit like free lunch can make the difference between landing key new hires and watching them slip through your fingers. Are you aware that millennials value the whole package when it comes to compensation — not just salary – when evaluating a job offer?

Employees value the grub. A survey from Seamless found that 41% of respondents felt that the best corporate gift was food. Free lunch can mean a less-stressful morning for employees, who won’t have to worry about meal plans. They won’t have to spend time at the corner deli, and the on-campus eatery is but a quick walk away. Less time is spent looking for food, waiting on food, leaving campus, etc.

Sounds like a win to the employee, but can it stretch to a win-win for the company as well?

Of course — or the smart executives at some of the world’s most admired companies wouldn’t have pioneered the practice, or kept it up for the past decade.

Save Me a Seat

Free employee lunch benefits more than just the bottom line. Company provided lunch can be healthier than eating out, and a cleaner lunch supercharges afternoon productivity. Employees with an unhealthy diet are 66% more likely to experience a loss in productivity than those who regularly eat whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The 2 PM crash can turn into a smooth cruise if you consume the right fuel.

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Providing that fuel for your lean, mean, workforce machine just makes sense.

Another bonus: collaboration at the cafeteria.  Currently, 62% of U.S. employees eat lunch at their desk every day. Eating alone at a computer prevents teamwork, camaraderie, and a morale-boosting break. If employees had the option to eat at the cafeteria, they could sit with other employees, brainstorming innovative ideas! Improving interpersonal relationships while at lunch can make the workplace less uncivil and a happier place for all where everyone is BFFs with everyone else.

Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration of the power of food, but there’s a chance!

Roast Beef and Taxes

The free lunch phenomenon has not been ignored by tax collectors. The IRS has placed the issue of employer-provided meals on the list of top tax priorities for the coming year. In the eyes of the agency, free lunch could be considered a form of payment/compensation and could be taxed like any other form of benefit.

A quick look at the breakdown shows the possible financial impact. A Wall Street Journal analysis figures that, if a meal has a fair-market value of between $8 and $10, a Google employee eating two meals a day could be liable for taxes on an extra $4,000 to $5,000 a year. If free lunch were seen as part of a compensation package, it would be on the shoulders of the company and possibly the employees to pay the tax. If you want to use free lunch as part of an attractive compensation plan, make sure your employees know how it will be reported at year-end.

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