Food perks

Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo, unveiled a number of fascinating employee incentives, but it was one specific and relatively simple offering that garnered the most enthusiasm from her employees: free food!

Cool food perks in the workplace are the focus of this week’s trend, and we’re going to take a look at several examples just in case staff morale incentives are on your own agenda.  

Let’s start with Google, the tech giant based in Northern California with 70 offices in more than 40 countries. Google is known not only for its unique workspaces but also its food offerings, as most are free! 

Google keeps local seasonal menus at all of its cafes — to the tune of roughly 50,000 new menus annually. The company also hires some serious chefs from entities such as the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team, a New York Times-lauded chef out of Nick & Toni’s and award winners from the Culinary Institute of America. Google also tends its own on-site gardens and beehives.

In Google’s Venice, California, office, the culinary team feeds more than 500 Googlers a daily complimentary breakfast, lunch and dinner with a rotating menu that changes every 24 hours. Micro Kitchens are stocked with products sourced from growers never more than 200 miles (322 km) away. In Google’s child-care centers, children actually grow their own food, and at Google’s New York City office, guest chefs frequently speak and plan a signature menu that day for the staff to enjoy.

Shoe distributor Zappos recently took over the old Las Vegas City Hall building, outfitting it with a 12,000-sq-ft (1,115-sq-m) Z-Bistro where workers can pick up complimentary grilled cheese sandwiches as well as fruit and trail mix from a do-it-yourself trail-mix bar. Zappos also serves a US$3 hot breakfast, US$2 pizzas and US$5 monster burgers. If you still prefer snack machines, they dispense items for only a quarter!

Another interesting idea can be borrowed from McMurry, a Phoenix-based content marketing firm that provides minibars around its offices with inexpensive meals, fresh fruit, 20 different beverages, organic bars, etc. The staff pays for their food based on an honor system where they can use a mobile-payment device to pay on the spot or they can request an estimated amount to be deducted from their payroll check. Average costs range from US$0.25 cents for a bottle of water or a chicken teriyaki bowl at US$1.75. The company also offers free-food Fridays and a full catered lunch once a month.

NetApp, based in Sunnyvale, California, hosts an annual event called “Share Your Lunch” where employees buy a US$10 lunch served by company executives in the company’s cafeteria with the full donation going to the Second Harvest Food Bank. NetApp also hosts Friday Beer Bashes once a month in most of its offices where hundreds of employees socialize and enjoy beer, often from local breweries, with complimentary food, Ping-Pong and pool.

Software company SAS Institute Inc., based in Cary, North Carolina, purchased a 1-acre (0.4-hectare) sustainable farm that cultivates produce for all four company cafeterias. The chefs meet with the culinary farmer prior to each season to determine which crops to plant for their menus, and they recently added a dedicated greenhouse.

Employees can also order “leftovers” from the company kitchen to take home for dinner or for personal events, including deli trays, personalized cookies, pizzas, marinated pork loins, flank steaks and soups.

Twice monthly, Lexington, Massachusetts-based Vista Print invites food trucks to dish out free benefits while stock firm the Future Advisor has altogether skipped the on-site catering and instead buys its employees groceries to cover three meals!

Whether it’s catered meals, in-house chefs or creative giveaways and events, these savvy firms have included meals as a way to attract and keep the best and brightest employees on board. To paraphrase a well-known saying: The way to an employees’ heart may very well be through the stomach.

If you have a culinary perk for your staff and it has proved to be worth the investment, please chime in!