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New Such Thing as Free Lunch: Profiting From Corporate Catering

As the corporate world continues to make a comeback, many staffers remain “out to lunch” when it comes to returning to the office full time. With companies struggling to fill empty cubicles, many execs are turning to corporate catering to lure staffers back to the office.

Though many businesses are continuing to operate remotely or on a hybrid schedule, getting back to a traditional office work-life is still important for many companies, which begs the question: How can employers entice employees to return to their desks?

The promise of free food has the potential to attract even the most dug-in remote workers to return to the office. Even if it’s on a part-time basis for starters, large firms, big tech companies, and many corporate giants are reaching their employees' hearts through their stomachs, using catered meals to lure staffers back.

Whether thought of as a perk, a bribe, or a kind gesture, dangling the carrot of free mid-day meals under an employees’ nose is a simple, savvy, and fun way to fill offices once again.

Feed Them, They Will Come

As the novelty of working from home has begun to wear out its welcome, many office staffers that have long been working remotely are eager to get out of their cushy cocoons.

But there are still obstacles in the way for some staffers, making the move to come back into the fold a tough task for many employers. There are those employees that now have young children at home for the first time and aren't willing are financial able to seek out childcare. There are those that simply don’t miss the commute, 6:00 alarm, or a big boss looking over their shoulder. And there are others that have simply dug their heels into their remote work lifestyle and don’t have any desire to change.

Regardless of the objection, many companies need to work overtime to convince staff to return.

It’s important for these employers to understand their staff’s mindset by acknowledging the pros and cons employees are weighing before making the decision to return to office life.

Studies show that Americans spend an average of $3,000 annually on midday meals. So, it should come as no surprise that the average corporate staffer, who spends between $11 and $20 per day on lunch, either at their desk or going out for a bite with co-workers, isn’t exactly jumping at the chance to return to the office. And this goes for breakfast and dinners for those who work beyond 9 to 5.

So, how are employers removing the food factor from the equation? It stands to reason that offering employees complimentary catered meals during work hours will certainly have an enormous impact when luring them out of the nest.

By bringing in boxed lunches, healthy breakfasts, and happy hour hors d'oeuvres, the idea of returning will certainly seem a lot more appealing. This presents restaurants with a golden opportunity to create an entirely new stream of revenue, separate from online delivery, and even separate from their catering menu.

From made-to-order breakfasts to help give staffers a great start to their day to boxed lunches, perfect for keeping the energy high during long presentations and brainstorming sessions, offering sandwich and wrap platters, individual bags and lunch boxes, and group breakfasts are all great ways for restaurants to profit from this migratory moment.

No longer geared toward long formal working lunches or the brief case and pinstripe suit set, savvy restaurants are retiring their outdated menu offerings and redefining what it means to cater to the working consumer. By offering casual, healthy, and eco-conscious menu options, those restaurants that reimagine the business lunch and deliver dishes that appeal to a new generation of office staffers will flourish.

Stats to Consider:

  • 88% of companies are using incentives to get their workers back on site.

  • 77% of organizations have adopted a permanent hybrid working model.

  • 61% of businesses are making changes to the physical workplace.

  • 5% have no office attendance policy.

With a labor shortage still looming, many employers that are having a hard time hiring are offering prospects free lunches as a part of the onboarding process. Feeding the office crowd can be anything from group-style, full course meals to individual boxed lunches, sushi platters, or pizzas delivered every day for the midday meal.

Value of Free Lunch

A study of workers nationwide found that free lunch is one of the top perks that matter most to employees. The study found that offering free catered lunches not only helps with employee retention, but it's almost becoming expected and helps with the hiring process.

For businesses, there is also a productivity benefit. With so many offices moving to a permanent remote hybrid structure where employees only come into the office one or two days a week, offering free lunches during meetings and creative brainstorming sessions helps encourage teamwork and promotes an open exchanges of ideas.

Free lunches can also benefit employers by boosting work performance, retention, and employee wellbeing. And by reducing employee burnout, organizations benefit as well.

More stats to consider:

  • 65% of employees commuting to the office part time would work on site if complimentary lunches were offered

  • 20% of office workers would go into the office three to four days a week if free catered lunches were offered

  • 23% of workers would return to the office full-time if free lunches were available.

  • 20% of workers rank free lunches above other perks, including car expense reimbursement and gym memberships as incentives.

Take Away

In a tight labor market, offering free catered lunches can help employers stand out and support employee recruitment and retention. Today's restaurants have a unique opportunity to add a new stream of revenue by recognizing and taking advantage of this trend.

By reaching out to businesses with menu offerings that cater to a new generation of corporate climbers, restaurants can profit from this "new such thing as a free lunch" in corporate America.

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By Eileen Strauss


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