Getting the Staff Meal Right: Avoid the Backlash Against Free Food in the Office

Posted by on Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 with Comments Off on Getting the Staff Meal Right: Avoid the Backlash Against Free Food in the Office Comments

Who’s going to complain about free food? In some cases, it may be your employees.

Staff meals are a workplace perk that has become almost commonplace in the tech industry. In companies where employees are asked to work long hours and spend a lot of time in the office, providing meals and snacks is an easy way to communicate a message of appreciation and prioritizing employee comfort. However, it appears there can be too much of a good thing: in a recent article in the New York Post, health-conscious employees list the reasons why the free food trend may be facing a backlash.

pizza at the office

Pizzas and donuts can leave some employees feeling overwhelmed and heavy. Image source: flickr user jetalone

“It’s nonstop food,” says Josie Dressendofer, a sales exec for a New York IT firm. “It’s the reason I can’t get rid of those last ten pounds.”

When staff meals mean a box of donuts for breakfast and pizza for lunch, it’s understandable that workers might feel like their employers don’t care about their growing waistline or their overall health. Most employers provide free food to boost employee morale and show appreciation. But if you’re providing a constant supply of fatty foods to a staff member who is working hard to lose weight, that employee is going to feel like the office culture isn’t supporting her efforts.

Even dedicated dieters find it difficult to decline free food in the workplace. They may feel as though they won’t be seen as enthusiastic team players if they don’t join in on the staff meal, even if it’s loaded with sugar or fat grams that they’re trying to avoid. In some cases, there may even be office “food bullies” that purposefully make healthy eaters feel guilty or snobby when they don’t partake.

office catering

Providing a variety of foods is key. Image source: flickr user J. Paxon Reyes

There are a few solutions to the free food backlash, and none include canceling the staff meal! Most importantly, serve healthy food — at least part of the time. You don’t have to swear off pizza, but order a big salad alongside so that conscientious eaters can participate without overindulging. Don’t let unhealthy food be the only option.

When healthy food is present, make it the most easily accessible. Google reorganized their beloved campus cafes to make healthier options more visible, reduced portion sizes on rich desserts, and even famously moved their M&M’s from glass jars to opaque ones and saw calories consumed from candy drop by nine percent. Follow their lead: keep the bowl of fruit on the counter, and stash candy in the cupboard for those employees with a sweet tooth.

fruit basket at work

Make the fruit bowl the main attraction. Image source: flickr user land_camera_land_camera

Promote wellness as well as providing treats. Even if you don’t have an extensive employee wellness program, you can organize an after-work hiking club or create a workplace team for a charity run. This will help employees who are striving to improve their health feel as though the workplace is a safe and supportive environment, not a threat to their personal goals.

From increasing productivity to improving employees’ job satisfaction, the benefits of staff meals and free food are well worth the effort; with a few small tweaks, you can avoid the backlash and help employees feel as though you’re truly on their side. Online ordering and Virtual Cafeteria Service from make it easy to provide healthy options at every occasion.

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