The ROI of Lunch

The three martini, Don Draper lunch era is long gone, but lunch still holds exceptional value for businesses -- probably even more so today than in the 50s. Lunch holds the potential for satisfying opportunities like fostering collaboration, increasing productivity, supporting employee health and wellness, improving employee satisfaction and providing a powerful tool for recruiting. You can achieve a terrific lunch ROI by putting just a bit of your money in your employees' mouths.

Here is some food for thought on the benefits of providing your staff with free lunch:

Make more money. Sounds counterintuitive: Spending money will actually help make more money? It's true: Offering employees a free lunch rather than them taking an hour off work to forage on their own offers a solid ROI. But did you know that ROI could reach as high as 150%? An average lunch costs about $11, and your well-compensated employees make much more than that per hour, so the numbers can really add up. While there are some rumblings that the IRS may begin to consider "free lunch" as a taxable fringe benefit, the ROI is still nearly 100%, even if lunch does become taxed. You can download this free lunch ROI calculator and when you see how much you can save, you'll wish you had calcu-sooner.

Support employee health and wellness. What's a major benefit of serving healthy food at work? Healthy employees, and healthy employees save businesses countless dollars. According to The Integrated Benefits Institute, poor health costs the U.S. $576 billion a year, with $227 billion of that specifically tagged as "lost productivity" due to absenteeism or employees working while ill and therefore not at an optimal level of performance. Once again, businesses can eat away at these statistics with a fantastic lunch program: According to the Harvard School of Public Health, businesses spending $1 on employee health and wellness programs can expect a $3.27 reduction in healthcare costs. Offer foods to your employees that keep them fit and in your office, not the doctor's office.

Drive collaboration. It's hard to get every department on the same page. Sales and marketing are notorious adversaries. Tech often ignores HR's cries for help. Product gives customer service the cold shoulder. Plus, 62 percent of U.S. employees eat lunch at their desk every day, which is a missed opportunity for socializing, collaboration and brainstorming.

Free food is a great social lubricant, as it is a uniquely social activity. Serving food is a way to break siloed and divided business teams, spurring conversations that would never have occurred without the lure of free food. Collaboration can help improve communications, increase the speed and effectiveness of decision-making, and facilitate trust throughout an organization. Let employees chew the fat together to break down silos, build camaraderie and improve overall business output.

Improve employee satisfaction. Employees love their perks, especially free lunch.Company-sponsored lunch is a highly visible and beloved benefit that your employees will recognize and appreciate. Free lunches can drive greater employee satisfaction, at a lower cost, than other more expensive benefits, like golden staplers and personal robot butlers. In fact, a WorkSphere survey found that 30 percent of participants said that access to free food greatly contributed to workplace happiness. So if your employees feel like they have a full work plate, supplement that with a full food plate to make that workload more digestible.

Improve recruitment. During the interview process, how often are your fielding the question, "What's your lunch program?" If you haven't heard this yet, you will. Depending on your industry, lunch could be the benefit that sets you apart from other employers. Widely regarded as ideal places to work, Twitter, Facebook and Google are among many companies attracting top-notch talent with top-notch cuisine.

If your company hasn't been offering free lunch, it's not too late to update the menu. It's an easy and affordable fix with many options for delivering affordable and healthy food with selections your employees will devour. Free lunch can give you a terrific ROI, serving up productivity, wellness, talent and cost-savings, all on a silver platter.