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Food service can be a powerful tool to aid recruiting, increase employee engagement, encourage collaboration, or just make your employees’ lives simpler.

Full Service

In The Employee Experience Advantage, Jacob Morgan details how the Airbnb Food Service team constantly “considers and evaluates (1) general satisfaction with the food and beverage offerings; (2) balance of food options (healthy, indulgent, familiar, and exotic); (3) usage patterns, i.e. how many and which meals in the office; (4) how food affects the culture of the company by asking employees where they connect with their peers most often; and (5) how food affects overall outcomes of the business including productivity, recruitment and retention.”  They found that 50% of Airbnb employees say the three-meals-per-day-plus-snacks food program weighs into their decision to stay at Airbnb and 90% say it makes them more productive.

When I visited Airbnb last year, I witnessed the food service amenities in action, enjoying a kombucha brewed on-site and lingering after my visit with a glass of local wine.

Airbnb's Beverages on TapAnother example of the Airbnb implementation: Airbnb has a pastry chef who creates little treats that get wheeled around on carts throughout the day.  It also offers pop-up shops in various parts of the office.  For example, employees could get an email saying “Today from 3-4 we are offering matcha tea lattes in the upstairs kitchen.  Come grab one and say hello to your coworkers.”

Not to be outdone by Airbnb, Pinterest headquarters’ features the Wall of Snacks (not its actual name, but a fitting description).  This large wall is lined with bins of snack food, and this food offering is in addition to the free hot meals Pinterest offers three times per day.

Pinterest's Wall of SnacksIs a similar full service free cafeteria feasible for your company?  Probably not.  San Francisco-based Linkedin is rumored to spend $7,000 per year per employee to provide three meals per day plus snacks to every employee.  While that kind of spend might be justifiable in the hyper-competitive recruiting and retention market of San Francisco, it is less realistic in other markets.

You could, however, implement Airbnb’s pop-up idea today in your company for little cost; no catering kitchen required.  As Seth Godin says, “surprises and vivid action matter far more than we imagine, and we regularly underinvest in them.”

Weekly Plus

Birmingham-based Daxko has implemented a scaled down version of the Airbnb model.  Daxko brings in free lunch for its employees every Friday and calls it family lunch.  In addition, like Airbnb, Daxko’s employee engagement team has been known to wheel a cart of petit fours around the office as a midafternoon employee surprise.  This food service program is more manageable for a growing, budget-conscious company and still accomplishes the goals of encouraging interaction and showing employees appreciation.

Snacks and Beverages

At White & Case in New York City, the law firm built a coffee bar on the second floor of its two-story lobby.  The coffee bar is for employee and client use and, although it is not free, the firm does subsidize it.  The Denver office of Hogan Lovells took a different approach, installing a high-end espresso machine and self-service beer and wine bar in their main gathering area, all of which are complimentary. The firm also provides free snacks.  Meals are not provided in-house, as attorneys are encouraged to go out for lunch with clients and prospects.


White & Case Lobby Coffee BarZappos feeds its employees three hot meals per day, and made the choice to do so even when it was a struggling start up.  During those early days, Zappos salaries were slightly below market, however, the food service benefit and the overall office atmosphere were so attractive to prospective employees that Zappos never had a problem hiring.  Thus, for the same overall spend, Zappos was able to encourage its employees to spend mealtimes together and minimize the time employees spent traveling to buy meals.  This was especially important given Zappos then-suburban location.

Which Is Right For You?

Our advice to our clients?  Look at your budget and your goals and test different approaches.  But definitely build some space into your offices for a food amenity/gathering space, even if it is small.  Per a well-known architect, food brings people together more than any other amenity or space.

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