No Free Food For You!

August 9, 2018

Companies around the Bay Area have been offering employees free lunches and other meals as an incentive to … well … work for them. It seems like these days, it’s not enough that a company pays a good salary; they also have to provide other perks to attract talent (or people they want to work for them). One of these benefits might be free food. Hungry for lunch? Just head down to the company cafeteria and order what you want! Peckish and need an afternoon pick-me-up? There’s a company cafe in the lobby—help yourself! Nice, right? After all, having food whenever you want is a big time saver and getting it for free … well … that’s even better!

via FreePik

But how about going out for lunch? There’s not a lot of incentive to do that when your company offers free food, right? That’s exactly why two San Francisco supervisors are trying to get rid of the free-food offerings at some companies—sort of. Supervisors Ahsha Safaí and Aaron Peskin are sponsoring a city ordinance that would ban companies from operating their own cafeterias in new office buildings. Their argument? Other local businesses suffer when companies provide free food to their employees. By making it illegal for companies to operate their own cafeterias, the argument is that employees will go out for lunch and local businesses will reap the benefits. Sounds like a good plan to help local businesses who have suffered from a lack of customers, right? Well, yes, but is that fair? And should the government have a say in whether or not a company can offer free food to their employees? After all, companies are trying to treat their employees well—or are they?

Let’s think about why a company would offer their employees free food in the first place (beside the fact that it’s a nice thing to do). Believe it or not, there’s research that shows that when a company offers free food, employees stay at work longer. Makes sense, right? They’re not going out to lunch or stepping away for that afternoon coffee, so they’re spending more time at work. But is spending more time at work a good thing? Meanwhile, the government is supporting small businesses (a good thing), but it comes at the expense of companies and their employees. Is that right?

What do you think? If you could propose a solution that would support small businesses and allow companies to continue providing free food, what would it be?