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Why Free Food at Work Isn’t Always Such a Great Deal


Perhaps you’ve heard the expression, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” A few folks at companies offering paid-for meals can vouch for that: free food at the office is often anything but.


(Photo Credit: BiblioArchives/Flickr)

It’s a popular perk at many startups and other companies that expect long hours out of their staff. Depending on where you work, and how long they’re hoping to keep you toiling away at your desk, you could wind up getting breakfast, lunch, and dinner — all on the company dime.

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The problem is that it’s rarely offered by employers who count on 9-to-5 workdays from their employees. Free dinner, for example, often kicks in at a certain time — say, 7 p.m. If you’re a salaried employee and putting in 10- or 12-hour days, you’re working for a much smaller hourly rate than you thought, when you took the job and were planning to be at home for dinner at night.

Free Food Is Cheaper Than a Raise

Ask your HR person, and they’ll tell you: those free bagels are perks, and they’re a way to make you feel good about working at the company — without the expense of giving you a higher salary. It’s smart for them, but freebies like that are much less costly than giving you more money. As morale boosters go, snacks are cheap.

“Almost every startup has some form of free food available,” says employee-benefits consultant Carol Harnett, in an interview with The New York Post. “It’s just a way to make employees feel special, without the underlying capital of increasing somebody’s actual salary.”

You Don’t Know What You’re Eating

What’s the first thing you do when you go on a diet? Cut out restaurant food. That’s because fat, salt, and sugar are delicious, and many takeout places add them to their meals with a much more liberal hand than you would at home, with the ingredients and calorie counts right in front of you.

When your company orders delivery, they’re probably not thinking about your health and fitness goals. If you rely on your employer to make your meal selections for you, you might end up eating a lot more than you intended to.

Tell Us What You Think

Is free food at work a good deal, or a way to keep employees toiling away? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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Wow… you guys clearly never  worked for a good employer. Any good company (Google, Facebook, etc…) which offers free food give incredibly healthy options and are much higher quality than restaurant food. What’s the point in making your workforce sleepy and unhealthy after every meal? As you pointed out, it’s cheaper than a raise (although these companies pay incredibly well…), and there is no reason for a company to offer bad food. You pay enough salary to keep good employees,… Read more »

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