6 Steps to Launching an Employee Meal Program

May 3

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Knock on wood, the worst of the pandemic appears to be behind us. Though there’s a return to familiarity, some things have irrevocably changed. 

It’s more important than ever to ensure our employees have a comfortable and engaging work experience once they return to offices.

One effective strategy to boost your employee’s experience is implementing a meal program. A well-fed employee is a happy employee. Happy employees tend to be more enthusiastic and remain engaged. It’s also an opportunity to gather together and bond, fostering communication and collaboration.

Follow us as we walk you through implementing an employee meal program in your organization.

1. How much food will we need?

Begin with determining how many meals your company will need each day. Give out a survey to your staff. Find out who would participate in a work lunch program. If the company pays for all or part of each meal, you’re sure to evoke interest in most or all of your employees.

The first question of your survey, with available answers, might read something like this:

What is your interest level if the company were to provide daily meals for all employees?

  • Yes, I will participate in a daily meal.
  • No, I have no interest. I bring my own food or prefer to eat out, and I would like to keep it that way.
  • I’ll participate sometimes.

Count all the yeses, leave out all the nos, and figure on an average for the some-timers. Add the average and count the totals, and that will be the number of daily meals your company will provide to your staff.

For example:

  • 100 employees receive the questionnaire. 
  • 50 employees respond, “Yes.”
  • 20 employees respond, “No.”
  • 30 employees respond, “Sometimes.”

We count 0 for the nos, 50 for the yeses, and 15 for the part-timers – figuring only half of them will likely participate on any given day. This gives us 65 meals per day.

Also, get a sign-up sheet ready for new hires and those who change their minds. Add an option to cancel daily meal delivery if something comes up that prompts an employee to begin bringing their own lunch – like a diet or a restriction for health reasons.

2. How much will it cost?

Once you have the total number of daily meals, you’ll need to determine whether the company will pay for each meal up to a specific dollar amount or offer to offset the cost of each meal by a certain amount. 

The cost of meals will vary widely, depending on your city. We can’t offer a strict guideline, but $15 to $25 per meal is a reasonable rate for most localities. Determine the cap for your cost per item, and multiply that by the number of participating employees. 

3. Get C-suite buy-in

The time has come to get approval from company leadership. We suggest you prepare a presentation. 

Here are some key points to bring to the C-suite’s attention:

  • Fed workers at lunchtime are far more likely to remain engaged in the afternoon, and engagement is vital for productivity.
  • USA Today confirms that employers that provide their employees food – even regular snacks – enjoy much greater employee retention. 
  • Delicious, nutritious food gives your company a built-in recruitment tool.

Take a look at this Thriver article, covering the benefits of providing meals for employees for more valid points to meet company leadership with. And remind them that the company’s money spent on employee meals will be returned in the form of team focus and productivity.

4.  Who can eat what?

Consider food allergies and ethical or religious restrictions. Many caterers offer vegetarian and vegan options and will often provide custom choices to accommodate people with allergies.

Through Thriver you can contact the provider right from the product page to communicate about dietary restrictions. Providers are happy to fulfill requests for individually marked, separately prepared or specially packaged meals. Some providers, by request, will bring along a card with a complete list of ingredients. 

Most HR software enables you to track dietary restrictions. If this isn’t something you currently keep track of, it will be helpful to gather that information and hold onto it for future meal planning.

5. Order from local favorites

You’ve got your budget and approval to move forward with an employee lunch program. Now is time to start the legwork and compile a list of caterers that can deliver regular meals to your office.

Many caterers specialize in one style of food or another. Don’t limit yourself to a single caterer. Your employees are going to want a variety – and if you’re partaking, you’ll likely want something different from time to time as well. 

Can someone help me decide what to order? Yes! Our Culture Experts can help you find caterers and build a meal program that’s right for your team. Also, look at our wide selection of catering and food options on the Thriver marketplace, where we can help facilitate and plan delicious lunches for your workplace.

6. Make the big announcement

Is everything in order? Did you get all your survey responses back and work out your budget? Did the word come down from management to move forward? And – if so – did you establish the necessary business arrangements with caterers and food-service providers? If you answered “yes” to all of these questions, then it’s time to send the good news out to the rest of your company.

There are many ways to present the news. You can send it off in an email, announce it in a company meeting, or even prepare a video showcasing this new and fantastic job perk.

Suggested wording for your announcement:

We are excited to announce our new employee nourishment initiative. Beginning on (date), (the company) will be providing daily lunch options for every employee who declared their wish to participate in the survey we sent out. Lunchtime meals will be provided by (list caterers). These meals will come at no cost (or reduced cost) to you.

Prepare for questions

Employees will have questions no matter how much information you give during your announcement. Here are some of the questions to prepare for – and hopefully preemptively answer during your statement:

  • What if I opt for the meal plan, but then coworkers and I decide to go out for lunch one day?
  • Will there be vegetarian/vegan options?
  • What if I decide I want to stop getting daily meals?
  • What if I said no on the survey, then I change my mind later?
  • Why isn’t my favorite restaurant one of the caterers?
  • What if I don’t like any of the options one day?
  • If the company is subsidizing but not covering the entire bill: “Why doesn’t the company pay for all of it?
  • Can we offer suggestions for places to deliver?

There will likely be other questions, but these or similar ones will undoubtedly arise due to your announcement.

Thriver’s mission is to help you build a thriving workplace. A lunch program is one ideal way to set your organization on that path. Feed your team members well, keep them happy, and sit back and watch as they return the favor with productivity, creativity, and appreciation for their company.

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