When considering a job offer, which work perks do you weigh? High salary, flexible vacation policy, stellar health insurance… But what about catered lunch? Free lunches probably never crossed your mind, but that may be because you’re not doing the math.
During the interview process, you’ll want to ask whether the company has catered meals. Here’s how to evaluate the answer you receive, so you can make the best job choice for you.
Consider Savings on Food
The Cost of Eating Out
How much does your lunch cost you? Nowadays, well-balanced lunches start around $10 – depending on your diet, cuisine preferences, and city. Once you consider ingredient substitutions, tax, tip, and a beverage, you’re looking at a considerable daily expense.
Buying lunch outside of work really starts to add up. Your daily $15 lunch over the course of a year easily comes to more than $3,300!
And the healthier the lunch, the more it can cost. Let’s say you’re being careful about what you eat – whether for health reasons or because you’re doing a Tough Mudder. That daily lunch may well come to $20. Superfoods like acai or quinoa can be expensive. At that rate, a daily lunch with dietary restrictions comes to $4,500 for the year!
If your company caters for its employees, consider the savings as part of your annual salary. A $50K offer with lunch may seem more like $55K in your pocket.
The Cost of Taxes
But don’t forget that these numbers are different in one very significant way: taxes. If your company provides $5,000 worth of food as a work perk, you pay no tax on that. That $3,000-$5,000 in free lunch value is not part of your taxable income, unlike $3,000-$5,000 in salary. In other words, $55K in salary is worth less than $50K in salary plus $5K in free lunches.
Moreover, many companies don’t offer lower salaries just because they are providing food as a work perk. After all, office meals are a benefit that boosts productivity and improves company culture. More often than not, you won’t need to make a choice between lower salary and lunch provided by the office; you can have both!
The Cost of Bringing Lunch
Maybe you bring your own lunch to work. You would rather have the higher salary since packing your own lunch will cost you much less than $5,000 per year. However, the tax question still applies. If you purchase cheaper ingredients with your post-tax salary, they may cost the same as eating food provided to you, on which you pay no taxes. And remember that many cities have a sales tax for food purchases, so you’d be paying both income tax and sales tax on your food ingredients. If your company provides lunch, then you don’t have to pay for either!
Account for Time Savings
The Cost of Traveling
Most importantly, a lunch catered by your company can save you time.
When you don’t have to travel and wait for your food, you can spend that time in other ways. When eating out, it takes time to decide where to go. You have to walk to the restaurant, wait for your food, and walk back to your office. This can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the distance and wait time. Even if you multiply 15 minutes of waiting and traveling by 225 workdays in a year, it comes out to 56.25 hours of extra time that you could be using in other ways. Consider the value of that time spent getting lunch.
The Cost of Driving
And if you work somewhere that requires you to drive to get your food, don’t forget to account for the gas, parking, and other costs associated over those 225 workdays. At an average per-gallon gas price of $2.29, a 3-mile round trip to pick up lunch in a car that gets 22 MPG (average for the US) comes to $70 per year.
Remember you don’t have to trade getting lunch for work. Instead, use that saved time to improve your health – break for meditation or exercise. Rather than taking time to do a chore (picking up a meal), you can socialize, stretch in your seat, or escape to a quiet corner of the office. The value of these activities are harder to quantify but are much more impactful.
The Cost of Preparing
You might be thinking that this doesn’t apply to you, since you bring your lunch to work. No need to drive anywhere, saving both time and money. Unfortunately, that fails to account for the time you spend getting groceries, preparing and maybe even heating that lunch.
Aside from the time costs, bringing your own lunch also makes flavor fatigue a bigger issue. The time efficiency of making one or two dishes and portioning them for each workday is likely to make you bored of the same meal. By comparison, catered lunches can be specifically planned to be different every day, avoiding that taste fatigue.
Remember Less Tangible Savings
In addition to both money and time, don’t forget the less tangible savings. Specifically, remember how much more you can enjoy a job that includes shared meals as a work perk.
A lunch with co-workers helps build camaraderie and trust, which foster effective collaboration and job satisfaction. Lunch together prompts the sharing of stories, which uncovers common ground. That could help you find a friend for life or just give you something to look forward to. This teamwork and positive feeling bears fruit in many ways.
Work perks like catered meals can help build a strong company culture. It attracts other fun, talented people to your team. When recruiting new team members is easier and less costly, those dollars can be reinvested into employee retention efforts or into other aspects of the business.
But overall, a bigger piece of the pie
Moreover, if your company offers revenue sharing – whether stock options or bonuses tied to company growth, catered lunch can increase the value of your chunk of the pie. For example, research suggests that “companies with engaged employees report 2.5x more revenue than competitors with low engagement levels.” Therefore, a company culture of engagement can translate to a much higher bonus for you.
By taking a job that includes lunch catering, you could save $3-$5K on food and $1.3-$2.5K worth of time – in addition to significant savings that are harder to quantify. That comes to $4-$8K of value, even before accounting for intangibles. That unspent money could constitute a pay bump, a hefty deposit, or even a “just-for-me” fund! As long as it’s not spent on lunch, it’s more money in your pocket.
Originally published April 25, 2017, updated February 15, 2018
Show Your Office Manager the Value of a Catered Lunch!