February 2nd is Jour de Crêpe in France, or Day of the Crêpe. An odd holiday, but because of my dual link to France, I thought it was worth mentioning. For those who don’t know, I am a dual French and Canadian citizen. I’m no longer as fluent in French as I’d like to be, but I still adore all things French and am partial to the culture. Mostly particularly the food.
As an introvert, I’m not given to much small talk. When I do have to engage with people, the topic that gets me warmed up the most is food. Then I think about the workplace and how food, no matter the size of the organization, plays a pretty central role in bringing people together. Whether it’s that monthly birthday cake, which most people have a love-hate relationship with, or the holiday potluck which seems to be a standard among the over 30 crowd, food brings people together like nothing else does.
Today, more and more workplaces are stocking up their kitchens with snack and food items. Gone are the days of basic coffee or tea. Now it’s not unusual to have Nespresso machines, specialty teas, and flavour syrups lining the kitchen counters. Fruit baskets, healthy yogurt, nuts and berries, even cereal are staples of many downtown Toronto kitchens. During the recruitment process, HR professionals and executives tout the wonders of the office kitchen and the wonderfully stocked pantry. The food bill for some of these pantries is not low, but leaders and owners gladly shell out the money because it keeps the workforce engaged, in the office, and happily stuffed with (mostly) healthy fare. Employees love that they don’t have to spend their hard-earned dollars on generic snacks from overpriced food courts and convenience stores. Go to the kitchen to stretch your legs, grab a snack and resume the grind. Everyone is happy.
So, how exactly do go about setting up a food and pantry program at work. Here are 6 things to keep in mind as you take your workplace perks to the next level.
1. Survey your employees
This doesn’t have to be a formal survey. Simply keep your eyes and ears open for what people are saying. Would they appreciate a food program? What type of food would they like to see. The key isn’t to get everything on everyone’s list. The key is to see whether most of your employees would appreciate such a program.
2. Survey your industry
I’m not saying that you need to copy whatever is going on with your competitors, but if every other company has a stocked pantry and a food program, then it would be in your best interest to have such a program too. It’s a candidate attraction and retention tool.
3. Assess the costs
If you’re a bootstrapping start-up, investing in a food program might not be on the top of your priority list, however, those are the exact companies that need all the help they can get to attract people over. More and more employees stay with employers who offer the best perks over the highest salary. Assessing costs also involves looking at the vendors and doing a comparative study of who would be able to deliver food and snacks you want at the best price.
4. Assign a person or pool of people to manage the pantry
I can’t stress this enough. You need to have at least one person in place whose job description includes managing the office kitchen and pantry stock. This person needs to know that people will complain to them about the quality or selection of food, and they need to have a thick skin and the maturity to know which suggestions are legitimately worthy of entertaining and which ones are meaningless.
5. Have a “Clean up after yourselves” policy
There’s a dark side to having a food program in place. I’m not sure if people leave their home kitchens a mess, or whether people treat the office kitchen as a public place that doesn’t deserve their attention and care, but if I had a dollar for every dirty kitchen I came across, I wouldn’t need a side hustle. It’s important to let people know that the food program is a perk, and everyone needs to respect the eating area by cleaning up after themselves.
6. Be willing to splurge on healthy items
While it’s cheaper to have snacks like chips and cookies, it’s worthwhile having healthy snacks in the food program. Nuts, berries, fruits, cereal, granola bars, low calorie snack items, and yogurt cups are tasty and nutritious and shows employees that you care about their health and well being.
Having a food and pantry program doesn’t have to be expensive, particularly for small businesses. Start small and work your way up. Finally, the most important piece of advice I have for owners and leaders is to use the food program themselves. You need to know what is in that pantry, how fast it “moves” and whether the selection is one that represents your and your company’s values.
Above all, have fun with food in the workplace. It’s an amazing way to bring your people together!