Free Snacks in the Workplace Go Beyond a Bag of Chips

04 April 2019

Many forward-thinking companies have recognized the value in providing food for their employees, embracing one of the more popular office perks by giving complimentary and healthy work snacks. Since the definition of "healthy" will range from person to person, and budgets should always be carefully examined, how can the modern employer know which snacks work best? Here is a quick guide to implementing this popular benefit in your workplace.

Know Your Workforce

With so many diverse eating needs in today's office, is it necessary to provide options for everyone? The short answer is "yes." It's smart to cater to dietary eating requirements by offering up a few snack choices that those with nut allergies or milk sensitivities can enjoy. The same rule applies to religious or cultural rules, such as keeping Halal-certified or Kosher snacks on hand. Note that it's only sensible to give these choices if there are people in your workplace who would eat them, however. While no employees are required to divulge their personal preferences, an inter-office survey can easily tell you which choices make sense. Smaller companies may not have any workers with these needs. Don't waste money or inventory space catering to a population that isn't there (yet), but create an open dialogue that you're available for suggestions as needs change.

Avoid the Community Bowl

Items like fruit and nuts are incredibly popular. They are healthy work snacks but vending them can be expensive. Most small startups won't turn over inventory quickly enough to have a full-sized vending machine for things like apples and bananas. This doesn't mean you should dump fruit in a big bowl and let everyone take what they may. To keep the spread of germs to a minimum (and preserve the integrity of the fruit), put out only a small amount of individually wrapped fresh items in the community portion of a cooler, fridge or counter, and encourage hand-washing practices in areas where food is stored and consumed.

Discover Diversity

The most popular American vending machine foods haven't changed much over the years. Candy, chips, cookies and granola bars are still the staple of self-serve in break rooms everywhere, but it's possible to be inspired by the cultures of other workplaces. Malaysia, for example, offers cut, dried dragon fruit and other perfectly portioned food items through food delivery services. You can choose domestic items that are more affordable to your area, but be sure to implement at least one new food item a week — or a few each month — to keep snacking attractive to workers and office perks that they'll value most. Use the seasonality of fruits and veggies to help you keep costs low and inventory varied.

Subsidize Snacking

It's a well-known anecdote that people value things more when they pay something for them. Even if you want to provide free, healthy work snacks, consider having a small, token fee associated with the more premium items. The mere act of putting a dime in the vending machine or tossing a dollar in the charity jar will help workers feel invested in the snacks they choose. This will lead to less waste and a true understanding of just how many snacks you should buy for your workplace. (Free snacks sometimes get taken home to friends or relatives.) It's important to make healthy snacks accessible, but don't feel that you need to give everything away. Choose some staple freebies for everyone to enjoy, and make high-end choices an optional but affordable luxury.

With many jobs requiring 40 or more hours in the workplace, it makes sense to help inspire and fuel your employees with free snacks. It shows your workers that you value them and offers responsible ways to get a much-needed calorie fix. Just make sure to focus on items that apply to your unique workforce and keep a variety of healthy items on hand. Solicit feedback often to make sure you are getting it right and adapt if needed, and remember that certain food storage and safety guidelines may apply to anyone providing food to workers.