Just How Popular are Free Employee Meal Policies?

News came this week that an upcoming change by Facebook means tighter restrictions around their legendary free employee meal policy. Will others follow?

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It’s said that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. If that’s true, then many employees in the Bay Area of California might be in for a rude awakening.

News came this week that an upcoming change by Facebook to a perk in their Menlo Park office would mean tighter restrictions around their legendary free employee meal policy. The city prohibits fully subsidizing meals at the office complex, a move to get employees spending more on local businesses. San Francisco, a tech center, is considering a similar move with a proposal to ban construction of new employee cafeterias.  The debate will continue over whether it’s a smart local stimulus or overreach by local politicians.

Many employers — especially tech companies, but not exclusively so — use free meals as an attractive fringe benefit for workers. But how effective is this perk? We wanted to look at exactly how popular employee meal policies are among workers.

In a survey on fringe benefits to be released in September, we asked 608 small business employees which perks their companies offered. (If you want to get access to the survey when it’s released, subscribe to our newsletter.) This upcoming survey suggests free meals might be the most popular perk small businesses offer.

Given the list provided, respondents were asked to choose which perks their employers provided out of 15 options. At 45% “free meals or snacks” was the most cited employee perk among the selections.


However, this indicates what’s offered to small business employees, not necessarily what they use. So we also asked them to select the perks they took advantage of at their current employer. Again, free meals or snacks took the top spot at 35%.


Free meal policies appear to be both a prevalent fringe benefit for employers and also heavily utilized by employees. 

To get a better gauge on the popularity of free food, we asked respondents to rank perks from most important to least important. The perk remained high among other contenders.


Whatever way you cut it, free meal policies are a popular perk for small businesses. And they’re likely to be missed if more businesses are required to cut them out.

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