What are meal allowances?
Yep, we already know guac is extra. And it ain’t cheap either.
For a lot of employees, grabbing lunch or a quick snack is just part of the daily routine. Sure, it’s convenient and tasty, but these pricey bites can add up. Too many tasty treats, and they’ll need to tighten their belts on their food budget.
Folks usually end up eating at least one meal (or sometimes two) during work hours. That’s a lot of meal deals. And as much as they’d love to check out the trendy new fusion spot down the block, many end up opting for something cheaper instead.
It’s also not uncommon for people to skip meals entirely in an effort to save time and money. (And our stomachs are growling just thinking about that.)
Perhaps a more troubling recent trend is “desktop dining.” 62% of workers say they eat lunch at their desks, and almost half of Americans eat lunch alone.
Meal allowances (also called food stipends) allow employers to pay for employees’ meals. It’s simple: your teams go out to eat, choose their food like any other meal out, and the employer picks up the tab.
How do employees use meal allowances?
Your Finance Manager wakes up at 6 a.m. every Monday through Friday. This gives them just enough time to shower, get their kids ready for school, grab a cup of coffee and a donut or muffin, and commute to work.
While at work, they’re so busy, they usually only have time to pop out for something quick and easy (53% of meals purchased away from home are spent on lunch).
But eating out for lunch every day is expensive — so they usually turn to the value menu. Yeah, a burger and fries isn’t the healthiest option, but it gets the job done without weighing too heavily on the wallet.
They’ve done this for the last five years they’ve been with the company, but that quick-and-easy diet is starting to catch up with them. They’re a bit more lethargic than they used to be, they don’t eat as healthy as they’d like, and the costs are steadily adding up.
Their usual lunch combo costs about six bucks. That’s pretty easy, right? That’s already about $1,500 a year spent on eating out for lunch, but a healthier diet costs almost $400 more per year. The extra cost for food is always a nagging consideration, along with all the other financial responsibilities they have.
And the costs aren’t limited to dollars and cents. Because of your Finance Manager’s burger diet, they’re often tired and sluggish. By the time 3 PM rolls around, they’re already yawning.
But since your company introduced this new meal allowance benefit, they’ve stopped stressing over throwing down a couple extra bucks for a salad — and why not add that side of fruit too? Now they no longer reach for their usual afternoon coffee, and they even have the energy to take on new projects (yes, even after 3 PM.)
How do meal allowances impact employees?
We get it — when you have a to-do list a mile long, the cheap and easy lunch choice can seem like a no-brainer. But healthier meals cost about $1.50 more per day — and the cheap option will rarely leave you feeling great.
This is part of what makes unhealthy food choices so difficult to avoid. Everyone wants to save money and time. But an astounding 91% of workers would like to eat healthier at work.
Plus, when you give all your teams free rein on free food, they might be more likely to go out for a bite together. Suddenly, their lunch break becomes a group-bonding, community-building, morale-boosting activity.
And come on, it’s free food. Who doesn’t like free food?
Why should employers offer meal allowances?
While this may cost employers a few bucks now, providing meal allowances can earn you some real brownie points down the line. After all, free food is a major perk. Plus, covering meal expenses can also encourage a proper lunch break, maybe even with some coworkers — which can really help build morale and team camaraderie.
An unhealthy diet contributes to an increased risk for loss of productivity by 66%, and health-related productivity loss can cost employers two to three times more than their yearly healthcare expenses. Yikes. Instead of pinching pennies with the value menu, have a healthy meal on us.
A great lunch doesn’t just fuel physical health, but mental health as well. When your whole team has access to meal allowances, they are far more likely to share a meal together, which can boost morale, strengthen bonds, and offer a change of scenery to jumpstart their brainstorm sessions.
In 2019, 37% of large companies offered meal allowances, along with 17% of small companies. For large companies, it was considered a top-ten incentive. Because, once again, it’s free food. This is one of the few benefits that everyone can get on board with. So bon appetit.