When is it the right time to launch a daily corporate catering program?

In past installments we’ve looked at ways to build a winning corporate catering program, and the many reasons why it makes sense to make such a substantial culinary investment—think improved employee engagement, retention, attraction, the joy of seeing smiles on your people’s faces after an awesome lunch. I could go on about the many benefits, but I’ll cap it there. You get the idea.

What many of our clients ask us to outline is the ‘when’ of the daily catered meal program equation. In other words, at what point in their company’s growth should they put the resources into building out a daily cafeteria program? They wonder what questions they should be asking before they take that next step. Is there a certain threshold they need to reach, such as a set number of employees, or perhaps a company revenue target? At what point do they up their game from simply catering in the odd lunch, to making this a permanent, organized feature of their offering as an employer?

Some wonder if it’s based on intuition, or an understanding of the competitive talent landscape in their industry. If Google is doing it, and I run a technology company that draws from the same talent pool, should I be doing it, too? We’ve heard directly from HR, marketing and operations managers that it’s a question that’s often debated internally, yet not always resolved.

The simple answer is that any time is a good time to offer free or subsidized food to your employees. That investment is a sign that you’re serious about their wellness, about providing opportunities for them to build stronger bonds, collaborate on new ideas and simply take a break from the daily grind. But we understand that budgets are not unlimited. In fact, in many cases organizations have relatively small pools of funds from which to draw as they look to build and nurture an employee-friendly program of this nature. The reality is that sometimes tough decisions need to be made and corporate meal programs are a nice-to-have, not a mission-critical necessity.

So, the first answer to that very big question about when the time might be right to kick-start an awesome meal program for your organization is: Whenever the company has grown to the point that management can offer this meal-time perk and sustain it over the long haul. The last thing you want to do is to fire up a corporate cafeteria, only to have to shutter it in a year when revenue dips or the business cycle turns against you.

There is no set dollar figure to determine that threshold. You’ll know the time is right when your CFO or accountant doesn’t squirm in their seat when you raise the idea of serving up daily deliciousness to your people. But here’s the thing: you can plan your program well in advance. Many organizations that Kiss the Cook Catering works with have looked well into the future and decided that in year X, they would launch a meal program. This gives them time to budget and steer funds accordingly, while also designing the program to suit the unique characteristics of their corporate culture.

That brings me to my next point. Culture is a huge factor in deciding when (not to mention what) to cater to your people. We find that most clients engage our services to design and implement a corporate catered meal program when their organizations have reached a certain level of business-cycle maturity—although not in every case. We’ve also helped start-ups build out robust programs. But generally, it’s a larger, more established company that can afford to dedicate the time and resources to a full-on meal program. Younger businesses tend to opt for one-off catered lunches.

Mature businesses also usually have a better sense of what their people want, what they want from their people, and an idea of what it will take to attract, retain and engage top talent. They know the exact culture they need to protect, because it’s sitting fully established before their eyes.

What we also remind our clients is that implementing a meal program can be a unique tool to differentiate your company from its competitors. The point I raised earlier—‘If Google does it, so should we’—has a lot of relevance in sectors where competition for workers is fierce and the decision to sign with a prospective employer often comes down to workplace intangibles and the most attractive experiential perks on offer.

Imagine being able to tell that eager potential recruit about the amazing revolving food stations that you offer at daily meal times—tacos, sushi, poutine, paella!—and how doing so underscores just how committed you are to making your people happy. Dealing with a skeptical, corporation-weary Millennial? Have them talk to your staff who will surely give your foodie-friendly initiatives the thumbs up (especially if it’s Kiss the Cook doing the catering!).

Overall, the best time to launch a daily catered meal program is when it makes sense for your organization. Sometimes you’ll just know, but take our advice when we say that it will be one of the best people-focused decisions you’ll ever make.

Fia Pagnello, Founder and CEO

Contact us now to develop your daily catered meal program!