Free lunch


The previous owners of my restaurant had a free-for-all meal policy for staff. I came up with an hourly meal credit system to manage cost, but it's not working. I’m looking for a solution to this that is fair for everyone, effective and affordable. Ideas?

– Jeff


It is a great idea to offer staff meals for a variety of reasons:

Servers who have tasted menu items can sell them more convincingly.

People work better and cleaner when they aren’t hungry.

Safe-to-eat leftovers or excess product can be repurposed for staff meals.

Employees will be happier and have a chance to bond over a meal.

You are suffering, however, from an overly complicated policy that is difficult to understand and seems to be difficult to enforce. As a result, you are shifting from an anything-goes policy to the other direction—since the benefit is so challenging to figure out, employees are making their own rules.

I recommend you continue to offer a meal but that you do so in a clearer way. Something like:

  1. Employees are entitled to one meal and two nonalcoholic beverages per shift up to $XX.
  2. Additional food and beverage, whether consumed during work hours or not, is available at a XX% discount.

This proposed policy has a few advantages. First, it is simple so won’t take much time to set up or enforce. Second, it encourages employees to eat during their shift rather than saving up their credits for a big splurge. Employees with something in their stomachs will be less tempted to sneak food, helping you get a better handle on your food cost. Finally, the discount will encourage staff members to become familiar with a wider variety of items on the menu and may even generate some revenue.

Your decision to have staff meals rung into the POS is a good one. The cost of these meals is an employee benefit for accounting purposes.

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