Silicon Valley discovers that the way to an employee’s heart is through the stomach, offers free food


According to a recent study, start-ups based in San Francisco are spending big bucks to attract top talent.

Zerocater, a food service company which delivers catering to start-ups in the area estimates that offices spend about $78,000 to $208,000 per year on snacks alone for a company that consists of 100 people. The company’s clients include Visa, Adobe, Salesforce, and Well Fargo, surveyed over a thousand employees at 13 different client companies.

ZeroCater’s study discovered that some of the most popular items were Honest Teas, High Brew Coffees, and La Croix Sparkling Water. Companies, in a bid to ward off office sickness, are also stocking shelves with Emergen-C and fresh produce.

However, it is not all low-calorie beverages and protein bars. Offices also tend to stock a wide variety of edibles such as Cheez-its and Fruit by the Foot. According to ZeroCater, Austin Zoo Animal Crackers are the most popular guilty snack.

Food as job lure

Even though free food is hardly considered as a deal-breaker when a job seeker accepts an  offer from the employer, it has now become a growing popular perk for some companies within and outside of Silicon Valley. These companies include Bloomberg, the media giant, where workers are known to wax enthusiastically regarding the bounty of complimentary snacks of the company.

On the other hand, with the average company is spending between $3 and $8 on snacks and beverages each day per employee, in-demand items can produce the difference in attracting talent.

ZeroCater, for its study, surveyed employees at various companies regarding their satisfaction with their free snack offerings. The average checked in at a 1.7, from a scale of 1 to 5, emphasizing how some companies may be looking to improve what they are offering to employees.

An online survey development company that outsources their snack and meal catering, SurveyMonkey, gives employees two free meals per day in addition to snacks.

“It is a bit of an art and a bit of science, we take a pretty data-driven approach. We ask employees which dishes they enjoy” said the vice president of human resources of SurveyMonkey, Rebecca Cantieri. Underscoring how seriously the company takes feeding its employees, she added that the chef of SurveyMonkey actively solicits cooking ideas.

“We also watch inventory patterns so it gives us a sense of what employees take advantage of, what they enjoy and what is less of interest,” said Cantieri.

She estimated that company spends close to $10 to $15 a day per employee (there are more than 700 employees, according to LinkedIn) on meals and snacks. Cantieri said that the food offerings do not only promote healthfulness but also foster a sense of community.

In fact, the employees surveyed at SurveyMonkey ranked food in their top five of what is most significant to them, along with work flexibility, medical benefits, and other key quality of work-life factors.

‘Painful and time-consuming.’

ZeroCater is a company based in San Francisco. However, it serves clients in San Francisco, Chicago, New York City,  Austin, and Washington D.C. The company has collected $5.6 million in funding since 2009, its inception and it boasts over $100 million in sales to date.

ZeroCater’s founder and CEO, Arram Sabeti, began in Silicon Valley, where one of his duties actually involved office catering. “I sold my car, sold my stuff [and] moved into the Bay Area,” he said during in an interview.

“I eventually joined a company called Justin.TV, I was the fifth employee there.” In 2014, Justin.TV would go on to combine under the name Twitch Interactive and then be obtained by Amazon.

At the time, Sabeti was tasked by the CEO with ordering lunches for the whole office. He started doing everything from placing food orders, office managing, recruiting, and more.

“Of all the different hats I had to wear, by far the most painful and time-consuming was ordering the lunches because you had to figure out where to order, what to order, how much to order, what is gluten-free, vegan, doesn’t have shellfish in it and restaurants that would make people generally happy,” stated Sabeti.

Sabeti said that ordering for a company of roughly sixteen employees at the time took well over an hour. On the other hand, many restaurants found it hard to accommodate and remember dietary restrictions.

The said experience has helped Sabeti tailor the business model of ZeroCater, which is being influenced by the industry’s use of food as key to luring talent.

“We really see snacks as that second wave of employee benefits that companies are providing and employees value,” stated ZeroCater’s vice president of sales, Ali Sabeti.

“Any companies that need to attract top talent, they’re buying their employees Blue Bottle Coffee , they’re buying Kombucha, they’re buying Yerba Mate,” Sabeti added. “These are the perks they’re offering their employees so they stay productive.”