We think we're doing our employees a great favor by offering them free meals during their shift. But ask yourself... could I get excited about production leftovers, day-old menu items or a random assortment of low-cost and repetitious dishes like spaghetti or hamburgers?
It's no surprise that employees often view the "benefit" of these free meals with a bit of skepticism. They feel, and justifiably so, that management is just trying to fulfill the free meal commitment as inexpensively as possible.
I've got a slightly different take on the issue. I recommend implementing a system that charges employees for meals. You can also use your state's allowable meal credit toward fulfillment of your minimum wage obligation. If your state laws don't allow this, you can deduct an approximate cost of the meals from the employee's paycheck. Ask your employees what they think of this plan. I bet you'll get very positive responses. Here's how it works.
Let your employees order off the regular menu, including daily specials. Even if you don't recover all of your base cost, this is an excellent way to get the most mileage out of your benefit dollars. At my restaurant we excluded two high cost items -- prime rib and lobster. The employees understood the logic behind our thinking.
An accounting note: In order to preserve a direct correlation between menu prices and costs, you should distinguish between employee meals and guest meals. Unfortunately, this can become very complicated. Some restaurants offer employee meals free of cost, others at discounted or special menu prices, or a combination of two or more programs. You can offer free meals to key salaried employees regardless of how you charge hourly employees.
Our downloadable Special Report on Employee Meals is free to Trade Secrets Members. It outlines many of the ways you can "do the numbers" efficiently and accurately. If you're not a member, you can order a downloadable version of the report for $10 from our on-line product catalog ( http://store.yahoo.com/tradesecrets ).
"There's no such thing as a free lunch" may be true in most of the world, but here's one area restaurant employers can get a leg up on the competition for outstanding employees. We all know the price of groceries and the time it takes to prep, serve and clean up after a meal. Present this employee benefit correctly, and your employees will feel they're getting a bargain at meal credit prices.