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Companies Luring Workers Back to Offices With Free Food: Hope for Restaurants?

The Motley Fool logo The Motley Fool 7/10/2021 Maurie Backman
a group of people sitting at a table: Companies Luring Workers Back to Offices With Free Food: Hope for Restaurants? © Provided by Millionacres Companies Luring Workers Back to Offices With Free Food: Hope for Restaurants?

There was a time when working from home was more like a one-off privilege than the norm. But the pandemic changed that.

For the past 16 months, many employees have been working remotely, and while some companies are starting to call workers back to the office, that request is being met with a fair amount of resistance. At this point, a lot of people are used to working from home and don't want to lose the flexibility that comes with it. Some may also have legitimate health-related concerns, especially in situations where companies won't be mandating coronavirus vaccines, testing, or masking requirements.

Still, a large number of companies want their employees reporting to an actual office building -- and that's a good thing for office REITs (real estate investment trusts), many of which saw their value decline in the course of the pandemic. And some employers are doing their part to make the idea of office life more enticing -- namely, by offering workers free food.

It's a tactic that could draw more people back to the office in situations where companies are letting employees choose their own work location. But just as importantly for real estate investors, it's a strategy that could also help save a lot of restaurants from going under.

Restaurants need business

A growing number of companies, including investment banks and tech firms, are offering employees free meals as a new in-office perk. It's a benefit that can save workers money and also avoid disruptions to the workday that result in lost productivity.

But also, it's a strategic safety move. Employees in large office buildings who need to order in their own lunches might crowd elevators and lobbies at midday, and there's nothing like a hefty dose of congestion to bring COVID-related concerns back to the table. By providing free meals, companies can better coordinate the delivery and distribution of food so that people don't have to cluster around to get fed.

Offering employees free meals could also work wonders for restaurants located in business districts, many of which have seen their revenue decline drastically in the course of the pandemic. While some restaurants are recovering at a reasonable pace now that dining restrictions have largely been lifted, those that commonly service office building workers may still be lagging in revenue due to the large percentage of employees who haven't yet returned to in-person work.

If companies start utilizing those restaurants more to provide on-site meals, it could be just the thing that prevents those businesses from shuttering. And that, in turn, benefits the commercial landlords who rent to them, as nobody wants to lose tenants at a time like this.

The Millionacres bottom line

While upholding long-term remote work policies can work to employers' benefit (think cost savings on office leases), many companies still maintain that in-person collaboration is best. Those that want to sweeten the deal for workers can continue offering free food as an employee perk. And the longer they do, the greater the chances that restaurants in business districts will survive the pandemic rather than succumb to it.

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