Sharebite CEO and Co-Founder Dilip Rao and Co-Founder Mohsin Memon
There is no such thing as a free lunch – unless large companies want to bring their employees back to the office during a pandemic.
Employers, including banks and asset managers, tech companies, and law firms, step up plans to get back to work as more Americans get vaccinated and New York Mayor Bill De Blasio seeks to reopen the city in July.
Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, has called his U.S. employees back to the office at least part-time through July. At Goldman Sachs, employees have been told they should be ready to return by mid-June. Other companies are aiming for a return flight date after Labor Day.
For some companies like Goldman, free meals began as a necessary amenity last year when so many restaurants were closed that employees had few options at lunchtime. For others, the benefit is a way to make offices more attractive to those who have become accustomed to remote working, according to Dilip Rao, CEO of a food ordering platform called Sharebite, which has nearly 200 corporate clients.
"Many of these companies are reopening their offices and using food as a carrot to bring people back," Rao said. "When we talk to companies, they often say, 'I don't care if it's $ 20 a day [in the form of food subsidies], I just want people to be back in the office."
Organizations struggle to safely welcome back the thousands of workers who have been working from home for more than a year. They had to walk a tightrope to convince staff that it would be safe to return without the need for vaccinations. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that nearly two-thirds of employees felt uncomfortable returning to work.
Part of that equation is figuring out how employees feed themselves. As a result, companies have reconfigured cafeterias or signed up for software platforms like Sharebite that streamline orders.
That makes free food, which was once common at tech giants like Alphabet and Facebook, into one of the ways in which employees can get back to office life, says Rao.
According to the New York-based start-up, more than 90% of Sharebite customers, including financial institutions, corporate and professional services companies, and technology companies, subsidize at least some of the employer's meals. Top-class clients include McKinsey, WeWork and Coinbase.
That number is even higher for financial firms like banks and hedge funds. Investment banks such as Credit Suisse and Cowen as well as the asset manager Neuberger Berman subsidize meals for employees via Sharebite, according to a person who is aware of the agreement.
A sharebite station at a workplace.
One problem that Sharebite has solved is that a flood of orders around noon would result in lobbies being overcrowded with delivery staff. Employers who have signed up with the company whose main competitor is Seamless can instead group orders from a list of approved restaurants, resulting in a single delivery to a Sharebite-branded station.
"All of our customers realized very quickly that they could reopen their office, but you need a plan to minimize the variability associated with people getting in and out of your building," said Rao. "You don't want hundreds of delivery people waiting in the lobby for lunch breaks. You definitely don't want thousands of employees pacing up and down crowded elevators."
Prior to the pandemic, banks and law firms typically had employees hand out meals in the evenings or on weekends to reward long hours, Rao said. Now almost all orders on Sharebite are during the lunch break, he said.
Firms like Goldman that don't use Sharebite have still made a choice to feed their employees.
According to spokeswoman Leslie Shribman, Goldman has been offering free breakfast and lunch at its headquarters in downtown Manhattan since last year. In locations that don't have on-site cafeterias, like the company's hub in Salt Lake City, employees receive up to $ 20 a day in food subsidies, she said.
Other financial firms have also increased the perks, although they may not be indefinite.
Bank of America employees receive food and transportation grants to work in the field, but "those programs are now evolving," said one person with knowledge of the company. Regardless, the bank has offered subsidized child and elderly care to all employees, and that goes on, the person said.
At Bloomberg, Wall Street data analytics company owned by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, employees have long had 24/7 access to snacks. Now the lunches are more robust and individually packaged, including salads, noodles, and the occasional sushi, said people knowledgeable about the company.
Not all investment banks have gone this route. JPMorgan and Citigroup are not currently offering food subsidies beyond what investment banks have traditionally done, company spokesmen said.
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