Cut Any Expense You Want, But Don’t Dare Take the Coffee Away!
(This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post)
I had a lunch the other day with a friend of mine who was just elected to be the managing partner of a mid-sized engineering firm. Being the good manager that he is, he’s been reviewing the firm’s books to familiarize himself with how things operate. One thing took him by surprise.
“Coffee,” he said to me, shaking his head. “Can you believe that last year our firm spent close to $100,000 on coffee?”
I believed it, and I told him a hundred thousand dollars seems like a lot! But I also gave him some advice: for God’s sake, don’t take it away.
When was the last time you visited a customer or client and you were offered a cup of coffee from an old-school coffee pot? It’s been a while, right? Coffee used to be simple. And cheap. You bought a can or two of Maxwell House from the local supermarket and a coffeemaker from Sears. There was no cappuccino, espresso, mocha or lattes. There were no flavors. There were no “cold brews.” It was just coffee. When the coffee ran out, whoever was there made a new pot. At 3PM, the coffee left in the pot tasted like oil. People would leave the coffeemaker on for too long, and the hotplate would burn. The smell of stale coffee always lingered in the air. Occasionally someone would accidentally leave the coffeemaker on all night, and the entire office building would burn down.
Ah, the good old days!
Today, it’s all different. There are different machines to make different types of coffee. There are flavors ranging from spiced gingerbread to hazelnut cinnamon roll, and no, I am not kidding. There are pods and cups and French presses. There are six different kinds of sweeteners and seven different kinds of milk (let’s count them down: whole, 2 percent, 1 percent, fat-free, flavored, half-and-half, artificial creamer). You can grind up the beans right there in the office. And don’t even get me started on the different types of tea.
It’s just coffee. But it’s madness. It’s expensive. It’s over the top. But for God’s sake: don’t take it away!
That’s because this isn’t about coffee. It’s about your employees. Gourmet coffee, no pun intended, is a perk. People work hard, and they want the perception of treating themselves when they take a break. Most of us really enjoy the experience of creating a special, gourmet cup of coffee (or tea) to reward ourselves for a job well done even though we know in our hearts that we are just average people doing mediocre things. The breakroom isn’t just a place to sit, have a smoke and complain about your aching corns. In today’s workplace, the breakroom is equipped with refrigerators filled with bottled water and energy drinks, bins of healthy snacks, TV monitors showing CNN, posters with motivational sayings, foosball tables and ergonomic furniture designed to reinvigorate our weary souls.
In my travels, I have visited corporate employee breakrooms that would make the typical small business owner faint. I’ve seen sushi chefs, endless vats of candy, wine and cheeses, hot and cold breakfast and lunch options, cereal containers and waffle makers. Taking a break at some companies is like having breakfast at a Marriott Courtyard…all day.
These are big companies. If you’re a small business, you can’t afford this, but the important thing to remember is that your employees believe this stuff is important. They value their little pleasures. It makes the day slightly better and their jobs slightly — just slightly, mind you — more palatable. These little perks go a long way and once you offer them, you best not take them back unless your company is facing dire financial straits. My friend is soon to take over the management of an engineering firm, and you can’t get any more boring than that. Offering gourmet coffee is a small expense to pay to keep his people just a wee bit happier.
So, for God’s sake, don’t take the coffee away. Raise your prices a penny or two to absorb the costs or take a few less pennies in profit. Over the long haul, you’ll get payback.