(This post originally appeared on Philly.com)
Offering coffee in your office is a perk that’s as old as there have been offices. But today’s coffee break is not your standard office coffee break. Instead of the traditional coffee pot, many companies opt for services that provide specialized brewers, flavored coffees, bean grinders, espresso makers, and all sorts of other drinks and snacks, usually at no charge to their workers.
While very much in demand, all of this comes at a cost, and for a small business already operating on thin margins, it can be an expensive benefit to provide. So is it worth doing this on your own or using an outsourced service?
It seems that outsourcing may be the right move. Why?
According to research site Cost Owl, the average business using an external coffee service will spend anywhere from $50 to $125 per employee annually with that service and oftentimes the cost can be even, more depending on the types of coffees, teas and other drinks and snacks offered. Does that sound like a lot? Apparently, it’s not as much as if you do it on your own.
If you assume, as some statistics show, that a typical small business with 10 employees will consume an average of 16 cups of coffee a day, or 4,160 cups a year, then buying the coffee alone will approximate the cost of a service. But it’s not just the coffee. All of that drinking also requires supplies, maintenance and repairs. Oh, and buying the equipment, which often breaks down. So doing this on your own means also spending the time to make sure the machines are supplied and working properly. For many small-business owners, it’s just one more unnecessary and costly headache.
“Why not have a company provide that equipment, service the equipment, and deliver, all at no charge?” asks Alex Epstein of Philadelphia-based coffee service provider A-Best Vending. “That company receiving the coffee service does not have to go to a store and worry about buying the items, picking up the items, and delivering them back to the office. The time involved alone can be a half a day. Additionally, when there are breakdowns and other mechanical issues, the business will have to pay a lot of money to get it serviced.” In the end, isn’t it more productive to have your employees do the actual work in your company instead of worrying about servicing the coffee machine?
But that doesn’t mean that you have to spend more than you need to. There are things you can do to keep your coffee costs under control.
Epstein recommends buying such local products as Ellis Coffee, La Colombe, and Wawa as opposed to the more expensive national premium brands. Spence Epstein (no relation to Alex), the president of Bevco Service in Edgewater Park, warns not to over-order and to consolidate all purchases with one person. Using a first-in, first-out method for using supplies is also crucial to avoid waste. “You would be surprised how often I see a customer who did not rotate product and have coffee go out of date,” he says.
Another good tactic is to do what many convenience stores do: Brew coffee in larger quantities and save in thermal decanters or air pots, rather than just use single-cup makers, which are more expensive, harder to maintain, and not so great for the environment.
Yes, the environment. Many of the coffee service providers I spoke to say that their “green-friendly” products and services have become increasingly popular, particularly among customers with a younger workforce. Steven Betz of One Source Office Refreshment Services in Pottstown says that most of the single-cup systems his company offers have recyclable options or a specific program to help recycle spent coffee. He also sees a growing amount of cups, cutlery, plates and other items that are recyclable.
But it’s not just about the environment, or even the caffeine. It’s also about health, taste and choice. Most good coffee services will offer different types of beans, various flavors of tea — such as green and chai — as well as hot chocolate and a variety of healthy snacks and drinks such as juices, flavored waters, and flavored seltzers. “You want the service you use to offer a variety of selections in all categories,” A-Best Vending’s Alex Epstein says. “You never want to be locked into one brand of cups, coffee, creamer, etc.”
In these days of tight employment and the need to attract and keep good workers, offering coffee and even snacks with plenty of choices and in an environmentally conscious way has become a must for a small business.