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Lisa Bateson

Shaw Trust

Learning and Development Business Partner

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What happens when you stop providing lunches on internal training courses?


Our organisation has always provided lunch to delegates on our internal training courses, which are held at our own offices. Usually about half the delegates are actually based at that office, the other half travelling in from across the UK, often the day before. The lunches are ordered by our Admin team and are supplied by local sandwich shops/small caterers. Lunches cost on average £6.50 per person (they used to average £5).

It has been suggested that due to the rising cost of lunches and the admin work involved (and in anticipation of a smaller admin team) that we no longer supply lunches, and we ask delegates to bring their own.

I can see the 'black & white' rationale for doing this, but am concerned about the perception that this will create about the organisation and the training team in the minds of our employees, and the subsequent impact on the quality of their learning experience, and their motivation to learn.

In a previous (blue chip, multi million pound) organisation I witnessed an outcry from employees when free tea & coffee was stopped as the company was trying to save money. The perception created was that the company was penny pinching, 'sweating the small stuff' and didn't value it's employees sufficiently to stand them a few hot drinks a day. They also quickly identified other areas in the business where cost savings could be made. It had a negative effect on morale and damaged the psychological contract between employer and employee.

I'd be very grateful if you could share your experience, observations or opinions about organisations stopping providing lunches on internal training courses with me. It will help to inform our debate.

16 Responses

  1. Working Lunch

    I think one of the most important aspects of attending internal training is to meet your colleagues from other offices, towns and even countries.

    My personal preference is to have "working lunches" where we do an informal project, brainstorm, guided discussion, group exercise or activity etc etc 

    I think £6-50 per person is a small price to pay for the positive outcomes that can be achieved when people get together and lunchtime is quite often the only time this can happen.


  2. I’m with Steve on this…..

    ….."there is no such thing as a free lunch" so, as Steve suggests, have a networking activity over the lunch break. The only downside is that traditionally (in these modern days when peole feel that they cannot be disconnected from their emails for more than 4 hours or the world will grind to a halt), lunchtime is when many people  go back to their desks, pick up their messages etc. 

    But you are right; removing a long term small perk for the common man is going to be seen as penny pinching.

    BTW>At a civil service site where I worked once, if the staff were provided with a free lunch, or even free tea and coffee, they had to have a corresponding amount docked from their salary as it counts as a benefit in kind!

  3. You get nothing for free in this life…

    Just to play devils advocate a little – when did it become the norm that you were guranteed a free lunch at training events?!?

    Staff don’t get free lunch on any other working day, why the exception when attending training?

    What is wrong with making staff aware that lunch is not provided, but the following catering options are available…x, y, z…etc., and ensuring you allow enough time for people to eat?

    Would staff really prefer lunch/tea/coffee etc. short-term and then potentially have to face staffing cuts further down the line?

    I, for one, value my personal development more than a free lunch, if I want/need training then I don’t care about the lunch!



  4. What happens when you stop providing lunches on internal trainin

     People moan for a while and then get used to it.

    We stopped all refreshments a few years ago and have saved thousands of pounds a year as a result. 

  5. Tell them why?

    The current financial constraints on most organisations cannot have escaped the notice of your course participants, so if they know, in good time, that lunch will not be provided they can make their own arrangements (just as they do every other day of their working life).  This does mean that you need to allow a decent interval for lunch if people have to go out and buy sandwiches etc.

    There may be some argument for people attending from far afield who are not able to bring lunch from home. Perhaps the organisation could include a small contribution towards lunch in their overnight expenses to compensate?

    If people know that the training budget will stretch further if lunch is no longer provided I would hope they will just suck it up!

    Hope this helps.


  6. Networking gains

    As one who has seen more benefit accruing from the informal over-lunch conversations, I think it is important to give people opportunity to meet together as much as possible. This opportunity to network is especially important for those virtual team members who travel in for training. So, a walk together down to the Asda/Boots/.. to buy sandwiches can be as beneficial as a ‘free lunch’. It’s the interaction that’s important, not who pays.

  7. Changing “the way we do things here”

    When I was Head of L&D for a national charity, we had exactly the same internal debate, and made the decision to stop buying lunch for people on courses.  There was a lot of moaning, and a number people who were travelling from elsewhere tried to create problems ("we can’t bring a packed lunch if you can’t guarantee a fridge is available to put it in", "there isn’t anywhere nearby to buy gluten-free sandwiches" etc etc).

    This did go on for some time, despite our best efforts to communicate the reasons for and the benefits of this change, including showing people the figures of how much money we’d save and how much more we could therefore invest in their training.

    However, eventually people found other changes to moan about, and bringing your own lunch to training just became part of "the way we do things here" in the same way that previously, being provided with lunch was part of "the way we do things here".  As a charity, we were always focused on getting the best possible value for money, and making this change saved us an absolute fortune which enabled us to still deliver a comprehensive training provision despite significant cuts in our training budget, so I do believe that we made the right decision at that time.

    Good luck with it, whatever decision you make!

    Best wishes



  8. Lunch is important

     Its really important to provide a lunch for a number of reasons. First, it shows that you value your delegates. Second, whilst the delegates are being "sociable" having lunch, it gives them a chance to build rapport and "network"

    I train a lot of LSAs and when they see I have provided a nice 2 course lunch they say "We didnt expect this" but when asked if they though that headteachers would have lunch provided their answer was in the affirmative.

    Another reason is so that they dont wander off and come back late!

  9. Perhaps there is a middle ground?

    In my organisation we have gone the other way (albeit a few years ago) – from not providing lunch at all for internal staff training events, to providing it at some events. This was as a result of a number of staff comments (based on their expectations I guess from attending external training events).

    So, whilst it would be nice to provide lunch for all and on all occassions, we decided to treat each course on an individual basis considering the likely merits/value of the continuing lunchtime networking oppotuinity – according to the training topic.

    So for example, we always provide lunch for staff attending our Talent programme sessions (as they are an intact group attending a  programme of activity over an extended duration and one of our obejctives is for them to form strong bonds and enduring networks to support each other in their developing careers with us), but we wouldn’t typically provide lunch for a Presentation Skills course.

    We always make the lunch provision situation very clear when we issue course Joining Instructions – and we have never heard any complaints about our approach.

    The other approach you could also consider is whether you can source more cost effectively. We are lucky to be based close to two good sized supermarkets, and we purchase our sandwiches from there (at much less than £6.50 per head!)

    I hope this helps and good luck with your decision..whatever it is!

    – Lindsey

  10. Choices

    Saving a couple of jobs or free lunches? That’s the question we asked our staff and it sure focused minds. The decision was saving the jobs (unsurprisingly?).

    Also don’t quite get the concept of being valued through a free lunch? Our staff felt valued about being consulted about the change, having a clear rationale presented to them and the continuaton of development activities. And we as trainers need to get less diva-ish about how we are not valued and start focusing on the business bottom line!


    Off to buy a loaf of bread for this week’s butties….

  11. What happens when you stop providing lunches on internal trainin

    What is the value of people getting together to talk about how to improve issues that affect them?  How many opportunities are there for effective internal networking? How much time is lost by not having a working lunch to spare a few quid on a sandwich?

    How often companies say "Our staff are our biggest asset" and then show them as a liability.

    The cost of a lunch is not going to save a company or someone’s job.  If the training is of value then it should be evident that spending on hospitality is valid, if not then cancel the training.

    Adrian Richfield

  12. The cost of a lunch is not going to save a company or someone’s

    I could offer lunch for 3500 filled course places annually @£6, or pay for my admin team.

    Admin team wins.

  13. Who wins
    I could work for a company that thinks Important worth a sarni and crisps and glass of juice…possibly fruit and cookies…or I could work elsewhere..
    Cookies win

  14. people get used to the change

    I work in the not for profit sector and we stopped free lunches a few years ago.

    Staff understood the financial reasons for the change and it was not a big issue

Author Profile Picture
Lisa Bateson

Learning and Development Business Partner

Read more from Lisa Bateson

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