Jan. 2, 2013 -- intro:
When Marissa Mayer became CEO of Yahoo over the summer, she announced a number of plans for the company, but the change that garnered possibly the most enthusiasm from employees was a simple one: free food.
But it's not just tech companies like Yahoo, based in Silicon Valley's Sunnyvale, that are offering the coolest food perks for employees.
"Some companies understand how an investment in workplace culture can pay off, while other companies may pay less attention to the intangibles," said Susan Lucas-Conwell, Global CEO of Great Place to Work, a research and consulting firm in San Francisco.
Lucas-Conwell clarifies that just because an employer doesn't offer flashy perks doesn't necessarily mean they are not a great workplace.
"Our research has shown that being a great workplace is more about how employees are treated, than what they are given. Great perks are just one of the ways that companies show employees they care," she said.
Do most employees appreciate these perks or would they rather have the option of being paid more, if they had the choice?
Lucas-Conwell said it depends on the workplace. At the "Best Companies" that the Institute follows based on its surveys and ratings, she sees "employees genuinely interested in spending time with each other."
"I would imagine that employees at these companies appreciate the opportunity to connect as much as, if not more, than a little extra money in their paychecks," she said.
Here are nine companies with the coolest food perks, as compiled by Great Place to Work and ABC News, including organic vegetable gardens and full-fledged farms and one company that will stock a home refrigerator for employees.
quicklist: category: title: Google media: 18030440 text:
A list of the best employee perks would not be complete without mentioning Google, the tech giant based in Mountain View, Calif. Its 70 offices in more than 40 countries in the world each have unique building and food offerings, mostly free.
In its office in Venice Beach, Calif., pictured, the "culinary team" feeds over 500 Googlers free breakfast, lunch and dinner, with a menu that changes daily. The Venice office also stocks eight "Micro Kitchens" with snacks, organic dairy and fruits, with all products sourced from growers no more than 200 miles away. The company also planted a garden in the courtyard that features fruits, vegetables and herbs.
In 2010, Google opened up organic vegetable gardens in all of its childcare centers, where children can grow their own food.
In its New York City office, which spans one entire block, guest chefs like Momofuku's David Chang plan signature menus and are speakers occasionally.
It's not just the free, healthy food options that employees rave about. Googlers who give birth are gifted $500 in "Baby Bonding Bucks" to use on things like cleaning services and ordering food. And of late, all Google employees have received an Android device each year as a holiday bonus.
quicklist: category: title: NetApp media: 18038495 text:
NetApp, based in Sunnyvale, hosts an annual event called "Share Your Lunch." At this event, employees buy lunch in the company's cafeteria for $10, which is donated to the Second Harvest Food Bank. Company executives serve lunch to employees. In the photo, Gwen McDonald, executive vice president of HR, Nancy Saunders, vice president of HR Operations, and two summer interns hand out lunches during the event.
NetApp also hosts Friday Beer Bashes, generally every month in most of its offices, where hundreds of employees socialize together to enjoy beer, often from local breweries, and enjoy free food and ping pong, pool, foosball, and video games. The office in North Carolina hosts weekly Friday beer bashes with about 400 people attending each week. In Dallas, employees enjoy a kegerator beer dispenser.
quicklist: category: title: SAS media: 18038538 text:
Software company, SAS Institute Inc., based in Cary, N.C., was rated the top global workplace by Great Place to Work in November.
Among its employee perks: a one-acre sustainable farm, maintained by a landscaping team. Launched in 2011, The Culinary Farm cultivates produce for all four company cafeterias. The chefs meet with the culinary farmer prior to each season to determine which crops to plant for their menus. It recently added a dedicated greenhouse.
Free drinks and snacks are in break stations in every building and employees can enjoy water delivery and weekly fruit and vegetable delivery from local farms.
Employees can order "leftovers" from the company kitchen to take home for dinner or for personal events, including deli trays, personalized cookies, pizzas, marinated pork loins, flank steaks and soups.
quicklist: category: title: McMurry media: 18030463 text:
Phoenix-based McMurry, a content marketing firm that specializes in publishing, Web, video and mobile, provides "minibars" around its offices with inexpensive meals, fresh fruit, Cliff bars, and 20 different types of beverages, like espresso and coffee. Bottled water costs $0.25, and a bowl of chicken teriyaki costs $1.75.
Staff pay for the food based on an honor system, and can deduct however much they estimate they use from their payroll, or use a Square mobile payments device to pay on-the-spot.
Employees enjoy Free Food Fridays, a full-catered lunch, once a month. Friday Happy Hour takes place every week in the offices in New York City and Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
quicklist: category: title: Chesapeake Energy media: 18038875 text:
Chesapeake Energy Corp., based in Oklahoma City, offers four restaurants. Each feature its own concept and speciality, with menus changing weekly and offered at prices below market value. At its Elements restaurant, pictured, the menus focus on fish with six fresh seafood options daily, plus a carving station with daily specials.
The company has an employee garden to foster workplace community and encourage healthy lifestyles. The company says almost 300 employees participate in gardening and grow their own food.
quicklist: category: title: St. Jude Children's Research Hospital text: At St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., its cafeteria, called the Kay Kafe, was designed so staff can share it with patients and families of patients. The hospital's founder insisted on this design so it would create common ground for doctor and patient.
quicklist: category: title: Starbucks media: 18038406 text:
Seattle-based coffee retailer, Starbucks, gives employees a free pound of coffee each week. Starbucks "partners" also receive a 30 percent discount on all items when they shop at any of its stores. During the holidays, partners also receive additional discounts during special holiday shopping days.
quicklist: category: title: Return Path media: 18039495 text:
Email marketing solution company Return Path, offers employees a free meal every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The company, based in New York City, has a fully stocked fridge with food and beverages, and cabinets with healthy snacks.
quicklist: category: title: Spokane Teachers Credit Union media: 18038527 text:
The Spokane Teachers Credit Union in Washington state offers "reasonably priced" food cooked on-site like $5.50 full lunches. The head of the cafeteria hopes to implement Weight Watchers points labeling on its food in the long-term.
Until then, employees can work off the calories with a game of ping-pong in the Breezeway Cafe, which gets daily use, or work on a jigsaw puzzle by the fireplace. The company also has an annual winter cribbage tournament.
For those who prefer to play cribbage at home, employees can get dinner to go.