First, it doesn’t actually cost the company much.
Let’s say it costs $300K per year for Google to provide salary, benefits and overhead for a software engineer. (It’s often much more than that amount.) If the engineer works 2000 hours per year (40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year), that translates to $150 per hour. In the 5 minutes the engineer might spend waiting on the checkout line to pay for lunch, Google loses about $12 of labor – basically, what their lunch might cost anyway.
The employees often save even more time than that, by not needing to cook.
But it’s a great recruiting tool.
It adds to the “enjoyment factor” of coming to Google, either as an employee or as a visitor. The word spreads that Google has great office perks, and applicants are enthusiastic.
Who wouldn’t want this?
It gives employees incentive to work onsite.
It’s always better to get people to do what you want by making that easier. Google also puts zero-calorie drinks like fruit-flavored water at eye level. Higher-calorie drinks are lower, behind frosted glass. Google found that fewer people took the higher-calorie drinks with this setup.
And finally, it builds community.
Google seems to encourage employees to eat together, by having cafeterias that accommodate a variety of different food tastes and dietary restrictions.
Apparently, the snack bars (called “microkitchens” at Google) are also strategically placed between separate teams, to encourage them to cross-pollinate ideas.
Source: Quora Post by Rebecca Sealfon