There used to be a time when the idea of your workplace offering any food beyond the requisite coffee was a gold standard – reserved for trend setters like Google.

But now? Over 45% of employers offer some sort of free meal or snack, making them the most commonly used work perk, according to human resource company, Zenefits.

The problem? Even though employee meals are popular, they can get in a grey area when it comes to laws and taxes. Several major cities – including the tech hubs of Menlo Park and San Francisco – are considering tightening their laws around at-work cafeterias, and the extent of “free” food available in the office.

Which is inconvenient for both employees and employers, as subsidized food both keeps employees happy, and, if done correctly, more productive. Thankfully, when it comes to subsidizing calories for your employees, we think we’ve found the perfect solution: meal cards.

What Are Employee Meal Cards?

Employee meal cards are like corporate credit cards, except they’re restricted only for meals.

The best way to understand this is an example. Say you have per diems for employees on work trips, or have a certain amount allocated to lunches. Many times this means an employee is spending out of pocket on a meal, and then being reimbursed later. This is both awkward for the employee as they have to cover expenses out of pocket, as well as creating a burden on accounting, who have to wade through and approve expense reports.

The alternative is giving employees corporate credit cards, which while prevent out of pocket spending and have great flexibility, are prone to employee misuse.

Employee meal cards provide all the flexibility and convenience of a corporate card, with an added peace of mind. Employees don’t need to worry about tracking every expense, and employers don’t need to audit their employees to make sure they’re not overly plastic-happy.

What kind of restrictions are involved, exactly?

Basically, anything you can think of.

Want to make sure your employees are spending for lunch during work hours, and not for happy hour sushi? Set time restrictions on your card, for instance from 11am-2pm.

Want to increase spending amounts while employees are traveling for conferences? Set date restrictions, raising or removing spending limits during certain time periods.

However control means you can also be as flexible as you want to be. Emburse’s employee meal cards allow for a wide range of vendors, including meal delivery services such as DoorDash and Uber Eats.

Enjoying Lunch

How well do they work?

In a nutshell: very well.

We’ll walk you through it. First, consider how much time it takes your employees to properly fill out expense reports if they eat out regularly. We used a conservative estimate of 1 hour/month spent filling out expense reports.

Next, consider how much time is spent is used by accounting and office managers checking, approving and authorizing expenses. We calculated about 16-24 hours a month total, depending on company/department size.

Now consider how many employees your company has, and how much you value their time over the course of a year. In our test studies with Shopkick, we found employee meal cards saved 1,548 employee work hours. This isn’t even factoring in employees potentially misusing corporate expenses.

Outside of hours and dollars saved, employees also report positive feedback at having a straightforward meal policy that doesn’t cause stress over what does or does not qualify.

Bottom Line: Your employees like to eat, you like to make your employees happy. Meal cards let you control employee expenses, while minimizing headaches for your company. No need for lengthy reimbursement reports.

See it for yourself

Try our fully functioning demo account and see if Emburse is the right fit for you.