Providing free hot drinks for staff may be a real cost saving.
Should a company provide fresh tea or coffee for its employees? If so, should it charge them for this refreshment? Or should it simply leave them to instal a percolator or commission one of their number to slip round to the corner cafe? Minor questions maybe, but possibly more important than some managements appreciate. 'A lot of companies, particularly small and medium ones don't realise that employees recognise these things as part of what the Germans call the social package', says Mark Heron, joint managing director of the German-owned company Tchibo Coffee International.
A coffee-roaster could be said to have a vested interest in the matter. Less so an investment bank. Yet Schroders provides a 'high standard canteen' for all staff, serving anything from a cup of coffee to a hearty lunch - and all for free. In the City, it seems, some of the old standards are maintained. Up in the North East, Vaux Group also supplies all levels of personnel with coffee and tea, in this case via free vending machines.
Further, as is proper for a brewer, Vaux allows employees a monthly ration of free beer. The Body Shop likewise practises what it preaches. The free coffee enjoyed by its head office staff comes infused with the corporate ethos. All beans are supplied by Cafe Direct, another ethically-conscious organisation with a commitment to fair trade. Small companies, and individual branches of larger ones, often adopt a more ad hoc approach.
But there are numbers of large organisations, too, which evidently feel that beverages are not worth bothering about. 'Visitors attending meetings at British Telecommunications will generally find coffee laid on,' says a spokesman. As for the rest, 'We have canteens where people can buy it, or they can bring their own.' Blue Circle sells tokens which enable staff to get a cuppa. Even employees of Nestle UK find themselves, as a rule, stumping up for the brew they help to make.
But, overall, the trend is towards a free coffee culture, and there are good economic reasons for this. Management whose staff regularly troop off to fill the kettle or out to buy hot drinks might reflect that 15 minutes a day adds up to nearly 60 hours a year - or almost £500 per employee. That's a lot of cups of coffee.