I still remember the day six and a half years ago when I got the job offer from my current employer. I was a college student and a reporter living in Iowa at the time, and I had printed out my offer letter in the newsroom just so I could hold it in my hand: salary, health care, 401(k), vacation time. In San Francisco, California, of all places.
That offer letter felt like the most generous golden ticket. It still does, which is probably part of the reason why I work here today. But I had no idea how much else was awaiting me in the form of perks.
I remember excitedly telling my parents during my first week that I sometimes used the ping-pong table next to the beer keg as my desk. They were confused; I was happy.
The PR and communications agency I work for is what I call “tech adjacent” — all my clients are fast-growth startups. And I entered this tech world in 2013, the year when 26 companies went public, marking what WIRED described as “the biggest year for internet IPOs since the height of the dot-com era in 2000.” Money was rolling in, and perks were one way to get and retain talent.
Anyone who’s worked in tech or watched the show Silicon Valley knows what I mean when I say perks: nap pods, kombucha on tap, in-office massages, and even the infamous controversial Google buses come to mind.
Now the company I work for is not at nap-pod level, but it’s very generous nonetheless. I remember excitedly telling my parents during my first week that I sometimes used the ping-pong table next to the beer keg as my desk. They were confused; I was happy.
There’s one perk, however, that seems to reign supreme: food. This very unscientific observation of mine is backed up by a 2019 Jobvite survey of over 2,000 U.S. employees and job seekers. Half of all the respondents named snacks and meals as their most desired perk; somehow that category beat out paid family leave (23%) and the option to work remotely (25%).
I’d just moved into a new apartment, and as with most moves, it was a hit on my bank account. I was extremely privileged to even come to this realization, but I realized that there was one thing I could do in the short term to reduce weekly expenses: lean in to the perks.
For one week, I decided that I would take full advantage of work-provided perks, mainly in the form of food. The rules were that I couldn’t do anything dishonest, like invite a client to lunch solely to expense avocado toast. I would simply be a yes woman, à la Jim Carrey circa 2008. If a perk were offered to me, I’d say yes. When conceiving this idea, my expectations were that I’d save a bit of money and eat a lot of carbs. What I didn’t expect was the overdue crisis of conscience on the other end.
I started the week with my typical work-provided breakfast: a toasted English muffin with peanut butter, plus Activia yogurt on the side. It’s a warm and filling meal and makes me think of Jamie Lee Curtis, which is a lovely way to start the day. I also partook in the ever-present Joyride cold-brew coffee.
Monday is the day when my company caters lunch, so I ate a hefty amount of Mexican food from Tropisueño and didn’t eat any free snacks that day.
Daily perk haul: morning coffee and two full meals. Estimated worth: at least $25.
My breakfast was the same. Love ya, Jamie. Keepin’ me regular.
For lunch, I made a fatal mistake. I always take advantage of the beautifully free day 2 leftovers from Monday’s lunch. But on this day, my diligence slipped. I lost track of time, and by the time I had run into the kitchen, eyes casting about for tortilla chips, I found that all that was left were condiments. I made a sad taco bowl with shredded lettuce and salsa, supplemented with pretzel sticks and cheese.
On Tuesdays, a yoga instructor come into the company for anyone who wants some Zen. The session starts at 6:00 p.m., so beforehand, I ate a snack of yogurt and granola, plus some chips. Did I feel great in downward dog? No. But I was fed, and it was free.
Daily perk haul: morning coffee, two meals, a snack, and a yoga class. Estimated worth: $51 ($30 for food + $21 for the cost of a class with the yoga instructor at her studio)
A year ago, my employers made a momentous announcement: breakfast would be catered on every other Wednesday. Many people at my office arrive before 9:00 a.m., so this was a welcome development.
I went a little overboard with a slice of quiche, half of a breakfast burrito, half of a jalapeño cheddar biscuit, yogurt and fruit, and a piece of pound cake. Yes, I was stress-eating, and yes, it was free.
When I finally got hungry for lunch at 3:00 p.m., I ate the same exact thing from breakfast, this time with some leftover scrambled eggs. At this point, I’d eaten at least six eggs in a six-hour period. I did my best not to blow chunks during my workout class. I just stared at my sweaty face in the mirror and reminded myself of how much money I’d saved.
Daily perk haul: two full meals and a coffee. Estimated worth: about $30
I had my normal breakfast of peanut-butter toast. Except for the days on which we have breakfast catered, I eat this every single morning and have done so for the past two years. If you’re thinking, “Wow, she sounds sad and boring,” please don’t, because it has already occurred to me. But according to some exceptionally baseless articles, it actually means I’m “highly successful.” So take that. Apology accepted.
At lunch, things were a bit grim. I pulled out Wednesday-breakfast leftovers, and it turns out that avocado and eggs aren’t the most appealing after sitting for a day on the counter and a night in the fridge. Nonetheless, it was free, and I had access to Frank’s RedHot sauce, which can fix just about any meal’s shortcomings.
My afternoon snack was a bag of Popchips. Are they popcorn? Chips? I’m not sure, but I do know that an alarming number of influencers have been hawking them on Instagram via ads lately, so consider me successfully targeted.
Dinner was free for the taking, but it came with a price: I had to sign up to play kickball with the company team. I spent half the day trying to find a way out of this dilemma because 1) I am horrible at kickball; and 2) it was scheduled for 8:00 p.m. deep in the Mission. I’m an East Bay devotee, and the trek home sounded like it would be exhaustingly long on a work night.
But when our angel of an office manager announced that the team would be ordering from the Italian Homemade Company, my decision was made. I slurped tagliatelle, happy as a clam, until I actually had to go play kickball.
“How bad could it be?” I thought. It’s a game that kids play at recess. At my first at-bat, we had two outs. I kicked the ball toward third base and turned to sprint to first. Then I promptly, spectacularly ate shit. I didn’t trip daintily over the base. Ho no, I did some Scooby Doo–style feet-spinning in midair, then slid-slammed into the gravel like a newborn giraffe not two feet from home plate. By the time I stood up and laughed heartily like it was a hilarious comedic choice I’d made, the inning was over. My teammates were very nice about it. My knee was not.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to limp to BART with bleeding palms. Because of how late it was, I was able to expense an Uber home.
Daily perk haul: three meals, a coffee, a snack, a kickball game, and an Uber ride home. Estimated worth: $118 (about $55 for food, $15 for the cost of an equivalent sporting/torture activity, and $48 for an Uber ride and a tip)
Ah, the last day of the week. I made it. For breakfast, I ate my old standby and winced every time I moved my knee.
I skipped lunch because I had something better waiting for me: our annual company picnic. Every summer, it happens at a time when many new employees start, several fresh out of college, so it’s a casual way to spend time together, play cornhole, and eat a lot of food.
I took a free Uber ride to Golden Gate Park with four co-workers, eagerly anticipating the picnic fare. We’d been promised catered paella on top of the typical spread of charcuterie, fruit, Susie Cakes sweets, and drinks. It sounded gluttonous, and it certainly was. I ate lunch upon arrival at 2:00 p.m., then burned some calories playing volleyball. My knee protested loudly, but I was committed to redeeming myself with a sport that I could actually play. I ate again right before departing at 5:00 p.m., counting it as an early dinner.
Daily perk haul: three meals, coffee, free wine, an Uber ride to the park, a ride home with a co-worker. Estimated worth: $145 (about $55 for food, $30 for wine, and $60 for an Uber ride and an equivalent ride home)