Corporate coffee cost cutting

Over the course of my audit and consulting careers I have worked in a number of different office environments. I have worked in polished-steel and black marble floored high rises in Manhattan. I have worked in banks, in suburban office parks and in drab skyscraper cubicle farms. I have worked in hotels, in family-owned businesses and even once in a closet which had been converted to an office.

Most of these offices spaces shared one characteristic, which seems to be dying away: a coffee maker. I am not a huge coffee drinker, although I like coffee. I have a cup at home and maybe one more when I arrive at the office. However, I have recently cut back on my one cup at work and drink tea I buy at the supermarket instead. Why? Because in the last 4-5 years I have noticed that coffee makers are disappearing.

There may be a number of reasons, first among them safety hazards. But I think the root problem might be a horribly misguided corporate cost-cutting effort. I think most corporations look at a coffee machine and think:

  1. We must be spending a fortune on Maxwell House!
  2. How much does all of that filtered water cost?
  3. Think of how much it costs to replace a coffee machine once every decade – it might be $25 or more!
  4. Think of how much time we lose when employees meet at the coffee machine and chit chat while pouring milk, adding sugar and stirring!!

Three of the last four corporate offices I’ve worked in did not offer coffee. One had a horrific machine that dribbled out some instant powder and then some hot water to make some swill. One served Starbucks coffee, brewed with filtered water and changed out by the office staff once per hour to keep it from getting burnt or stale. And two simply had no coffee available except in the company cafeteria on a different floor.

So how much is keeping a coffee machine on each floor costing the company? At the company where Starbucks was provided, I would linger occassionally talking to someone at the machine, sure, but usually I walked over, got a cup, and was back at my desk in 2 minutes holding a nice, pleasant cup of coffee. It made me more enthusiastic about the work and the company (stupid, I know).

However, at the two companies offering nothing I had to go downstairs to the cafeteria, get some coffee that’s been sitting in one of these giant brew-pots for hours (so it’s too harsh) and pay approximately $1.50 for a small cup. I have to wait in line to pay, and the whole process probably takes 15 minutes or more. I am irritated at paying the money. I am irritated because if I want a splash of hot coffee to perk up my cup after it’s cold, I can’t. You don’t get the friendly hanging-around-the-coffee-pot chatter that’s one of the few bearable moments in most cube farms. And the company loses far more productive time from me.

I understand there may be safety concerns, but I doubt it. I see microwaves and hot water dispensers in break rooms. The technology is there to buy safety or timed coffeemakers.

Going outside the office isn’t an option – the nearest coffee shop is a 5 minute walk away so by the time you go out, wait, come back you’ve wasted even more time. Plus, I just don’t like going “off campus” because then I really feel obligated to go off the clock on my hourly rate. I know I should just switch to drinking tea (hot water is free, still) or water, but I really enjoy that morning cup of coffee.

So what do you think? Am I being unreasonable and whiny or are these corporations being penny wise, pound foolish?