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?

  • http://sortofgrownup.blogspot.com Kate

    I think you’re right with pennywise, pound foolish. When I’m putting together engineering submittals, that’s a lot of printing/bindering time. My request for an automatic hole-punch was turned down, which is a shame. With how much I get paid for hour, doing 30 pages at once rather than 3-5 would have been a pretty big savings in my time (and made me quite a bit less frustrated and angry with that part of the task).

    *oh well*

  • http://www.bripblap.com Steve

    Thanks for the comment, Kate – you’re right, it’s a terrible way to squander resources, but it seems to be a disease in corporate America. I guess we just have to grit our teeth and try to punch holes and make Xerox copies with a smile… unfortunately!

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  • http://www.nodebtmba.com No Debt MBA

    Definitely penny wise pound foolish. When you’re buying in bulk coffee is dirt cheap. The problem I’ve seen at more offices is logistical – who changes out the coffee, cleans up, etc. Providing hot water or a microwave seems at least an easy and cheap option so employees could at least make tea they brought from home. Some in my current office have coffee makers in their department’s area or their own cubicle.

  • Big-D

    I have seen several offices which have had coffee and some which have had not. I understand that not providing it might save some money, but then you run into the other instances. People bring the $15 job from walmart so they can have “fresh coffee” at their cube, and now instead of one person turning off the coffee machine when they leave, they have to check all cubes for turned off machines.

    The answer is not simple. I have seen people that go for coffee in droves and each has to talk while they get a cup and some sit until they are done with their coffee. Some don’t bring mugs, and they use Styrofoam cups. My former company had signs up that as a company, we used 250,000 Styrofoam cups a year (to use with the free Kuerig machines), even though the first day of work, they give everyone a free company logo-ed mug. A quarter million cups for everyone who has been given a free mug. People are just lazy.

    This is why, at the end of the day, you have what you have. Companies want to give free coffee, it is a nice perk, but they cannot keep things clean, people won’t clean up spilled coffee, and keep the coffee fresh (ie. make a new batch before they leave if they use the last drop). It had to become someone’s job to manage that – and at the end of the day, forget it.

  • Janette

    Who made the coffee that you used to drink?
    I actually think this has to do with another post you recently wrote about “chipping in”.
    I do not drink coffee- hence I never learned how to make it.
    BUT – for the first twenty years of my career I was expected to buy coffee for the coffee maker. “It makes everyone happy that everyone chips in”.
    I was also compelled to clean the coffee maker- because I was often the last person off of our wing at night. I would go into the workroom and the coffee would be on. Instead of a fire, I would clean it out and set it for the morning.
    And since I was the one who had to work with the “people are grouchy without their coffee” people, it served my best interest to have that maker ready for the coffee person who did the begrudged brew the first pot in the morning.
    My last job was different. Each person brought in their own coffee or had their own pot. I was GLAD not to have to share in their experience. It was much better for me AND better for my pocketbook.

  • http://hopetoprosper.com Bret @ Hope to Prosper

    My step-dad worked for a Chinese-owned company once that was too cheap to buy coffee. So, most people had coffee makers at their desks, which is a huge safety hazzard. Morale was very low and turn-over was very high. So, they finally brought in an American manager, who understood our culture better.

    I am fortunate to work for a start-up that treats very employees well. We have a Kuerig machine and I start my mornings with a cup of orginic coffee. The coffee for the Keurig machines is expensive. But, there aren’t the mess, waste and safety problems with a regular make. Plus, you never have to drink the nasty burnt coffee.