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There’s No Such Thing as Free Pizza in Any Company Today

Why do managers - in the most prominent companies to the smallest businesses - still assume that the way to an employee’s heart is through his or her stomach?

By David WyldPublished 4 months ago 7 min read
There’s No Such Thing as Free Pizza in Any Company Today
Photo by Tamas Pap on Unsplash

Introduction: The “Free Pizza”

It is one of the most fantastic rituals in all of corporate life! There you are in your cubicle or, if you are lucky, an office, “slaving away” on the spreadsheet or the document you are working on, taking the 15th angry customer call of the morning, or just counting the minutes left in your workday during a rare pause in the insanity. It’s nearing lunchtime, and you’re plotting which of the bad options in the 3 blocks around your building you’re going to hit for lunch - or will you just "DoorDash It" instead and get more done?

Suddenly, you hear a commotion down the way. At the same time, you see an email hit with the news - “Free pizza in the breakroom!” You look up, and you see coworkers walking fast - and yes, some running - toward the breakroom. It’s pizza! It’s hot and fresh! It smells great! And it’s free! God bless America!

When you get down to the breakroom, you see a spread of pizza boxes before you! Yes, some look pretty empty from your coworkers who suddenly had the appetite of Joey Chestnut! But there is free pizza for lunch. You grab 3, 4, 5 pieces and stack them on your plate. You grab a water bottle from the cooler on the floor, and suddenly, all seems very right with the world!

The “Big Boss” and the “Thank You” Announcement

Then, to seemingly spoil your bliss, you see the “big manager” - the “big boss” - come into the breakroom. You and your coworkers stop dead in their tracks at the sight of her. Some even stop chewing, as it is so rare actually to see this person in the flesh! You really thought that she only existed as their icon picture in all the emails that you get from her! But there she is - in the flesh, right there in the breakroom by the coffee machine that never seems quite to work right. She clears her throat, and then, you know, it’s speech time! And suddenly, you realize that the pizza you are eating is going to come with a price.

Your heart almost skips a beat as you think to yourself, “Why on earth is she here, and what is she going to announce? It can’t be good!” You tap your officemate sitting next to you on the knee and ask that question of him, and he responds with a shrug of his shoulders and that “I don’t know” look of his face. So, you steel yourself for the worst-case scenario - you’re all being laid-off! Anything short of that would be good news, right?

Well, the big manager begins to speak, and your blood pressure goes back to its normally elevated, but not stroke-like, level as she begins with a bunch of platitudes about what a wonderful job that all of you “on the team” were doing for “the _______ (fill in the name of your company here) family!” She specifically had traveled - with a connection through Atlanta, no less - there today to say “thanks” on behalf of the management for all the “associates'” hard work that contributed to a record month/quarter/year for sales/revenue/profits.

You wait for the next shoe to drop in her speech. You feel a tingle in your spine as you anticipate that this is the moment when she starts handing out envelopes to everyone with cold, hard cash as a bonus for a job well done! Your mind races… Could this even be an “Oprah-like moment” - “You get a car! And you get a car! And you get a car…” - when she directs everyone to look under their chairs for a key to their new cars that the company bought them that is sitting right outside in the employee parking lot! You fantasize that it could be a dream sportscar for a second! But heck, your accountant brain says even a “free Corolla” would be great since you wouldn’t have to make the payments.”

But there was no “next shoe” coming. She concluded her speech by thanking everyone again for all their hard work over the past month/year/quarter that had helped the company to achieve the record(s) that it had and asking that you keep up all the good work. And then, just as quickly as she came, she was outta there! In the seven minutes of her talk, your pizza had gotten cold. But beyond its temperature, suddenly that “free” pizza didn’t taste nearly as good when you realized that you were basically eating your bonus for all the hours and hours and hours of hard work you had done for the “family.” You take your plate full of pizza and dump it into the wastebasket - and you see that you are by no means alone in having done so. Suddenly, you don’t even feel hungry…or really all that motivated to work much in the afternoon. Maybe you’ll do some “multitasking” on your weekend plans, or maybe, you’ll just pack it in for the day and use some of your paid time off to go get a really good lunch - and maybe even a cold beer. Heck, you just got a message from one of your favorite coworkers to do just that to join in a “debrief” of the big manager’s visit that a few other folks on your floor were getting together for like 30 minutes from right then. Whatever you do, work has basically “ended,” at least for that day - and maybe you think about taking the afternoon to update your LinkedIn profile and polish up that resume - just in case!

By Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Analysis and Discussion

As a strategic management professor and consultant, I can tell you that this scenario takes place over and over and over again. In Fortune 500 firms and in small companies alike, the folks in charge think something along the lines of this: Hey, I’ve got a great, novel idea! Let me surprise the employees with a free ______ (breakfast, brunch spread, pizza lunch, or even a happy hour!) to celebrate them doing a bang-up job for us! The “big boss” thinks to himself or herself this: “They’ll love me! And they’ll love the company even more!”

The problem is this. We are sentient beings, and as such, we can smell through attempts to be bought “on the cheap!” So, if you’re coming out with free pizza to announce record sales, profits, earnings per share, etc. - employees will often “sniff out” the fact that the company - and you specifically as the face of it to them in the flesh - are not adequately valuing the part that they played in helping the organization produce those results.

The age-old saying holds that “there is no such thing as a free lunch!” And we’ve all been in a situation where instantly we know the lunch - or breakfast, brunch, or dinner - or just a coffee and/or a donut - isn’t really free! We know that there are just times when there are waaaaaay too many strings attached to that freebie food and/or beverage (yes, this even applies to free wine or beer!).

And yet, all too often, executives, managers, and even small business owners put themselves in a baaaaaaaad position - committing a self-inflicted managerial error - when they try and just say “thanks” to their employees for something or another, but they do it in the wrong way - the “cheap way!” “Free pizza” is great - but is that really proportional as a way to celebrate record sales or profits? All too often, our inner manager is a Scrooge. We don’t put ourselves in our employee’s shoes and think about how what we see as an act of kindness - even what we think of as being largesse - might be perceived by them. Free pizza, especially if it’s from Little Caesar’s or Domino’s - may not be the best way to celebrate a record quarter, eh?

So, what should you do as a manager, an executive, or the owner of a company when it comes to offering congratulatory food or even other freebies as a way to celebrate group achievements? And not even big achievements, but say routine things like a month with no absences or accidents? Simply take a minute to pause and ask yourself one question: Is what I am going to do - what I’m going to be giving out - likely to be viewed by the workers as being proportional to the achievement we are supposed to be celebrating? If not, then don’t do it! Free pizza or even a free happy hour to celebrate a small milestone, even a personal one for an employee - like a promotion - smart move! Free pizza or even a free happy hour to celebrate the company hitting the $200 billion mark in sales. Uh, seems cheap. And yes, it will likely be viewed as such by many, naby employees. In other words, don’t be afraid to celebrate accomplishments and achievements, companywide or even within units of the firm! And do be generous, as your generosity will likely help, if not buy loyalty, at least prevent dissension in the ranks! Cheapness in such situations can indeed be, as another old axiom holds, truly “penny wise and pound foolish!”

The bottom-line is simple: "Be cheap at your own peril!"


Professor David C. Wyld

About David Wyld

David C. Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at You can subscribe to his Medium article feed at:

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About the Creator

David Wyld

Professor, Consultant, Doer. Founder/Publisher of The IDEA Publishing ( & Modern Business Press (

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  • Mark Graham4 months ago

    Great work on this article now it gave me a lot to think about when at my nursing job we always got free pizza or doughnuts or something like that for all our good work with the patients. Was it a way to say thank you for all our good work or was it something else now.

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