Business UNusual Spotlight

Rethinking an employee perk uplifts local restaurants and the community

SDI DEI info in front of electric power lines station
Instead of...
Expecting employees to bring lunch or find options in a short timeframe
Partnered with local restaurants to provide free lunch, boosting the local economy
To date, the Chatham Employee Meal Program has created $1.1 million in revenue for locally owned restaurants.

Discover recently opened its Chatham Customer Care Center in partnership with INVEST South/West’s Community Improvement Initiative.

In addition to exceeding the City of Chicago’s MBE/WBE procurement requirements to bring the project to fruition, Discover has committed to hiring more than 1,000 employees from the local, diverse talent pool.

For Discover, being a good neighbor is as important as being a good employer, a sentiment that’s reflected in a business practice they adopted specifically for Chatham.

Catering lunch every day for their front-line customer care agents was initially an act of necessity, as few nearby options could accommodate a 30-minute lunch break. And choosing local restaurants to provide the food was a no-brainer and a welcomed opportunity for businesses that were shuttered by the pandemic.

But Discover realized free lunch was more than a perk. Camille DeCicco, Director of Social Impact, explains: “We realized early on that for our agents to be able to do their job successfully, which entails taking 60-100 calls a day, providing a convenient and healthy meal option became a matter of overall employee wellness.”

Partnering enabled Discover to scale

As more customer care agents were hired, arranging lunch became challenging – both for Tiffany Jones, the Discover admin shouldering the task, and the local restaurants.

So Discover tapped their national food services partner, Sodexo, to manage and scale the effort. Today, Sodexo coordinates one meal per shift for over 400 Discover customer care agents and handles the management and onboarding of 20-plus local restaurants (78% of which are black-owned).

Discover had to adjust some of its usual business practices to accommodate the Chatham Employee Meal Program. For example, “Our net-45 payment terms weren’t compatible with the realities of running a restaurant, so we offer immediate payment terms to our partners,” said DeCicco.

Paying for lunch = paying it forward

To date, the Chatham Employee Meal Program has created $1.1 million in revenue for locally owned restaurants. Lashawn Jones, owner of Chicago Eats Marketplace, explained the impact of her partnership with Discover: “I’ve grown to cook for the masses. My staff has doubled, and my business finances have grown tremendously since becoming a vendor with Discover. I AM NO LONGER IN DEBT!”

And daily meals have been a hit with Discover employees. Account Specialist Kobe Jones appreciates not having to worry about preparing a lunch or figuring out where to eat. “It allows me to focus more on my job tasks and avoid having to travel back and forth during my workday, which ensures we utilize all the time we have in the best way we can in our designated 30-minute lunch breaks. Plus, the food is really good and shines a light on the food in Chatham.”

Reflecting on their decision to provide lunch and how to go about it, DeCicco relates important advice from their local PR partner, Rudd Resources’ Kimberley Rudd: “Do everything you can to put wealth in the community and everything you can not to take it out — I think we’ve accomplished that with this effort.”