Do Workplaces Have To Provide Tea and Coffee? (Quick Guide)

I’ve lost count of the work meetings I’ve sat in over the years where tea and coffee were served. But do workplaces have to provide them by law?

There’s no requirement in US law for workplaces to provide tea and coffee for employees. There’s also no legal requirement to provide coffee breaks, but studies show that staff are more productive after them. However, it definitely creates goodwill if companies provide free tea and coffee at work.

Let’s explore the subject of workplace tea and coffee a bit further, and find out what your employer’s obligations are – and what etiquette we should observe when drinking tea and coffee at work…

Do Workplaces Have To Provide Tea and Coffee?

Do Employers Have to Provide Tea & Coffee at Your Workplace? (By Law?)

There’s nothing in law that says an employer should provide their teams with tea and coffee; however, there are plenty of reasons why they should give them hot drinks.

Let’s be realistic: the American workplace is fuelled by coffee these days. By offering employees coffee or tea, the employer immediately shows that they are considering their team’s needs.

Providing tea or coffee doesn’t have to be expensive. Employers don’t have to open up a tab at Starbucks, and it can be as simple as setting up a coffee station in a staff area.

These stations have the desirable side-effect of creating sociable spaces where staff can chat and network. 

And from a productivity perspective – well, we all know how regular access to caffeine boosts energy and can prevent that after-lunch slump.

Should Tea & Coffee at Work Be Free?

Tea and coffee at work doesn’t have to be free. But, as far as gestures go, it’s a pretty cheap one.

Bosses don’t have to commit to paying for a regular delivery service (although these are becoming more common), but can simply create a coffee station in a staff kitchen or communal area.

If you’re the boss of a small company or startup, even the cost of coffee grounds and milk may seem a bit much.

In this case, suggest setting up a coffee club fund, where everyone pays in a few cents each week towards the cost of tea, coffee, milk, and sugar (and maybe even donuts). This still works out cheaper for each individual than buying coffee from the local takeout.

It’s pretty easy to create a coffee station in the workplace, even if you’re short of space. Take a look at how to make DIY coffee bars on YouTube: there are some great money and space-saving ideas.

What about coffee shops, bars, and restaurants? Well, with so much coffee on tap, it would seem unreasonable not to offer staff a free brew. However, most places set limits on how much coffee their baristas can have for free.

Is It Okay to Ask a Coworker for a Coffee?

This depends on the culture of the organization and what your relative positions are in the company. How many of us would dare to ask our boss to get us a latte?

On the other hand, it seems unfair to expect the intern to spend their entire shift making or fetching the coffees.

The best approach in any organization is to take turns to fetch the drinks, or everyone simply gets their own. Of course, if it’s part of a PA’s official remit to organize refreshments for a meeting, that’s different.

If you’re new to an organization, see how the culture works before asking your coworker to make you a coffee.

Can I Ask My Boss Out for a Coffee?

If you would like to discuss something with your boss, leaving the office space and going out for a coffee can be a good move. There’ll be fewer interruptions, and you’re on neutral turf if it’s a tricky subject.

When you’re arranging this, treat it like any other meeting: time, location, and duration. Managers are often pushed for time, so duration is especially important.

Choose the location carefully. Some places are too busy and loud for a constructive conversation, while others don’t care to be used as a workspace.

These days, many people work remotely, so meeting your boss for a coffee occasionally can be a good way to connect. It could even become a regular diarized event.

The big question: who pays? Well, technically you, because you initiated the coffee idea. Hopefully, your boss will get out the company credit card for this one, and if it becomes a regular event, the workplace should pick up the tab.

Are Coffee Breaks a Productivity Killer?

Looked at from a purely “hours spent working” perspective, a coffee break takes colleagues away from their work. There’s not even a legal requirement for coffee breaks in the US.

Now look at breaks from a different angle. Nobody’s at their best when they’re tired, right? Twenty minutes away from the workstation and a shot of coffee, however, and we’re all raring to go again. 

Research reported in Forbes showed that workers are more productive if they have breaks. Employees arrive back at their workstations refreshed and revived, and they’re less likely to have that energy slump.

There’s also a bigger picture. Firms that offer paid breaks have more engaged staff who are happier with their employer.

Employee engagement means that individuals tend to work harder, help to create a positive and productive environment, and are less likely to quit. There’s a lot to be gained from offering regular breaks at work.

Who Should Pay for Coffee at a Business Meeting?
Who Should Pay for Coffee at a Business Meeting?

Who Should Pay for Coffee at a Business Meeting?

When there’s a meeting at work, the company usually picks up the bill for the refreshments. If you and a coworker have a working coffee in a cafe, it’s normally the person who initiated the meeting that pays. 

Are you a freelancer meeting a potential client? You should pay, even if the potential client has heaps more funds than you do.

Do Companies Have to List The Caffeine Content of Drinks?

In law, no companies don’t have to list the caffeine content.

Just make sure that caffeinated coffee and decaf are clearly marked at your workplace coffee station, so people can make their own decision about what to drink.

Is It Unprofessional to Drink Coffee in a Meeting?

Coffee is the go-to fuel for meetings, and is often provided if the meeting is more than half an hour long. It’s actually polite to offer attendees tea, coffee, or water during a meeting.

Just a quick word of warning: if it’s a Zoom or Teams meeting and you’re attending from home, watch out which mug you use.

Sipping coffee during an online meeting has become the norm, but sipping coffee out of an “inappropriate” mug is definitely unprofessional.

Man drinking from a funny coffee mug
Oh behave yourself! 🤣

Summary: Tea & Coffee at Work

Although it’s not a legal requirement for employers to provide tea and coffee at work, it’s a pretty cheap shot (of espresso) not to.

Granted, if the company you work for is a startup on a budget, then there may be a case for employees having to pay for their own coffee (kind of).

But larger companies and huge corporations should definitely provide tea and coffee free of charge if you ask me.

It should all be part of the job package and would create goodwill amongst the workforce to do so.