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Break Room Ideas that Won’t Break the Bank

April 24, 2018

Cafes and break rooms are becoming all-day destinations for meetings and socialization. Create office amenities that shine with these tips.

More than just a place to eat lunch, cafes and break rooms serve as all-day destinations for small meetings and individual employees who need a change of scenery. These multifunctional office amenities are crucial contributors to overall morale, engagement and productivity, says Kelly Galbraith, Designer for Staples Business Advantage.

Redesigning the Modern Breakroom

The firm recently redesigned the staff break room at the Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium as part of its $50,000 breakroom makeover contest. The formerly bland space is now a vibrant area that draws design inspiration from the Florida aquarium’s work in marine science, from a vivid blue accent wall to aqua chairs.

“Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium was a nonprofit organization, so funding to renovate the break room was not a top priority. As a result, the previous break room was dated and sterile with a mix of used, oversized chairs and furniture that did not accommodate many employees at one time,” explains Galbraith. “The new space is open and bright, which fosters collaboration and is much more inviting for employees.”

[From interiors+sources: Designing for the Multi-generational Workplace]

Break rooms are in a unique position to “support the office headcount with a singular destination to meet, eat and socialize,” says Marisa Anderson, Marketing Manager for Tangram Interiors, which designed its own WorkCafe. The space can support over 50 occupants at once and offers multiple options for different postures and modes of sitting.

“The WorkCafe is the heartbeat of our brand and culture,” Anderson adds. “Large screens in the center of the eating area allow for entertainment, special announcements and set the stage for vibrant all-hands meetings. Stunning graphics from Designtex create the connection to our company’s Southern California heritage and broad geography.”

Create office amenities that shine with these considerations:

  • Provide alternatives to full-service dining. If your cafeteria isn’t open all day, make sure there’s an alternate location where people can grab a cup of coffee or get a snack.

  • Accommodate multiple modes of sitting, including seating in varying styles and heights. Some people prefer banquet-style tables where they can spread out while reconnecting with colleagues. Others will naturally gravitate toward tall tables or bar-style seating.

  • Booth seating quickly becomes a popular destination for short meetings with two to four people. Encouraging alternate uses of cafes and breakrooms ensures that the use of the space doesn’t end when mealtime does.
  • Use residential and hospitality-inspired touches to create a sense of community and comfort


Before its recent expansion, SelectQuote’s Overland Park, KS, office had limited and outdated break areas for its 500 employees to recharge away from their desks. There was no room to grow, and employees were spread out over three floors. The new space brings everyone together onto two floors that have bold, modern finishes and room for growth. This coffee bar is one of several that are easily accessible to employees on both levels.

Staples Business Advantage

Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota, FL, was chosen as the winner of Staples’ $50,000 breakroom makeover contest. The previous design of the space was not as efficient as it could be, with a large mailroom area occupying a good majority of the 700 square feet. Due to the lack of appeal to the breakroom, the space was not often used for lunch, meeting space, workspace or celebrations.

The standout feature of the room are the new tables. Besides combining their preferred styles of modern, industrial and rustic, the tables speak to the sense of community at Mote Marine. They wanted large tables where they could all sit together as a family, rather than having a variety of small tables. The space was converted into something that is fresh and modern, as well as functional.


When Boston Properties set out to renovate 101 and 506 Carnegie Center, two of the buildings in its 2 million-square-foot campus in Princeton, NJ, the firm wanted to update the dated interiors and bring them in line with other buildings on the campus. These Starbucks-branded coffee kiosks do double duty as a way to both modernize the buildings and provide valuable amenities for tenants who need a place to grab a hot cup of coffee when the cafe was closed.

[Check out: 5 Trending Tenant Amenity Ideas for Your Facility]

“Now when you go there, it’s filled at almost any time of day with people who come down to do work, have conferences and interview people,” explains Joshua Zinder, Founding Partner of Joshua Zinder Architecture + Design (JZA+D). “A large part of that is because of the diversity of seating – we have some high tables, low tables and booths, and that diverse experience allows people lunch high or pull over to a corner with some lounge furniture.”


The cafe area is centrally located between training space and a conference center. Two retractable glass walls open the training room fully into the cafe to create a multipurpose space with water views for full-company gatherings and hosted events. Ample counter space can host buffet-style catering, and a selection of tables, bar stools and banquettes create casual, comfortable options for socializing and impromptu meetings.


Retail Design Collaborative and Studio One Eleven provided several “third spaces” in their shared office, including an oversized kitchen that opens up to an “urban porch,” a composed display of glass and integrated art walls defined by steel plate frames. The porches are part of the firms’ commitment to employee health and wellbeing, as are wellness-centered amenities like clean water in every kitchen, 20 skylights, fresh fruit and snacks provided daily and employee clubs for reading, healthy cooking, gardening and fitness.


CambridgeSeven wanted the renovation of luxury products company Matouk to create a sense of community for all employees. Using innovative materials and color, the updated workplace design fosters a creative, employee-focused culture through its new communal spaces inside and out, including the cafeteria.


The cafe at Alphasights, an information services company, is an important central location for meetings and socialization. The cafe space can turn into a town hall for large-scale events and social gatherings. “Part of their culture is that the staff enjoys hanging out together, socializing and getting to know each other as part of the way they collaborate,” explains Jeff Knoll, Director of Design for Ted Moudis Associates. “They like to celebrate success on a regular basis.”


One highlight of True Fit’s headquarters is The Pantry, an eatery and breakroom space also used for informal meetings and collaboration.

“The chic, bright work environment is enlivened by city views and natural daylight,” says Deniz Ferendeci, Director of Asset Design + Support at Dyer Brown. “The Pantry/break room area offers healthy snack selections and a place to socialize and collaborate other than one’s own desk. It’s more than just a pantry – it’s a communal space with a comfortable, relaxed vibe and lots of breathing room.”

[Related: Reach Consensus for Interior Design with Creative Engagement]

At Foot Locker’s three-floor New York City office, a main cafe is located on the middle floor to draw departments together. It’s adjacent to the roof terrace so that employees can enjoy outdoor green space as they eat.


Featuring relaxing views of downtown Boston, the waterfront roof terrace at Boston Scientific’s fulfillment center in Quincy, MA, is a relaxing place to eat or chat with colleagues. It adjoins the full-service cafe.


The library at the Retail Design Collaborative and Studio One Eleven’s shared office is a laid-back space for focus work or small meetings. The pendant lighting and extensive use of wood give it a warm, homey feel.

AE Superlab

A main goal of the One Kings Lane renovation was to transform it from a dark space to a vibrant, light-filled environment. The lunch room is the heart of the office. It’s a carefully composed zone that balances the existing space’s raw industrial feel with a light and minimalist design that also reflects the home décor brand's elegant residential aesthetic.

At various times, the room will serve a variety of purposes ranging from formal banquets to impromptu meetings to all-hands meetings where all 200-plus employees can gather and join the San Francisco office for a companywide conference via two large retractable projection screens. A central kitchen island, along with a custom wood and steel “floating” shelf suspended from the ceiling, comprise the visual focal point of the lunch room space, and provide a work surface for what is the most highly trafficked part of the office.


Fresenius employees are always occupying “The Hub.” Small groups use the space to hold meetings and collaborate on day-to-day work. “The Hub brings employees together for casual interaction and healthy food options – so far the employees are responding very positively to this component of the larger project,” says Sara Ross, Director of Corporate Services at Dyer Brown.


Six test kitchens and a cake decorating studio are major components of Wilton Brands’ office. Visitors can tour these showroom-like spaces where Wilton tests bakeware and baking ingredients on every possible variation of typical kitchen appliances.

“Every test kitchen has a cooktop range, a microwave, sinks and other features, but we designed them to look different. For example, one has a country-style approach and one is more of a modern kitchen look,” explains Janice Fellows, Senior Associate and Design Director for Ted Moudis Associates. “Each one has a different dishwasher and a different manufacturer and style of cooktop range – some are gas, some are electric. It’s a full-on test kitchen so that they can test their product under many different features and see how 350 degrees F. in one oven is different from another oven, as well as photograph all of their products in different kitchen environments.”

Staples Business Advantage

The Staples design team wanted to bring out Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium’s personality in the redesign of its breakroom. To evoke the aquarium’s marine science mission, they decided on a blue accent wall, aqua chairs, navy blue table tops and décor that matches it all. Additionally, matching new appliances were provided, updating the previously mismatched, broken and rusted appliances.

Cultivating an inviting breakroom space that employees want to spend time in was the main objective of this project.


Providing flexible workspaces like Arup has is not only a good way to improve morale, but it also is attractive to prospective employees. “The design incorporates ideas drawn from pre-planning phase charrettes with Arup staff, which helped to achieve workplace satisfaction and to improve recruitment and retention prospects,” says Karen Bala, Senior Architect at Dyer Brown.


Enthought’s centrally located cafe contributes to its energetic and collaborative environment. “The large café serves as an inviting central hub for the staff, spacious enough for office meetings and game nights,” says Samantha Davila, Interior Designer at Perkins+Will (previously lauckgroup). “The communal space maintains the office’s key design components – a balance of refined and rough material – to encourage the neighborhood coffee house feel.”


Communal spaces are key for Informatica. The breakroom and cafe provide working areas away from the rest of the office. “From one large, centrally-located break room to smaller cafe and meeting areas, there are numerous options for impromptu team meetings or workspace away from their assigned desks,” says Joe Gowing, Principal at Perkins+Will (previously lauckgroup).


The breakroom LogicMonitor, a tech company in Austin, TX, works as a hub for employees, but it can easily be separated from the rest of the office when a group needs to focus on a project.

“The central kitchen and break area is designed to serve as a meeting point for the entire office, complete with bench seating for team interaction and collaboration,” explain Kendra Ordia, Senior Project Designer, and Whitney Brown, Senior Project Manager at Perkins+Will (previously lauckgroup). “With markerboard screen doors that slide along tracks, the space can either be partitioned from the rest of the office, or opened up to allow more visual access to the interior.”

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has been with BUILDINGS since 2010. She is a two-time FOLIO: Eddie award winner who aims to deliver practical, actionable content for building owners and facilities professionals.

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