From offering free lunches as performance incentives to promoting exchanges across hierarchical lines, companies are starting to see their cafeterias as more than just a place where employees can grab a meal.

Yahoo Japan Corp. introduced in May a unique system in which its ¥500 lunch is free for all employees on certain days if the company achieves its operating profit goal in the previous quarter.

One day at the cafeteria, named BASE6, a 26-year-old employee said the free lunch helps provide feedback on how well the company is doing.

The Tokyo-based Web portal operator used to give special bonuses only to ranking staff in specific departments that had a strong quarter.

“The system is aimed at helping each of our employees understand the company’s entire performance, including its earnings and goals, through daily lunch,” a Yahoo Japan official said.

“We also expect that employees will enhance collaboration with each other without being bound by their respective departments at a time when our total workforce reaches 5,000,” the official added.

BASE6, which is several minutes away from the headquarters, used to be an amusement facility and is equipped with advanced sound and imaging systems that let Yahoo Japan hold presentations and concerts there. It is even planning to hold matchmaking parties for its male programmers to meet women from other companies.

Bandai Namco Games Inc., the game and toy unit of Bandai Namco Holdings Inc., uses its cafeteria to deepen exchanges among the roughly 900 employees who came together in Shinagawa Ward when the two toymakers merged in 2005.

It now holds a mass birthday party to celebrate the birth of each employee by month, with the president in attendance.

“Employees invited to the party differ in age, position and department,” a Bandai Namco Games official said. “In a relaxed casual mood, they become closer to each other and the event has a positive effect on cooperation among different groups.”

Naoki Fujii, who manages a website called shashoku.com, which focuses on unique “shashoku,” an abbreviation of “shain shokudo,” or staff cafeterias, said, “Employers should be aware that a cafeteria is not just a dining place but plays various hidden functions, so they should make the most use of them.”

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