Purpose ‐ This paper aims to contribute to the empirical literature on cafeteria systems within employment relations by analysing employees' decisions on whether or not to participate, which employees chose what options and how the factors vary over time. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The approach takes the form of a longitudinal case study involving 4,700 employees during a period of four years. The employees' choices are analysed by applying logistic regression. Findings ‐ The analyses show that use of this specific cafeteria system is not high, strongly in favour of one option and restricted to a subgroup of employees. Additionally, it is shown that the dynamics in use of the system is much more the result of changing participation decisions of individuals over the years and much less of changes in preferences of long-term users. Research limitations/implications ‐ A case study restricts generalizations, although some comparisons with other organizations are presented. Further extension of systematic analysis to different sets of cafeteria systems in different contexts would be interesting. Practical implications ‐ The analysis is particularly useful for HR managers/policymakers in this area to assist them systematically in evaluating new policies related to cafeteria systems or to adapting existing ones. Originality/value ‐ The participation decision as well as the chosen options are analysed in terms of an extensive set of individual employee characteristics.