You, you there, holding the third, bland turkey sandwich you’ve shoved in your mouth for lunch this week, put it down right now!
That’s the message from Alex Lorton, co-founder of food start-up Cater2.me. Your schedule may force you to wolf down something less than super appetizing alone at your desk every once in awhile. But if, as a business owner, you haven’t at least considered getting your team to together for a midday meal from time to time, you’re missing out on a seriously good opportunity to spark conversations, build bonds and get their creative juices flowing.
Cater2.me allows teams of 10 or more accomplish this by connecting them with catered meals to suit even finicky requirements (or voracious appetites for BBQ) from local chefs, food carts and general purveyors of tastiness in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago. But if you’re elsewhere, Lorton feels that you don’t need a service like his to reap the benefits of breaking bread together. What are they?
Calories and Conversation
Food isn’t simply about calories and vitamins. It’s also a tried and tested way to start conversation. Just think of how many times you’ve struck up a cocktail party chat by commenting on the food, though Lorton offers another example of the how food can catalyze conversation.
“Where do you go with your friends when you really want to have a good conversation? You go to dinner,” he told Inc.com.
And this is particularly important in the modern, wired workplace where we spend so many hours staring at screens. “What I’ve seen from modern workplaces I go into, especially tech offices, is so many people are there with their headphones on staring at a computer. That’s just the the way the workplace has gone,” he says. But with the appearance of the Cater2.me crew, “we actually see people lift their heads up to see what’s coming in for lunch. That’s a way to draw people away from what can become a very solitary workday,” Lorton adds.
Getting the Most Out of Lunch
So what are Lorton’s tips for getting as much refreshment and idea and culture-generating conversation out of your shared meals as possible? First provide the right infrastructure — a space to sit down and eat together with plenty of chairs and table space is best if you have the room. Then provide the conversation starters. Put simply: “lunch shouldn’t be boring.”
Repetitive uninspiring offerings aren’t just less tasty, they’re also less likely to spark the kind of informal talk that will bond your team and help them come up with innovative ideas about not just what to order but also how to improve you business. “We’ll actually have the chef come in and do the final bits of assembly right on site to make it more interactive,” Lorton offers by way of example. “Those kind of things add a little extra social element, bringing people together and having them talk.”
But you don’t need a guy flipping made-to-order crepes in your break room. Simply spending some time finding lesser known vendors and cuisines can get the conversational ball rolling. “Seek out local providers. Rather than going to Subway, find the local artisan sandwich shop,” he suggests. Your team won’t just discuss the prosciutto and salami, they’ll also end up chatting about ways to improve your products and services too.
“The idea of breaking bread together is really, really powerful,” Lorton concludes.
Do you agree?
Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel