Free food is popping up on an ever-increasing number of career pages these days. And it’s no surprise – it’s a pretty cost-effective perk that even small businesses can use to attract top talent. As we’ve talked about before, stocking your kitchen with good coffee, drinks, and healthy snacks doesn’t cost a fortune, but can do wonders for productivity and morale.
Even daily catered breakfasts and lunches are becoming the norm – and they’re going way beyond the soggy sandwich trays and bean salads of yesteryear. Toronto’s Epicater and Foodee offer a curatorial approach; they help offices create meal plans using local resturants and chefs, and then handle all the logistics.
But while free lunches might be a perk inspired by big California startups, there’s a big difference between the expansive cafeterias of Google and Twitter and the more humble examples we examine below. At these companies, employees don’t just get free food – they eat it together.
At smaller companies that can fit everyone at the same table (or at least in the same room), daily team lunches are becoming ingrained in the corporate values. It’s where relationships are formed, ideas are born, and loyalty is engrained. To quote a recent Digiday article, “lunch is the new happy hour.”
And research is backing up this idea: a Cornell study of firefighter teams found that platoons that ate meals together performed better as a team.
Here are three companies that eat (free) lunch together. Every single day.
Daily sit-down meals at offices are much more common across the Atlantic, but this Berlin design studio takes it to an art form. “It’s really the only structure we have in the office,” says co-founder Carola Zwick. “There are no other rules but: join lunch.”
In its beginnings in the early ‘90s, Studio 7.5’s founders would cook a simple meal for themselves each day. Now, as the designers are occupied with collaborations with Herman Miller and the like, an in-house cook prepares meals like pasta alla Genovese, osso bucco, and pork belly (there’s a company recipe book available on the firm’s website) and then rings a bell to gather the small team and any guests or clients hanging around to a 12-seat oak table.
“It has the same strategic goal as in a family,” says co-founder Carola Zwick in an interview with Fast Company. “Bringing everybody around the table to hear about his or her agenda and issues and stories.”
“I’ve been on teams that eat together every day, and it’s awesome. I’ve been on teams that don’t, and lunch every day is, at best, lonely,” writes Fog Creek co-founder Joel Spolsky. “The importance of eating together with your co-workers is not negotiable, to me. It’s too important to be left to chance.”
At the software developer’s New York office, the kitchen is filled with long tables that allow (and encourage) employees to get to know team members beyond their core department.
“Having round tables means that when looking for a place to sit, you have to pick a group of people,” writes Fog Creek’s Gareth Wilson. “But with long ones you just go and sit at the end of the row. You end up speaking to different people every day, helping to avoid cliques.”
The company brings in a catered lunch every day at the same time, so people know when the kitchen will be full of people to eat with. They even show off the meals (like garlic roast pork loin with grilled nectarines, beet salad, and kale) on social media.
“Eating together is a critical part of what it means to be human and what it means to have a humane workplace, and that’s been a part of our values from day one,” says Spolsky.
When Thumbtack was founded in 2009, CEO Marco Zappacosta cooked lunch for the team. But as the company grew, the founders reportedly held off on their own salaries to make room in the budget for an in-house chef.
Enter chef Aubrey Saltus, who was feeding 16 employees using a tiny apartment-style kitchen and a shared fridge. At that time, the team ate together at a big table in the middle of the office.
“Sharing meals around quality food builds an environment that encourages collaboration and celebrates excellence,” wrote Thumbtack’s former head of engineering Chris Mueller in an article for Inc. “The team is excited to come to work because they value and respect the full work environment. We believe every company can benefit from a food-centric culture.”
Now that Thumbtack’s San Francisco HQ has over 300 employees, the dining room is a little bigger – and the kitchen is, too. Saltus’ culinary team of 10 makes them everything from scratch (including snacks like granola bars) in a brand new 290-square-metre kitchen.
“In the Thumbtack kitchen, we want to focus on nourishing people. Of course, literally, in terms of nourishing their bodies, but also in a bigger role of nurturing their spirits and their minds,” says co-executive chef April Word.
“If somebody gets to eat their favorite thing for lunch, they’re going to be jazzed, even if they had a meeting that didn’t go well. They’re going to be happy because their belly’s happy and it gave them something to laugh or talk about.”