At FBC we’re not afraid to say lunchtime is one of our favourite times of the day – right between breakfast and dinner time actually. But we’re so busy being busy these days that we’re seeing the lunch hour shrink to half an hour or even just a 15-minute supermarket dash and grab to a pre-packed sandwich. Shudder.
The average UK worker spends 29 minutes eating lunch, with 60 per cent of workers eating at their desks – determined by researchers at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, who surveyed administrative employees about what they had done during their lunch breaks over a 10-day period.
But research also shows workers are happier, more efficient and better team players when they take time out for a healthy, sociable lunch together. And thankfully a growing trend of workplace meals or lunch clubs is seeing the golden half-way point of the working day revived.
Ian Moore, 35, a graphic designer in South London has been lucky enough to work for two small companies that placed importance on the lunch break. In his last job he worked in a community centre where Ian and his colleagues flocked to the onsite cafe to eat lunch as a happy unit. And in his current job? “We’re lucky enough to have our kitchen downstairs, so we make our lunch and eat together,” says Ian. “We don’t talk about work, we offer constructive criticism on each other’s food and trade banter.”
Each year Ian says the team enjoy regular cook offs and seasonal challenges like to cook as many dishes as possible from the bosses’ home grown supply of pumpkins. “We have some fairly decent cooking talent amongst the team,” says Ian. “We’ve had (pumpkin) cheese cake, gnocci, soup, scones, curry, pie, risotto with a surprise dish every year.”
Ian says his company even had a typography-themed cook off last year. “That was probably the geekiest (and best) of our cook-offs so far,” he laughs. “We were each given a typeface, and asked to make something that represented that font. There was some genius solutions – like the shape of the Frankenstein monster’s head (Franklin Gothic). I offered Battenberg slices made into detached serifs, a Victorian invention and a Victorian font.” With a sense of competition, togetherness and creativity Ian agrees the cook offs have a positive impact on his working day. He adds: “Food brings people together and our lunchtime eat and meets have definitely brought us closer as a team.”
Plenty of food blogs posting the benefits of workplace lunch clubs.
Take Fay the voice behind www.foodfables.co.uk (@foodfablesuk) a Newcastle based blogger who successfully introduced a casserole club to her work place. And one work force who celebrate diversity in their UAE based office by asking a member of the team to cook something typical from their home country every Monday – so far covering Spain, India, South Africa, and Palestine.
For those looking for a helping hand to get started, we found a comprehensive guide on how to start an office lunch club and those work meals on www.cookinglight.com and a post on www.good.is ‘Why We Eat Lunch Together as Co-Workers, Every Day’ written by the lovely folk at Slideluck, who wrote: “Every day, whether at 1 p.m. or 3 p.m., we all gather at the kitchen table to sit down for a proper, home-cooked meal seasoned with pleasant company and good conversation. The best thing about it? We all come away from it feeling happier, rejuvenated, and inspired—not to mention full.”
James Hall, a lawyer based in Amsterdam believes the key to lunching success in the office is to keep things loose. “It doesn’t need to be too organised that might put people off and make it feel too forced,” he says. “Someone bringing in the leftovers from a cake at the weekend can get people chatting and compliments flowing.”
The key objective being to get co-workers talking. “It’s not just about the cooking either – the eaters are as much part of the teambuilding process,” James says. “It is a nice insight into different cultures, for example, divali sweets or pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving.”
And he agrees a little healthy competition between colleagues goes a long way. “Bake offs are always popular with my team.” But for James, it’s not just the practical side of cooking that brings people together. He says: “If the food has come from someone’s kitchen it gives you much more of a glimpse into their personality and home life – more so than if they’ve just gone a grabbed a Colin the Caterpillar cake from M&S.”
But sometimes the best intentions aren’t enough to get a regular lunch club off the ground – as Regula Ysewijn, who writes food blog ‘Miss Foodwise’, discovered.
Regula (@MissFoodWise) organised an event in conjunction with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day last May in her Antwerp offices. Regula’s goal being to get everyone together for a ‘Last Night’s leftovers’ lunch to talk to them about the issues such as healthy eating, cooking from scratch and food waste.
“I wanted to show that even if you have little time to pack your lunch, you can just pack the leftovers from dinner,” says Regula. “A lot of the food bought for the workplace is pre-packed and meat pre-sliced which contributes to an enormous pile of food waste and is really bad for you.”
Although the event went down well on the day, the idea didn’t catch on. “The next day all my colleagues were back to normal and eating the compressed chicken ‘meat’ in their sandwiches with much conviction,” she says. “But there was one person who has since changed his eating habits completely, and that made it all worthwhile.”
It seems it’s just about breaking habits by stepping away from your crumb sprinkled keyboard and using food to get to know your colleagues. And bosses’ out there – a longer lunch break really will make your employees work more efficiently. To brashly steal a quote from Slideluck’s www.good.is post to sum things up: “As Aldous Huxley said, ‘A man may be a pessimistic determinist before lunch and an optimistic believer in the will’s freedom after it.’” Food really does make you happier – now about that promotion…
Judy (@Judycogan) is a freelance journalist who started out as a hack and now writes and edits food, travel and lifestyle features for national newspapers and magazines in the UK, the Middle East and beyond. With constantly itchy feet she loves to travel and has visited countries including China, India and Norway getting involved in the local culture and making good friends as she goes – then writing about them! On Judy’s first visit to Lebanon in March she fell for the country in a big way through its delicious food and lovely people (who like to eat and drink as much as she does). A chefs dream, she likes her steaks still mooing, curries hot and is slowly learning it’s not always a good idea to announce ‘I’ll eat anything!’ in different parts of the world.
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