While most startups have all the cool perks that go with being, well, a startup—videogames, ping pong table, bars, open work spaces, etc.—SpareFoot, an Austin, Texas self-storage marketplace, went one step further. They bought a huge dining room table for their employees.
Instead of noshing from brown bags and take-out containers at their desks, the 100-person team now dines together, in a new space built to accommodate an expanding staff. Each day, an on-staff chef brings a family-style meal the team eats together at four to five long tables from 11:30 to 12:30 after receiving a much-awaited “Lunch is ready” email.
Shared meals are typically baked into a corporation’s food culture from its earliest days, and it looks like small businesses such as SpareFoot are using the humble table to reconnect and boost productivity. Whether they are serving 25 people or 600, companies claim steep benefits such as enhanced trust and communication efficiencies that shared meals can bring.
“In the world of a creative economy, work is better with trust. It’s better with social bonds,” says Kevin Kuske, a workplace anthropologist and the general manager of Turnstone, a line of office furniture through Steelcase geared to smaller companies and entrepreneurs.
Sociometric Solutions, a company that analyzes workplace communication patterns, found that staffers who sat at a larger table were 36 percent more likely to interact with each other later in the day than those using café tables. This engagement and easy conversation flow is essential to increasing trust and efficiency.
Chris Muscarella, founder and chief executive of Kitchensurfing, a Brooklyn, New York-based online chef marketplace, says that in its first year, the company has seen a 50 percent jump in young companies planning shared meals with employees, mostly on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. In startups, he adds, it’s become more and more common to see communal meals at least once a week.
So if you’re looking to build trust, creativity and relationships in your organization, start serving food. After all a family that eats together, works well together!