A Recipe for Success: What Science Says About Social Eating at the Office

Teams that eat together, stick together. Here’s what modern science has to say about the productivity benefits of eating together at work.
Megan Ballingall
November 23, 2022

Since the beginning of time, food has been a key ingredient in our social and cultural lives. Across all societies, shared meals and feasts have brought families, friends, and neighbours together in celebration of food. It’s no wonder why every party, wedding or graduation is accompanied by platters of delicious food—it’s the binding agent that brings us together.

Why should the office be any different? In a team-based work environment, success often depends on the ability of the company to create a strong, cohesive community culture. The good news is delicious food in the workplace can help cultivate just that. 

Countless studies have found that shared meals and eating together are beneficial for mental health and worker productivity. Yet 60% of Americans eat lunch alone at their desks or don’t eat lunch at all. This means that savvy businesses can get a leg up on their competition by simply encouraging shared lunch breaks.

In this article, we’ll touch on what the latest science has to say about the benefits of communal eating in the workplace, and how Ritual for Companies can help bring your office together with food.

The Firehouse Study

A Cornell University study of 50 firehouses across a 15-month period found that firefighters who eat together have vastly superior workplace performance metrics than those who dine solo. Based on extensive interviews, the study authors found that networking and building social relationships over the breakroom table greatly bolstered workplace morale and satisfaction.

The same is true for offices. Encouraging team members to take breaks together while sharing stories, ideas and laughs was shown to improve the workplace experience as a whole. The authors concluded that any team-based environment would likely see tangible benefits from communal eating, just as the firefighters did in their firehouses.

Improving Face Time Leads to Better Behavioural Performance

The lunch table is inherently egalitarian. No matter your status or position in the office, everyone sits levelly with one another when gathered in the lunchroom. This is an excellent venue for fostering relationships in the office between employees, managers, and executives, as well as team members from different departments. 

Studies have shown that increased facetime during meals between subordinates and their supervisors or caregivers leads to better behavioural outcomes in the former. For example, the National Centre for Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that children who eat with their parents 5 times per week or more do better in school, eat healthier, and are less likely to have behavioural problems than those who eat with their parents less frequently. 

In the workplace context, the same principle likely applies. When we eat together and increase the amount of face time spent between colleagues, we build trust and mutual respect between both parties. The outcome is better behaviour and performance.

Social Lunch: The Ultimate Productivity Boost?

According to Jennifer Newman, a workplace psychologist, eating alone in front of your computer rarely lends itself well to productivity. Although it may feel productive, it rarely is. Instead, taking a break to socialize with colleagues does more to improve your mood, maintain motivation, and sustain your concentration over time than eating solo. 

Ms. Newman maintains that eating together during lunch breaks is imperative to productivity and that it’s also one of the most cost-effective ways to encourage team building. Whereas some companies spend thousands on fancy retreats, simply incentivizing daily lunch breaks taken as a team can have the same effect.

Eat Together, Improve Engagement 

Low employee engagement is one of the leading causes of burnout in the workplace. Fortunately, keeping morale and engagement is fairly simple. According to Leanbox, there is a myriad of benefits associated with eating together as a team, including:

  • Improved teamwork and collaboration
  • Improvements in job performance
  • Elevated employee engagement
  • Reduced rates of employee burnout
  • More healthy, pro-social behaviour
  • Greater sense of belonging and inclusivity

Gathering After Hours

It’s been demonstrated in the scientific literature that social eating in the evening makes participants feel closer than eating during midday. For this reason, it’s important not to neglect after-work eating. Luckily, Ritual for Companies is designed to encourage teams to eat together at any hour of the day, whether it’s for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. 

Whether you’re getting coffee in the morning with your team at a local cafe or grabbing a wind-down beverage in the evening, gathering together for food or drinks is essential for office bonding. Plus, you can invite friends and partners to join you to build rapport beyond the office.

Ritual for Companies: Your Sidekick for Boosting Team Engagement

With Ritual for Companies, you can organize team-wide get-togethers and social dining events before, during or after your workday at the click of a button. Order from local restaurants and eateries and skip the line at pick-up, all while discovering fresh new tastes in your office’s neighbourhood

So, what are you waiting for? Getting out and enjoying meals together with your colleagues is important for staving off burnout and keeping office morale high. Not only that, but you also get to discover hidden gems and delicious tastes you otherwise might have found.

Megan Ballingall
Megan Ballingall