Intern Insight: The Language of Lunch

Posted by Paul Schiffman in Careers | July 28, 2016

I never was a big fan of lunch growing up; the portions are smaller, you only have so much time to eat, plus most lunches are served just a quick 2-3 hours after breakfast. As I grew older I ate less and less to the point where for a few years of my life I didn’t eat lunch at all! Now I am sure that this is not a healthy life choice, but I’m also the guy who drinks a 32oz of Coke everyday so it’s not like I have a history of making healthy choices.

However, once I joined the “real world” of working in an office through my internship, I quickly noticed that my anti-lunch attitude was damaging a lot more than just my health. Let me be clear, I still have the same gripes with lunch as I did as a kid, yet I have quickly realized that lunch is more than just food. What I mean by this is that, lunch can be used as a tool for not only strengthening you connections with your coworkers, but your business connections as well.

The employee companionship is crucial to any successful office. Your ability to work well together, communicate effectively, and even your productivity as a whole. According to Kevin Kniffin, Assistant Professor at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and author of a 2015 study published in the journal Human Performance, “There’s a different kind of intimacy that comes with sharing food and drink with somebody [one that] has value in terms of cohesiveness in the work team.” In other words, you may not get to truly know someone until you share a meal with him or her.

Lunch with colleagues can also provide a safe space to bounce ideas off of each other. Similar to an affinity group, lunch is one of the rare occasions where employees from different departments can talk to each other. For example, I am currently working as an account services intern at Matchbook Creative, but I eat lunch with the Creative Department and Web Design Teams.

I do this because although my clients may not be familiar with these departments but their decisions and designs play a huge role in the creation of every project. In other words, when they look good, I look good. Thus it makes no sense for me not to seek their input and thoughts on the projects I’m working on! Another little reason; “creatives” are more willing to try complicated or new tasks when it comes from a someone who is interested in not only the work they do, but also who they are as a person. As I mentioned earlier in this post, the benefits of lunch do not just entail boosting company morale.

When I was young my dad insisted on having me take golf lessons. His reasoning behind doing so was “You’ll never be able to get someone’s full attention quite like you will when you go golfing.” The point that my dad was trying to make is that people are busy. We all have deadlines to meet and nothing distracts someone from listening to what you have to say quite like meeting in an office filled with reminders of all those deadlines. That is unless you take your client, prospect, or referral to a relaxed setting where the only reminder of business he/she has is talking to you. This is where the golf lessons would pay off, but to my dad’s dismay, not many people have time to play a round of golf, some may not even know how; but everyone loves a lunch; especially if it’s free.

Referring back to my comment about creatives doing better work for those whom they are friends with? Well, the same applies to clients and prospects! To repeat what Kniffin’s study shows, humans naturally bond over eating together. It shouldn’t take a blog post to tell you that rapport is the key to a successful and long lasting relationship. So leave the Tupperware at home, strengthen your business relationships, and go out to eat more! Take it from the man who drinks a 32oz everyday; sometimes the extra calories are worth it.