How employees take lunch can have a tremendous impact on business. Here’s a round-the-world look at different approaches to the midday meal.
If employees eat at their desk are they working harder, or learning bad habits? Do cafeterias cause more collaboration than ordering in?
In our globalised age, lunch is more about culture than it is cuisine, and the reason most organisations don’t spend time wondering how their employees are lunching might be that it’s just not the done thing. On the other hand, are those companies who think strategically about lunch way ahead of the curve?
A recent Wall Street Journal article (paywall) examined how different nations approach lunch, and what that says about their approach to work.
San Francisco – strategic HR lunches
In Silicon Valley cafes and restaurants that opened to service big startups moving nearby, closed within a year thanks to most tech companies emulating Alphabet’s (the parent company of Google) policy of free catered meals for employees.
Alphabet’s policy is, by this stage, proverbial. It’s purported to improve collaboration, break down silos and increase job satisfaction as well as productivity. Of course, when you realise how much these lunches cost, you can see why most companies don’t offer it. In 2008 Google (it was still called that then) was paying US$7,530 per staff member, per year.
(Worried about the food you’re offering? Here’s a guide to cheap and healthy workplace snacks.)
The Berlin cafeteria
Germany offers food at work, reasonably priced, but you do have to buy it. In a land with ultra-strong unions it makes sense to share a meal with your co-workers. At Germany’s biggest trade union, IG Metall, the cafeteria has 1920s socialist-propaganda posters adorning its walls. Open to non-workers, too, they offers staples such as ham with beans and pea stew.
China is the future
In China’s biggest cities lunch is something you get via an app. Costing less than a US dollar for each transaction, getting a scooter to deliver food to your work is a cut-throat business (spicy chicken with rice and beef noodle soup are apparently some of the most popular orders). How much money are we talking? Just last week it was leaked that Alibaba has a plan to invest at least $1 billion in Ele.me, one of the largest players.
Zero-martinis, but maybe some tea
Once upon a time London was known for its boozy noontime breaks, but not anymore. The acceptability of having a few glasses of Cab Sav with your lunch has been on a downward trend since the crash, and this year the insurance market Lloyds of London moved to a zero-tolerance ban on alcohol during work hours. As reported in the WSJ article, this has caused at least one restaurant to start offering three teas to be paired with food, as an alternative to their more familiar three wines.
So how does Australia eat lunch?
Apparently we mostly buy it locally and eat it at our desk. This revelation comes from McCrindle research, where they also found only four per cent of Australians bring lunch from home and 41 per cent of us will apparently skip lunch once a week.
It makes sense, Australia has never been a country known for its fondness for lunch – smoko is great, a meal an extravagance. But that doesn’t mean we don’t spend big on food during the nine-to-five.
A report on the cost of going to work from earlier this year found that Australians spend $8.3 billion a year buying lunch at work, based on an average Australian spending $1548. But if you think that’s excessive, don’t worry. Our splurges pale in comparison to those of some other countries. The average worker in the UK spends £2,500 a year on food at work (though that includes snacks, teas and coffees) while the average person in the US spends $2,746 a year.
Do you encourage a different lunch policy at your workplace? Or does your home city have a culture you think more people should hear about? Let us know in the comments.