A Free Lunch can be Money Well Invested

Some of you may remember a few months back when I wrote about how, despite my being a died in the wool introvert, I thrive on being around creative, intelligent people. I feel more stimulated, more aware and more motivated to work. Home offices have their strengths, but one can get mighty lonely and distracted when there’s no one else around…. at least that’s how things went for me.

The good news is that my friend, Jared Spool of User Interface Engineering graciously offered me a spare office in the new suite he rented about a mile or so from my home. I quickly accepted. He’s assembled a terrific team of people around him: Christine Perfetti, Joshua Porter, Donna Fowler, her daughter Kelli and Jason the loyal tech guy.

They’re a fun group of people to be around and there is always something new and interesting being discussed at some point of the day.

A focal point of every day is lunch time. Somewhere around 11, Jason the loyal tech guy circulates a takeout menu from one of the local restaurants around the office. We all make our choices and around 12:15 he shows up, lunch in hand and the feast begins.

Here’s the twist: Jared picks up the tab for everybody’s lunch every day! Doesn’t get much better than that.

One day I asked him why he offered free lunch to his whole team rather than having them pay for themselves. It’s not like we can’t afford it.

Jared pointed out something very surprising: the free lunch actually pays for itself!

I asked how that worked out, since he was shelling out maybe $50 a day to feed the assembled crew.

He explained that most companies give an hour for lunch, but what ends up happening is that small groups within the department or company start talking about where to go for lunch a half hour or more before they actually leave. There are all sorts of logistics to work out: who likes what, who drives, we went there last week and hated the service… that kind of thing.

Then they finally get around to go for lunch, and the hour often stretches into an hour and fifteen minutes, maybe even an hour and a half if the service is slow or they encounter a crowded restaurant.

So before you know it, two hours are wasted!

Under Jared’s system, one person gets orders for everybody and goes out and gets them, so no time is wasted on logistics or who wants to go where. When he gets back and we all sit down for lunch at the conference table that dominates the center of the office, it usually takes no more than a half hour, forty five minutes tops for everybody to consume their lunch and be back in their offices… working.

So for fifty bucks, Jared gets up to an hour and a half extra productivity out of his team every day. Pretty cheap when you consider the cost of their salaries.

Bottom line: there may not be any such thing as a free lunch, but Jared’s tradeoff makes it a wise investment for all parties involved.


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