Many of you who are familiar with us know that we provide daily lunches for our employees. Two days a week we order food from different neighborhood restaurants, and the rest of the time our own Ellen Brast, a serious chef in her own right, plans and cooks our midday meals. This may seem like an extravagance to some, but it’s actually a strategic investment with very tangible returns.

Table XI is a consulting company. We hire bright people and rent out their time. But the traditional “lunch hour” is, more often than not, an inefficient use of that time. Not that we’re slave drivers--we fully believe that breaks are important to an employee's productivity. However, early on, Josh realized that garnering even fifteen minutes more billable time a day per worker--say, the time an employee spends walking to and from a restaurant--was more than worth the expense of providing lunch.

The soft benefits are nothing to sneeze at, either. When working on important projects or difficult tasks, our developers are less likely to be distracted by trivial questions like, “Where am I going to eat today?” The practice fosters good will between management and staff and develops a sense of camaraderie among the people here. We use good ingredients, buy locally when possible, and offer healthy options, which in the long term should lead to lower health-care premiums.

The first year we tried office lunches, we rotated in chefs from Alinea (which earlier this week was named a Three Star Michelin restaurant, one of the industry's most prestigious honors). Every Tuesday the chef prepared four meals, one to serve hot plus three that were refrigerated and reheated later.

We ate a lot of amazing food during that time, but the system wasn’t perfect. A chef that only shows up every other week can't manage the kitchen and doesn’t have a running supplies list, so we would end up with things like extra bottles of olive oil. Prepping refrigerated meals took a significant amount of time for a TXI employee. It was also difficult to keep chefs committed and motivated due to the grueling, 70-hour work weeks at their day (or, rather, night) jobs.

Two years ago, however, we arrived at the optimal solution. We had just hired Ellen as a part-time administrative assistant, little knowing that, in addition to her abilities to manage the books and help with all the organizational tasks we’re not so good at, she’s an incredible cook. When Ellen realized that she could do the shopping and prepare more consistent meals at a reasonable cost, we quickly added a new role to her job description: office chef.

Not every office is lucky enough to have an Ellen, of course. But providing lunches to your employees, even if it’s just ordering in a few times a week, is a relatively simple way to increase productivity and morale, and is an investment that can more than pay for itself in the long run.

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