In the fledgling days of Parallax, we had a problem. When lunchtime rolled around, we politely encouraged people to escape their screens and eat their midday meal at the office table. It seemed like a reasonable idea, but it had the unintended side effect of condemning people to a very lonely lunch. It was only half a step up from the sad desk meals we were trying to avoid.
All office workers face the same ordeal of deciding what’s for lunch each day. What’s the point of going all out, if it’s just for you? We often take the quick and easy route with a supermarket sandwich or a packet of Mattessons Fridge Raiders. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Fridge Raiders… they’re just eminently more suited to snacking.)
The mythos begins
We couldn’t continue like this, so I started searching for recipe ideas online. That’s when I first came across an absolutely fantastic book called Lunch at the Shop: The Art & Practice of the Midday Meal. In it, bookshop owner Peter Miller explains how he and his staff make a concerted effort each day to down tools, grab some fresh produce from the market and make a meal. Together.
The book proved to be a huge catalyst. It made me realise precisely how important taking a step back from the day really is; giving yourself the time to just eat, chat and laugh with people. I was inspired. And just like that, Lunchtime Legends was born — a whole new way of approaching the office lunch.
How it works
Taking place every Wednesday, we sort out teams in advance. Everyone who’s interested signs up on Doodle a few days before. Teams are randomly selected — usually four groups, each consisting of around 4 to 6 people. Our team names of choice are: Red Tomatoes, Green Peppers, Purple Aubergines and Yellow Bananas.
Next we designate team leaders. They’re our “head chefs” for the week — they get to choose the main direction of the meal. Then they can start bossing (or nudging) other team members into helping, opening up the conversation, making suggestions and double-checking any dietary requirements.
A meal can be based around one key ingredient or a certain type of cuisine. Sometimes the whole thing is thrown together from bits and pieces from the shop. Occasionally the head chef prepares something elaborate the night before, leaving the rest of their team to bring in supplementary items. However it comes together, the results are generally amazing.
Seriously social sharing
We’ve found there’s nothing better than the shared experience of sitting around a table together, enjoying tastes you all love. Competition exists between teams, but only on on friendliest of terms. An envious comment may surface occasionally, but there are no permanent grudges — partly thanks to the easygoing nature of all involved, but also due to the teams being constantly shuffled.
So far, we’ve put together some extraordinarily delicious meals. Highlights include Mexican fajitas with homemade guacamole and salsa, vegetarian chili con carne with spicy beans, beef and pork Thai-style wraps, a mezze platter of kofte, falafel and tahini… the list goes on. We’ve found desserts are a great addition too — from lovingly baked rice crispie squares with marshmallow fluff to sensuously rich affogato. (Admittedly, our ice-cream sandwiches made with giant soft cookies may have been an indulgence too far.)
But in many ways the food is secondary to the occasion. We collaborate on beautifully presented meals bursting with flavour before breaking bread with those in the office we don’t necessarily work with each day. It’s a chance to catch up with colleagues old and new, learn more about others, swap jokes and stories. Wednesday lunchtime has quickly become the time of the week we all look forward to most.
A technological twist
As a tech company, we’re always trying to invent ways of making processes more efficient — we enjoy taking things apart, building new software and modifying existing systems. Our first foray into automation came along in the form of our FIFA Bot; every day at 2pm, people tell Donnie they’re up for a game of virtual footie and he’ll dutifully add them to the group.
It works excellently, so we’ve taken what we learned and we’re now in the process of modifying the bot for our Lunchtime Legends teams. With a little bit of tinkering, we can make the whole selection process fully automatic and totally random.
Become a legend yourself
I recommend every workplace give it a shot. Once a week is perfectly manageable, especially if you keep it loose and fun — there’s no sense in forcing yourself to stick to hard and fast rules. (Except maybe the washing up). Get involved, take some snaps and tag your creations with #lunchtimelegends — we’d absolutely love to see what delicious things you come up with!