The Bay Area: home to startups, tech companies, and scrappy businesses trying to make big changes. That tech companies flourish in the Bay is no surprise – the opportunity to build something meaningful in a short period of time speaks to the San Francisco mindset quite well, in our opinion. That style of on-your-feet thinking, fast-paced environment makes it exciting to come to work. Plus, put those two attributes together, and you get the perfect cocktail for fast, possibly exponential growth. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be the next unicorn (we’re rooting for you 😉). In this blog post, we won’t be speaking as much about the versatility and mobility of tech companies (which we love!) – rather, as your company grows, here’s why office catering can help you retain talent and keep your culture thriving.

The Bay Area appeal

Employees with a passion for fast growth usually also want to be a part of a company with a strong culture. If they’re going to work in Palo Alto until 10 PM, they’re also likely looking for a company that values, empowers, and motivates them to the wee hours of the morning. It’s that quintessential “work hard, play hard” tech company slash startup mentality.

For this reason, many Bay Area companies work tirelessly to transform their workplace into something more than just an office. They aspire to create a welcoming environment that motivates employees. It’s not uncommon to find companies with weekly gratitude circles, happy hours, company retreats, or volunteer workshops as great ways of attracting and retaining talent.

Establishing a robust company culture is fairly easy (should we say easier?) with a small team. After all, when you’re in a cramped office, you’re bound to interact with everyone on a daily basis. Small companies tend to rally around a mission and a few central values that everyone can connect with, personally and professionally.

Company culture… at scale?

These moments of spontaneous connection in smaller companies – which can feel so natural and embedded in your company’s culture when you’re small – can be hard to create (and maintain!) as you scale. And this is normal. As a larger company, you may have more money for the types of activities you wanted to host as a small startup.

But as a large company, you also have more employees. Your company community as a whole may have changed. There are more opinions, more preferences, and more personalities than ever before, and what worked for a small team may not work any longer.

How can we face these culture changes with positivity? How can we model small(er) company culture and keep that vibrant lifestyle during expansion?

Take time to engage with your employees, face-to-face 

No matter how big your company is (but especially as you grow), having moments to connect away from the computer screen is key. More and more people are asking for it, too. Over half of American workers report feeling less connected to their coworkers when they interact through technology. 

The problem is that these types of conversations can feel inauthentic if they’re approached the wrong way. It’s like encouraging two people to become friends by saying “Be friends now!”. We’ve tried it and let’s just say… there are better ways. Allowing the conversation to flow naturally is the best way for it to become meaningful to the people involved.

Furthermore, many companies that had these types of conversations when they were small find that they’ve lost them as they grow. That’s natural – at some point, your company will even break into teams and departments, which may not interact too frequently, if at all!

So how can you not only create these face-to-face conversations, but also maintain them as you scale? It may come as no surprise that our answer is, resoundingly: FOOD! 

Food is the universal human connector

Everyone eats. But more and more employees – especially tech company employees – take their meals at their desks with one hand on the keyboard. Heck, we’d be surprised to meet someone who hasn’t done this at some point or another.

It’s not hard to understand why, either. It feels productive to take a working lunch. Some employees might even feel judged if they take a break for food. But sitting in front of your computer all day actually reduces productivity. Not only is it bad for the business – it also makes employees feel disconnected from their coworkers. 

Encouraging your employees to take a meal together has many advantages. At a fast-growth company, the lunch hour is a great way for employees to get to know each other. These conversations are generally longer. Employees can go more in-depth than, say, a quick moment by the water cooler. 

Connection doesn’t happen with the “Hey, how are you?” levels of small-talk. Rather, it happens when people get a chance to sit down together and share personal stories. Maybe someone will remark on how Alicia’s tamales remind them of Christmases with their abuela. Or an employee might share how The Jerk Spot’s jerk chicken brings up memories of their first international trip to Jamaica.

When we’re all a little bit vulnerable, connections get stronger and more meaningful.

Companies across the Bay have caught on, and the corporate cafeteria rose to the spotlight in the mid-2000s. Walk around SF and you’ll hear stories of Michelin-caliber chefs and gourmet food – flashy, community-building retention strategies used by giant tech companies. And while we firmly believe that bonding over food is the best way to create and maintain a healthy culture of engagement in your workplace, you definitely don’t have to serve housemade kombucha in order to create the same vibe in your office. 

Office catering is more than just a meal

When you work with Chewse for office catering, we don’t simply drop the food off and head out to the next delivery. Rather, we’ll work with you to make sure your break room is optimized for conversation. Our secret sauce? Opt for the longest table you can fit in the room. Just make sure it’s shallow enough that people across the table from one another can also chat.

We’ll also get you set up on our Chewse platform, which pairs you with local restaurants that meet your office’s food allergies and provides enough variety that your employees will always be thrilled to grab some food. Day-of, we set up the food the way you want it and refresh the trays as needed. Afterward, they’ll donate the leftovers to a local organization in need through our Chewse to Give program. 

When we say everyone has a seat at the table, we mean it. We aren’t delivering pre-packaged, cold sandwiches that your employees can take back to their desks and eat while they work with one hand. At Chewse, we’re catering experiences and culture for engagement in your office.

Once you get started, culture springs up in many ways

Getting those types of vulnerable conversations started can be difficult. That’s exactly why we believe office catering (not to mention rallying around food in general) is so important. But once you have? You can build off of those connections in new ways, to foster new conversations. 

For example, you might try:

  • Offering a time and place where team members can express their opinions freely
  • Have a monthly Q&A with your leadership to facilitate open conversation
  • Hosting fun non-work events like happy hours, themed dinners, or offsite activities
  • Trying IN-office non-work events, like poker games, icebreakers, or improv nights

A word of caution: you can try these activities right across the bat. But we’ve found they’re more successful if you’ve already established a culture of vulnerability and connection in the workplace. Employees who don’t feel comfortable with one another might not be too engaged during workplace events – we’ve noticed a tendency to stick with the people they know and talk about the things they know they can talk about (like work!). 

Think of culture in the long-term

Whether you’re a small company or a big one, change is hard! Whenever possible, it’s helpful to think long-term so you won’t have to make too many changes along the way. Use culture-building moments like office catering or regular happy hours to build connection. At the same time, make sure to leave room to grow so you can embrace and love those changes in the future. It’s just like outgrowing your favorite sweatshirt when you were a kid – you had to get a new one! But getting one an extra size up gave you plenty of time to grow into it without having to replace it in just a few months.

Need ideas? Poll employees about what culture rituals they love. Is it the community building? Getting out of the office? Giving back to the community? Showing gratitude? Use resources like Org Org to see what teams a few stages ahead of yours are doing for some inspiration. Build programs that can scale with your team. Maybe your weekly team brunch can become an epic quarterly day-long shindig!

There’s no perfect recipe for workplace culture. You’ll have to decide for yourself what benefits you want to offer and what type of culture you want to create. But what we do know is everyone loves food.

Want to hear more about how we balance culture and results at our ever-expanding office catering company? Read this insightful Medium post from our fearless leader and CEO, Tracy Lawrence.

Ready to feed your people and serve up connection in the workplace? Sign up for office catering today!