The way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. In the corporate world, the way to someone’s attention may just be a fresh cup of coffee paired with a whole-wheat sandwich wrap. Serving food at your business meeting is an effective way to keep energy up, save valuable time and interact with your team members. Understanding the nature of the meeting and the team members involved will inform the appropriate food choices to serve.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
Serve nourishing food that matches the tone of the meeting, won't drip on clothing and caters for allergies and food restrictions.
Casual or Formal?
The food you serve should match the formality of the meeting. A C-Suite level executive Tuesday morning conference does not have the same atmosphere as a quick Friday afternoon stand-up meeting for the IT team. While pizza and pretzels are fine for a casual team meeting, new clients at an executive business meeting want the focus to be less on their plate and more on their PowerPoint. Time constraints and attendance numbers are a part of this as well, since serving a large group of people is going to take time, even if well organized. For a large, casual meeting stay away from a sit-down meal and serve quick, easy-to-distribute pre-packaged snacks or drinks.
Food may be an attraction, but it is not the main event. Your team is gathered to learn, discuss and brainstorm –not chomp on nachos. There should not be any food that is too loud or distracting so skip the crunchy chips and dip. Nothing should be served that can drip on presentation materials or clothing, and no meals should be served that require both hands at all times. Small sandwiches are the preferred meal for one very good reason – you can eat it with one hand, and take notes with the other. Meals that involve spicy or new foods are exciting for date night, but not the boardroom. Provide fare that is easy to digest, healthy and practical. Also, keep track of what has been served during meetings and when so as not to repeat menus too often.
Skip the Sugar
The afternoon sugar crash is real. Spending the morning and lunch hour eating sugary foods can cause a burn out in the afternoon. It’s very easy to pick up doughnuts for a breakfast meeting – it even meets the requirement of being able to eat with one hand – but the sugar overload takes its toll. Instead of pastries and doughnuts, opt for healthier fare like fruit, yogurts and bran muffins. Coffee and tea should not be overlooked, but water and juice should be provided as well. For those who find plain water to be an unexciting option, try infusing water with mint and fresh cucumbers or strawberries and citrus fruits. It’s sweet without the side effects.
Restrictions to Consider
Your coworker’s favorite restaurant is the barbecue place down the street, but that may not be the best option for a team meeting. Remember that this isn’t a social get-together: it’s a business meeting in a professional environment, and food restrictions must be considered. If you plan on serving a peanut butter chocolate treat as a dessert or snack, you are isolating an employee with a peanut allergy. A barbecue lunch meeting will most likely offer very little for vegetarian and vegan employees, as well as employees with religious dietary restrictions. For small meetings, check with your team members for any allergies or restrictions. Be polite and accommodating as possible; most people will happily provide ideas for foods that are within their dietary restrictions.
Nat Howard holds an MA in Professional Writing from the University of Roehampton. Her background is in user experience, marketing and content management for both small businesses and large Fortune 500 companies.