How to eat in a modern meeting

Jo Bryant lays out her top tips on how to navigate eating at work in the remote world  

Whether sitting up straight in the boardroom or relaxing in the breakout area, eating with bosses and colleagues has always been an important part of working life. Brainstorming, socialising, celebrating, rewarding, bonding… food has brought us together for a whole host of reasons.

With newly updated work from home guidance, many businesses will be shifting their workload online. This is part of an emerging trend which sees 84% of workers planning to continue WFH practices in some form. In these changing times though, it’s still as important, if not more, for food to play its part in bringing colleagues together and creating an engaged workforce. New research from Just Eat for Business, found that 85% of UK workers don’t feel comfortable eating on camera and over two-thirds switch their camera off when in a meeting. To help those logging in for lunch on screen, we created these top tips to get eating in a modern (remote) meeting right, every time.

Food chain
When arranging a get together over food, people need guidance on what to expect. What’s the occasion? Work or social? Is it a formal lunch, or a quick catch-up over shared platters? Clear communication from bosses or organisers will make people feel at ease and make things run more smoothly.

FYI: This is especially important now – with most people working from home, word-of-mouth and water cooler chat is a less efficient method of spreading the word.
In the picture
With work from home guidance in place, bosses will see their workers joining on screen. It’s important to make sure everyone feels involved, kick off with plenty of small talk and make sure everyone logged in gets time to talk.

Faux pas: Where possible, avoid talking over one another and give everyone the chance to get involved.

Think about whether it is the right thing for everyone. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and a screen-free lunch is often a welcome break

Food for thought
Before you plan a remote on-screen team lunch, think about whether it is the right thing for everyone. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and a screen-free lunch is often a welcome break. By having to log-in for lunch, people can soon find themselves at their desk, on-screen, all day – a fun foodie idea can quickly lack appetite.

Research: Try choosing a day when there are fewer meetings, or ask what works best for everyone before setting a time. 

Feast or famine

Many bosses find that food relaxes people and improves productivity, but managers need to help people feel at ease by setting the pace and taking the lead (for example, “Shall we start?”). It’s important to keep things flowing, whether there’s an agenda to follow, a brainstorm to kick off or just some social chit-chat to enjoy.

Etiquette essential: Don’t be too slow or too fast – try to finish eating at roughly the same time as everyone else.
Ready and waiting
When you are eating with colleagues remotely, it is essential to be organised. Make sure you order or prepare your food in good time and have everything ready before you hit ‘Join’ (don’t forget cutlery). Don’t get so distracted by your lunch that you forget the usual checks (lighting, screen name, filters, background etc).

You choose: Curry, fish, fast foods – dining on-screen allows you to go for stronger smelling food that may not be so social in an office environment.
Model behaviour
Eating on camera, while not getting distracted and watching yourself, is a tricky business. Bring your tidiest table manners and really think about how you are eating. Ensure your standards don’t slip or you’ll quickly revolt, rather than impress, your colleagues.

Top tip: Everything on camera is exaggerated, so choose something easy to eat – this isn’t the time to be slurping noodles or battling with a messy burger.
Noises off
When eating on-screen, hit mute before you start munching; it’s also a good idea to turn on the noise cancellation feature. For group on-screen dining, ‘gallery view’ is most social and flattering – ‘active speaker view’ may accidentally enlarge someone on screen if they chew or crunch loudly.

Don’t forget: Make sure your phone is switched to silent and double-check you’re on mute before you make any ‘off-camera’ comments.

In plain sight
It may be tempting to switch off your camera when you eat, but it’s best to consider the context and company first. If you are grabbing a working lunch with colleagues, then it’s probably fine to switch off and tuck in (just tell them what you are doing and be sure to be present with a few interactions/comments). For smaller, more personal meetings or special get-togethers, it may be more polite to stay on camera and eat, or delay eating until afterwards.

Be aware: Some companies have a camera-on policy, so check if there are any rules before you switch to camera-off.  

Lighten up
Embrace and enjoy the new flexibility of homeworking, as well as the endless food choices that can arrive at our desks, wherever that may be. Be social and keep up with colleagues (and clients) – mixing business and pleasure (the right way) can be the secret to professional success and make the Monday to Friday routine a little more enjoyable.

Detail: Remember to say thank you; a quick email to the boss after a team lunch will never go unnoticed.
How we eat at work has changed and we’re no longer relying on the physical office to bring employees together. As we move into 2022, it’s so important to understand how we can create meaningful interactions remotely, continuing to use food as a central common place to bond over. 

Jo Bryant is a leading etiquette expert


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