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Free Food at Startups Is Bad for Local Communities. It’s Also Bad for Startups

San Francisco wants to force startup employees out into the community. Here’s why they shouldn’t resist.

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BY Jessica Stillman - 06 Aug 2018

Free Food at Startups Is Bad for Local Communities. It's Also Bad for Startups

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

"Two San Francisco supervisors introduced an ordinance last week that would forbid employee cafeterias in new corporate construction," reported the New York Times earlier this week. The idea is to force startup employees out of their offices and into nearby businesses, boosting the local economy.

While it remains unclear whether the measure will pass, it's appeal for a city who has long accused startups of benefiting from its vibrant urban culture without giving much back to it is easy to spot.

"A number of companies like Twitter, Square and Uber moved into [troubled San Francisco neighborhood] Mid-Market. But despite initial excitement over the opening of a number of restaurants and shops, the neighborhood has not yet flourished the way many had hoped," notes the Times article.

But what's perhaps less commented on is that pushing employees off campuses and out into the city would probably be good for employees-- and startups -- too. Experts suggest that leaving your office for lunch refreshes you psychologically, spurs creativity, and ultimately boosts productivity.

The many benefits of leaving your office for lunch

Popping down to the company cafeteria might seem like a great way to grab lunch fast, and get more done. But there are hidden costs to skipping a real, out-of-the-office lunchtime break, according to Extreme Productivity author and MIT business school lecturer Bob Pozen.

First, if you have even the slightest inclinations towards introversion (and, note to extroverts, this is probably more true of you than you think) then a full day of meetings and collaboration can come dangerously close to tapping out your mental resources. A solitary walk to a nearby takeout joint is one great way to recharge mid-day. It might take a little more time than a sandwich at your desk, but it will often make you much more productive in the afternoon.

Second, a change of scene (especially if you don't numb yourself to it by fiddling with your phone the whole time) often spurs a change of thinking, which can lead to novel ideas. Just as you often get good ideas in the shower because you relax a little and let your mind wander, a walk down a city street can put you in the same creativity-boosting frame of mind. The result might be an unexpected solution to a problem that's been bothering you all day.

Finally, the little bit of midday exercise a quick trip out of the office provides is a good way to fight back against the afternoon energy slump. Just a little bit of movement can do more to counteract the physical (and mental) ill effects of sitting all day than you probably think.

Don't give up on team meals entirely.

All of which makes for a convincing case for getting out of the office more at lunchtime. But startups shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water. Leaving the building is great, but so are occasional communal lunches with colleagues.

"Where do you go with your friends when you really want to have a good conversation? You go to dinner," Alex Lorton, co-founder of startup has noted on Food bonds people together and spurs discussion, and that's true at work as well as in our personal lives.

"What I've seen from modern workplaces I go into, especially tech offices, is so many people are there with their headphones on staring at a computer," he adds. Communal meals are one great way to "draw people away from what can become a very solitary workday."

Just make sure they're often out of the office if you want to not only do your part towards improving your city, but also if you want to maximize your productivity and creativity.

How many times have you left the office for lunch this week?

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