Management by Lunch

Daniel Emberley, January 2005

For the American Institute of Architects, Washington, D.C. Chapter

Remember lunch?  You know, that meal between your hurried breakfast running out the door and the evening dinner with clients?  The only time you have in a regular work day for a relaxed moment with your staff and peers?  A lot of us have forgotten lunch, maybe grabbing a sandwich when the worst of our stomach grumbles come in late afternoon. 

Resolved:  This year, for the good of Washington architecture, all managers must meet with their staff every day for lunch at 12:30.


Communication:  Lunch provides a regular time in the middle of the day for everyone to gather (no excuses for late arrivers or early departures).  At lunch, you can share your ideas for the firmís vision.  Getting together regularly gives staff an informal chance to bring up issues and concerns theyíve noticed but didnít want to express in a regular meeting, or make the time to see you about privately.  You might be surprised at the opportunities your staff is aware of but didnít think to bring to your attention.    

Discipline:  Every day?  You know you have to eat, and so does your staff.   Youíre already booking meetings, may as well do them with food.  The regularity of the meal forces us to build in the face-time with staff that we know we need, but falls off our To-Do lists.  The time youíre spending on birthday, new staff welcome/departure, and holiday events can be invested in the regularly scheduled lunch, putting the afternoon/evening hours you would have spent socially back into design service.  Best of all, the discipline of a mid-day meeting can prevent issues from becoming crises, allow re-allocation of staff to handle new information, and help everyone get out of the office on time.

Creativity:  Getting your team together away from ArchiCAD and drawings will open news ways for you to discuss ideas and develop them creatively.  Our tools can be as constraining as they are liberating: figuring out how to squeeze in a light shaft on the back of a napkin can lead to a unique new solution.   Consider hanging large aerial photos of your project sites on the walls of the room where you lunch as jumping-off points for consideration of project constraints and context.

Congeniality:  Remember when work was fun?  Wouldnít you like to get some of that back in your work day?  Sharing food with co-workers can defuse tensions, open friendships, and make us all see the human beings we are behind the billable hours we too often represent.


Daily office lunches do not have to be expensive.  Start by treating your crew to carry-out Chinese, subs, or pizza.  Delivery services like Take-Out Taxi cover the major restaurants in D.C., giving a wide range of dining options.  If you discover itís delivering the benefits promised above, consider a catering contract with one of the many food delivery services in the area.   Usually the cost of food will be significantly less than the cost of the time staff is taking to obtain it for themselves.

Be sensitive to staff issues around food.  They may not be able to eat meat, or vegetables, or salt, or rutabagas.  Learning these constraints is one of the benefits: you will work better with people you know better.

Your staff has their own routines for lunch.  Many need that time for personal errands that must be done during work hours.  Respect those needs, but donít be surprised if offering food causes people to shift plans, and gives you more of their time. 

Is your firm too big for everyone to gather each day?  Try setting up lunch with different groups on different days of the week.

Need lunches to make rain with potential clients?  Consider inviting them to join you with your staff.  Letting them meet the people who will actually be doing their design could be what sets you apart and gets you the project.  In turn, this is a brilliant chance to mentor staff in how to work with clients.

Use a regular break or conference room, at a consistent time each day.  Knowing when and where the food will be will make people more regular about attending.  It will also make it easier for you to facilitate deals with caterers.  Go out to a restaurant when you want to celebrate a special event, like getting client sign-off on Design Development or the arrival of a new plotter. 

Canít make it every day yourself?  Occasional absences are an opportunity for subordinates to try the role of leader.  Seeing if someone can pull together an order for Thai is a lot less risky than seeing if they can gather the DCRA restrictions on a project, and involves a lot of the same skills. 

Not every topic is appropriate for a casual meeting.  For example, criticism of work performance or other disciplinary action must be done one-on-one.  Thatís why managers have office doors. 

Not a manager?  See if you can get management permission to set up a regular lunch for your work group.  At minimum, coordinating lunch times can help you share information easily, and could set a precedent for the rest of the firm.


Daniel Emberley is the founder of Emberley Streamlined Office Systems, providing office management services by the hour to growing firms.  He can be contacted at



Return to Articles main        Return to main page