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Why eating together is great for business

Research has found a simple yet powerful way to build strong relationships: eat together. Sound too good to be true? Cynthia Marinakos begs to differ.

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In our busy lives, it can be a challenge to maintain relationships. Particularly as solo business owners, we’re everything rolled into one: finance, marketing, procurement, legal, manufacturing and more.

With businesses and households to run, along with hobbies, holidays and our addiction to doing, there never seems to be enough time in the day to catch up with people.

Food and shelter are essential for survival

What doesn’t seem important gets pushed down the priority list, yet human connection is as important for our survival as food and shelter.

“Being socially connected is our brain’s lifelong passion…It’s been baked into our operating system for tens of millions of years.” – Professor Matthew Lieberman, Professor and Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director at UCLA

Research has found a simple yet powerful way to build strong relationships: eat together.

Here are 4 compelling reasons to share a meal with family, friends and fellow business owners:

Sharing a meal is a great way to lower stress

It can be tempting to work through dinner — especially when client deadlines are looming.

Unfortunately, in many workplaces, it’s a norm to do overtime. You’re perceived as a hard worker. It’s often the pathway to promotions and higher pay.

As small business owners, even though this isn’t relevant anymore, overtime can easily become the norm. Knowing that any overtime is for our own business drives us to do more than we might usually do in someone else’s business. Workaholism is hard to let go.

Everything is so personal when it comes to our businesses, isn’t it?

What we do (or don’t do) affects our reputation. We identify with our business. We feel grateful and relieved when all goes well. We take customer complaints to heart and go over and beyond to fix any issues. We do far more than we get paid for.

Yet continual overtime can negatively affect health, work, and relationships. Jenet I. Jacob from Brigham Young University explored how dinnertime affects work and family outcomes:

“In our study, the level of interference with dinnertime was related to a perception of a healthy workplace, and that’s connected to job retention and productivity.”

“This shows bosses can get more out of employees if they’re having dinner.”

And in our case, as the boss and the employee, we’ll get more out of ourselves from not working through dinner.

SUGGESTION: Shutdown your computer. Grab a knife and fork to tuck into the good food and good company of your families – or a fellow business owner.

Social connection

A study on the power of food in mediating social relationships found elderly patients in urban Indonesia thrived on the social aspect of sharing meals.Meal times gave them a reason to meet other patients and guests. It encouraged discussion and the sharing of advice. It merged outside and inside worlds.

In Melbourne, a unique initiative ‘A ReaL MeaL’ offers hot food to marginalised communities — yet this is not their focus.They aim to create friendships, build trust and give the most important thing one can give….time. They call it “Time Caring”.

“We are not a soup kitchen, we are a soup station, meals served with love to anyone that’s hungry. Rather than providing a meal, we share a hot meal with our friends on the street.”

This program is 100% funded by the community — and 100% run by volunteers. Cooking together, serving together, and creating a space for people to eat together creates life-giving social connections for those in need, as well as social connections for the community and the volunteers.

SUGGESTION: Get involved in communal cooking or dining sessions.

Keep your mental health in check

Depression is a common mental health problem. It’s often swept under the carpet because of the negative stigma associated with it. Yet The World Health Organisation reports that depression affects more than 300 million people globally.

What’s important to note is that food has an impact on our mental health, as much as our physical health.

For instance, certain foods are proven natural anti-depressants.

And even more surprising, it’s been found that when teenagers share healthy meals with their families frequently, there’s less risk of depression or thoughts of suicide.

Mental health organisation Beyond Blue tells us 1 in 8 men will get depression. Men are less likely to ask for help with mental health issues because of society’s expectations of how they ‘should’ behave.

This can become a bigger problem for men who become dads.

It’s not surprising that dads keep a lot of their worries and emotions to themselves.

Vulnerability — asking for help and sharing their feelings, isn’t seen as a ‘manly’ thing to do.

Once a year, my husband and his mates get together to make sausages. This seems to be especially valued now they all have partners and are beginning to have families — they don’t often catch up anymore.

I’m grateful for this annual event. Making food together has kept up their friendships and gives them a space to relate to each other so they feel less alone.

SUGGESTION: Encourage the men in your life to get together with mates regularly — for dinner, to make beer, sausages, or a workshop on smoking meats.

A terrific way to bond with your kids

According to Angela Ginn from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “…family meals do much more than put healthy food on the table. Beyond preparing the meal itself, we sometimes forget that mealtimes offer time to talk, listen and build family relationships,”

This is certainly true in my family.

We miss each other at breakfast when my husband leaves early for work and we spend the day apart because of work and school. That’ s why we make a point of sitting together at the dinner table to get the lowdown on each other’s day.

Over the table, we find out if there are any issues we can help each other with. Such as why my daughter’s best friend Stella is suddenly not playing with her and being rude. Or whether I should take on any more clients with such limited time in my schedule.

We share worries, such as whether my husband is about to lose his job in the next organisational restructure. We celebrate successes. For instance, a new recipe that turned out scrumptious. Or when a client’s email campaign is generating plenty of leads.

It’s also been found that kids who cook with their families have a greater sense of security and feeling of belonging.I notice my daughter bursts with pride when she informs my husband that she grated the carrots and brushed the eggwash on our sausage rolls.

She’s 6 now. And we plan to continue family dinners into her teenage years. We expect by then she’ll be holed up for hours behind a locked door chatting to friends on the phone.

But we take heart in a Columbia University study on the importance of family dinnersResearchers found 71% of teenagers consider talking and spending time with family as the best part of family dinners.

SUGGESTION: Organise a regular meal or fun cooking session with the kids.

The value of eating together

In a busy life, especially while keeping our solo businesses ticking along, spending time with people we value often falls by the wayside.

Yet science has shown that eating together (and cooking together) can relieve stress, improve our mental health, fulfil our need for social connection, and forge stronger bonds with others.

And what’s great for you, is great for business.

So let’s plan more shared meals with our families, our fellow business owners, our friends, or even our suppliers.

Cheers to delicious food, good wine, and strong relationships.

Cynthia Marinakos

helps small businesses tell their stories: so they sell more by selling less. Grab your free copy of No idea what Facebook posts to write? Try these 6 proven tips to boost likes and shares. Connect with Cynthia on LinkedIn or Twitter.

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