If you’re an administrative professional, there’s a lot on your plate. All the time. You’re running at a thousand miles an hour, and there’s rarely time for a break. You’re the glue that keeps your office held together, and that means when a random task pops up, you’re often expected to roll with it. Even though it falls somewhere on the outer boundary of your job description, when people at the office need to be fed, that falls to you, too.
But a last-minute lunch doesn’t need to be a last-minute headache.
“85% of administrative professionals say they plan events on a regular basis, and ordering food is a big part of that task. Any tool that allows them to shine while simplifying a task and reducing hassle is something they need,” says Judy Geller, Executive Director of the American Society of Administrative Professionals (ASAP). With the right approach, you can set up a model for in-office meals that’s easily repeatable. You’ll save yourself time, save your company money, and—most importantly—come out looking like a hero.
We’ve helped millions of businesspeople use food as a tool. When you’re staring down a hungry office, here’s how to step up to the plate without breaking a sweat.
Get Food that Works for Your Coworkers
When it comes right down to it, you need food that the people at your company like. If they have a positive impression of the lunch, it’ll boost their impression of the company, and of you. When you’re swept up in a million other tasks, it’s easy to let the details of a meal slip. Here are some key factors you’ll want to keep in mind.
Remember: Food Affects Mood
How, when, and what we eat can make or break an entire day. If you want to take your lunch to the next level, leverage that knowledge to surprise and delight your office.
If you know it’s likely to be raining or cold on the day of your event, order comfort foods: chicken pot pie, lasagna, shepherd’s pie, casseroles, or soup. Or, if your caterer can do it, treat your office to a “summer picnic” of hot dogs and burgers in February to mix things up.
Be mindful of the time of day and how food could influence your office’s behavior, too. A morning meeting could be disastrous if you don’t have plenty of coffee on hand. If you’re bringing in a snack for a mid-afternoon meeting, opt for something with protein instead of sugar. That’ll help the meeting attendees stay energized and focused, rather than crashing and burning halfway through the meeting.
When you’re selecting a restaurant, choose wisely. The food you serve will reflect on the company or the person leading the meeting. You don’t need to bring in lobsters and caviar, but you want to be aware of how well the food is going to travel, and the message it’s going to send. If you take the time to bring good food, the people eating it will remember.
If you get a lull, take a moment to “dress up” the table. Scrape together the food in a serving dish so it looks more inviting and holds its temperature better. Consolidate foods from multiple serving dishes as appropriate. As the afternoon goes on, scan the area for empty containers and used plates, utensils, cups, and napkins. This will make for less cleanup work later.
Take the Work out of Lunch
At every stage of the process, it helps to consider what you might do to save time in the future. Dana Brown, Office Coordinator at Weebly and winner of our 2016 Office Hero of the Year Award offers this tip: “With each of our 12 teams taking their lunch breaks at different times over a four hour period, Google Sheets has simplified my lunch process by crunching my daily headcount numbers for me.”
As much as you want to please the staff, accept that you won’t make everyone happy 100% of the time. Don’t drive yourself crazy by trying to make everything customizable. Most offices prefer assortments of pre-made sandwiches to platters of cold cuts. Make it easy for everyone to find something they like, without feeling like they just cooked a meal from scratch. Make-your-own salad bars, potato bars, and Mexican bars are very popular and cost-effective, too.
Think Beyond Salads for Vegetarians
If you’re stuck trying to accommodate the one vegetarian in a meat-hungry office, order sides that contain protein, like baked beans, corn, or mac & cheese. This will give people who don’t eat meat a substantial meal, while keeping the carnivores happy.
If you’re ordering a salad as the main entrée for vegetarians, seek options with nuts, sunflower seeds, beans, chickpeas, or tofu for a welcome change from the usual cheese. Build-your-own salad bars can be great for offices with a lot of dietary restrictions, as each person can customize to her heart’s content. Quiches, casseroles, and pasta dishes are often tasty vegetarian dishes that the whole group can enjoy.
Don’t Let Food—or Motivation—Go Cold
There’s nothing worse than a cold lunch. If you’re feeding a large group, and people are going to be filtering in throughout the course of an afternoon, you’ll want to consider how you’re going to keep the food warm. Sternos and chafing dishes can keep food warm for 30 to 60 minutes. If there is a microwave available, Chinese food can be a good option because it reheats well. For offices that eat in shifts across 2 or 3 hours, choose foods that hold their heat well, such as casserole-type dishes. Alternatively, choose something that doesn’t need to stay hot, like sandwiches.
Know Common Dietary Restrictions
It’s impossible to anticipate every imaginable dietary restriction, so the best way to make sure no one goes hungry is to ask about restrictions up front. Send a note around to ask about any allergies or dietary restrictions that you may not be aware of. The whole office will be glad you did.
Here’s an example: pork is great, but not everyone can eat it. Don’t serve all pork to a group unless you know that will be OK. Be safe by also offering some chicken. For a group of 30, you will usually be fine with pork for 24 and chicken for 8 —just a 10% overage. But be careful about splitting the entrée in half. If you serve two entrees, people will want to try a little bit of both, which means you have to provide more food than usual. Ordering one entrée per event saves you money.
Sticking to a gluten-free diet is a lot more common these days. If someone at your office avoids or is allergic to gluten, make that known. When you’re placing the order, be sure that your caterer knows you need a gluten-free option, and confirm that they’re equipped to provide one.
If you’re ordering for vegetarians, make sure you have a meatless option that contains protein, like beans, chickpeas, or tofu. A pile of lettuce isn’t going to cut it.
When it comes right down to it, ordering a successful office lunch is all about knowing your coworkers, and understanding what will work best for your specific meeting or event. There are many best practices and ways to automate the process, of course. But remembering what makes your office unique (Does everybody love cupcakes? Is Jane in finance a vegetarian?) is what will take your lunch to the next level.
How do you do office lunches? Let us know in the comments below.