Food Matters: Building a Startup Office Culture One Meal at a Time

This is a series of posts by Camille, Ridejoy Happiness Manager, on food, community, and (collaborative) consumption.

Ridejoy (and friends) waiting for their cue to grab a plate! (credit Garry Tan)

At Ridejoy, we’re on a mission. We’re excited about creating an awesome service to share rides with friendly people, and we’re inspired to bring together people in their cars and create a more sustainable society.

But a strong mission isn’t worth much without a strong company culture to bring that vision to life. By bringing ourselves together first, we can set our goals clearly and do our best work.

I think how Ridejoy hires and who’s been brought onboard demonstrates dedication to an amazing company culture. But at Ridejoy, we’re not just a team, we’re a family, and families eat together.

That’s where I come in.

The Back-story

I originally discovered Ridejoy deep in a Hacker News thread. I loved what they were doing, so one night I sent them a long email expressing my delight at the thoughtful way they’re building community, and asking if they needed help.

That began my journey from enthusiastic ridesharer to a part of the Ridejoy team. I came onboard part-time to lend a hand as Office Hero, helping out with administrative and social media tasks.

A week later, inspired by Thumbtack’s Food Rules post, we decided to experiment with home-cooked meals based on my experience as a cook and kitchen manager in 100+ member housing cooperatives. It’s worked out great and the Office Hero evolved into the Ridejoy Happiness Manager.

Dining Well

We now eat healthy meals together most nights of the week and it’s been fantastic.

As someone who’s spent her formative years in the East Bay’s local and organic food movement, I’ve witnessed the power of how food can bring people together and build community. Our team dinners let us sit down, savor the moment and unwind for a bit together.

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.
-Virginia Woolf

I believe that by sharing and accepting what others share, life can be more satisfying, sustainable, and safe. By making meals in the office, we get to reify our beliefs about sustainability and community by buying raw ingredients from Farm Fresh to You (a CSA program that delivers in San Francisco) and sourcing more ethical meats. Quality meals turn into quality time together.

This is just the beginning! In my next post, I’ll share specific tips on how we make food work for us and build community within our team through food.

A dinner I made last week: mesquite-rubbed pork, sweet potato cakes, pan-fried chickpea salad, roasted asparagus, and brown rice

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mbthomas 7 pts

I really love this idea -- meals as a team whether breakfast, lunch, or dinner are a great way to connect and build a feeling of community within a company.  I also agree that this kind of community is important to a startup where so much time will be spent working together!

 

However, I genuinely wonder how this works for team members who are in relationships where eating dinner together is expected (speaking as someone who is married).  As much as I truly love my work, I would not be happy working somewhere where there was even an implicit expectation of eating dinner at the office most nights.

 

I've see you reply to similar questions with an answer along the lines of "maybe we're not the sort of company for you" and while I do respect that to a degree (it's good to be upfront about what sort of person you are looking for), it seems like having a nightly company dinner in the office almost explicitly rejects married people.  Now, I don't *think* that is your intention, so would love to see you expand on this.

kalvin 6 pts

 mbthomas Hey, thanks! I think you're right that it's not as much of a benefit if you're married, but we'd be perfectly fine if someone wanted to eat at home, or come in at 8AM instead of 10AM (and miss dinner at 6), or do their own thing in other ways. More food for the rest of us! To be clear, when we say "dinner together most nights", we don't mean that everyone is always present, just that most meals there is delicious food for everyone who's here. (Most of us mostly are.) People still grab dinner and drinks outside of work. There are tons of larger tech companies like Google that offer a similar arrangement, as you probably know.

 

It is true that we're looking for people who are interested in making their work a primary focus of their life, but that's perfectly compatible with being married, and with eating dinner away from the office :)

mbthomas 7 pts

 kalvin Thanks for the thoughtful reply -- what you say makes total sense.  For some reason the post made it sound a little more absolute :)

 

Sounds like you all are doing some great stuff both in terms of product and culture.  I love it!

LukeRB 5 pts

 mbthomas You make a good point. I wonder if inviting the significant other or, the case of a married couple, the husband/wife to the company dinner would also allow more flexibility. As someone in a serious relationship, I would love to partake in team dinners, even up to 4-5 nights a week, so long as my girlfriend could attend some or all of them.

 

I'd be interested in hearing both your thoughts on this alternative as well as kalvin 's thoughts, if he feels so inclined.

 

BTW, this was a great post! Good stuff, Camille!

NorrisHung 7 pts

This is awesome guys. I'm glad to see that you are spending so much time thinking about every little part about your company culture. =)

 

I hope other startups take note.