Instagrammers May Be Onto Something: How Rituals Can Make Office Meals Better

Posted by on Thursday, April 3rd, 2014 with Comments Off on Instagrammers May Be Onto Something: How Rituals Can Make Office Meals Better Comments

If your coworkers are constantly snapping photos of their Thai takeout orders, don’t be annoyed. Pay attention. You may not understand why sharing yet another office meal on Instagram is a worthwhile use of time (or Internet bandwidth), but they may be on to something. A recent study suggests that people who indulge in rituals (like taking photos of their food) before eating find their meals more satisfying… the food actually tastes better!

girls taking photos of food

There’s more to food photography than meets the eye.
Image source: Flickr user Chris Tse

While we might think of rituals most often in terms of holiday-related traditions (like blowing out candles on a birthday cake), this study focused on everyday rituals associated with food — the author even reported being inspired by her intricate sugar packet habit with her morning coffee. In one experiment, a group of participants were given detailed instructions on how to eat a bar of chocolate: they were told to break the bar in half without unwrapping it, then unwrap and eat the first half. After they had finished, they should unwrap and eat the second half. The detailed attention to eating the chocolate was the equivalent of a ritual in the experiment. The other group ate the same bar of chocolate, but without any instructions (or ritual). Both groups ate the same chocolate, but the participants who performed the ritualistic unwrapping later reported enjoying the chocolate more and said they would pay more for it than those who ate it without ritual.

That’s right — the simple ritual of unwrapping a chocolate bar made it taste better!

latte art

The act of sitting with a morning cappuccino can be a ritual all its own.
Image source: Flickr user Premshree Pillai

While this may seem a little strange at first glance, it actually makes a lot of sense given what we already know about mindless eating — the habit of just chowing away at food without really paying attention to it. Prior research has shown when people eat mindlessly, they enjoy their food less (while nonetheless eating more of it). They don’t really notice the flavors or savor the experience of eating, so they don’t get as much out of it. We’ve all experienced this: we usually don’t enjoy food as much when we’re eating it in front of our computer screens, giving most of our attention to another task.

Rituals, in the broadest terms, are the opposite of mindlessness: they’re a way of “setting the stage” for enhanced attention and engagement in what you’re about to do. When your coworker is snapping that Instagram photo, she’s probably sprinkling the crushed peanuts and cilantro on top of her Pad Thai noodles first, and maybe placing the wedge of lime strategically so it looks nicer in the frame. The ritual of Instagram is causing her to pay attention to her food, and that extra attention will likely enhance her experience of eating.

cupcake toast at an office

Find a way to involve rituals in your office meals!
Image source: Flickr user Sean Hagen

In today’s busy workplaces, we could all use a little more ritual. When you grab your takeout box from the group delivery, get in the habit of dishing your meal onto a real plate and eating it with a real fork — these small steps will help you pay attention to your lunch, instead of just opening a carton and diving in. If you order a special employee appreciation breakfast of bagels and spreads, take a moment to “toast” the hard work accomplished that week, and make sure employees know the food they’re enjoying is a thank you for their efforts.

Sometimes it’s the little things that take office meals from just another part of the day to a special moment worth savoring! And with prompt delivery and easy online ordering, can take care of the food so you can take care of cultivating rituals in the workplace.

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