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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Silicon Valley's Most Famous Perk is More Than a Free Lunch

This post was originally published on LinkedIn. 

One of the most well known perks that you can find in many Silicon Valley offices is free lunch. At LinkedIn (where I work) this is the case. The lunch that is served at headquarters in Mountain View is superb. I think for those that have never experienced working at a company that feeds you, there are a few misconceptions about the real value of this perk.

Source: Flickr Maaco
Most people think that it's about getting free meals every day. That is certainly convenient.

You might also think it's about saving some $$. I'm always looking for a deal and it's true that I spend less on food because I'm eating lunch at work.

To me though, the real value of a free lunch is the relationships it helps me build and maintain. Here are a few examples.

A few weeks ago I bumped into a senior executive in the kitchen. We had a nice chat, so later that day I emailed him and asked him if he'd like to grab lunch sometime. He said "sounds great" and we got it scheduled right away. Having the food onsite and free makes having lunch with someone else (even senior executives) at the company easy and comfortable.

Every other week or so I eat breakfast with a colleague that works in a completely different part of the company. It's not a scheduled breakfast, we just happen to be getting breakfast at the same time about every other week. There have been many times after chatting about what she's working on, I go back to my desk to chat with my team about how some of the things she's working on will impact our group. This informal channel to share company information breaks down silos that can exist as companies grow.

Our founder, Reid Hoffman, said in The Start Up of You, "one lunch is worth dozens of emails". I'm able to strengthen my relationships not just with coworkers, but with friends and acquaintances that I frequently invite to join me for lunch at LinkedIn. Free lunch and a policy that allows me to bring guests greatly expands the number of people that I can maintain relationships with through this perk.

Free lunch is great, but to me, what matters the most are the relationships you can build over those meals

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